New Protests Escalate in Panama as First Quantum Continues Mining Operations

Amid growing opposition, Canadian mining company First Quantum Minerals Ltd. has declared its intention to proceed with its copper mining operations in Panama without making any changes. The firm was recently granted a contract to maintain its operations at a large open-pit copper mine in the country. The contract, which will last for at least the next two decades, has sparked widespread protests due to financial and environmental concerns.

Local groups have voiced opposition to the mining plan, leading to anti-government demonstrations that are estimated to cost Panama $80 million US dollars each day. The constitutional legitimacy of the mining venture is also being challenged by Panama’s highest court, with the possibility of a referendum being held to decide on the contract extension next month. Despite these challenges, First Quantum remains confident in its legal position and emphasizes the substantial economic benefits the mine brings to Panama.

The Cobre Panama copper mine, apart from the Panama Canal, is the second-largest driver of Panama’s economy, contributing approximately five percent of the nation’s GDP. The mine also plays a significant role in the country’s employment landscape, directly or indirectly providing jobs to one out of every 50 people in Panama.

Unfortunately, the opposition to the mining contract has triggered large-scale protests throughout Panama. Initially organized by environmental groups, these demonstrations have now been joined by various other groups, including labor unions, teachers, indigenous communities, students, and civil society. The protests have resulted in the closure of schools for over a week and the disruption of major infrastructure, including roads and ports.

Despite the gravity of the situation, First Quantum plans to continue mining operations at the Cobre Panama mine without interruption. The company acknowledges the on-site disruptions caused by the protests and acknowledges occasional supply shortages. Tragically, the protests took a fatal turn when two participants in a highway blockade were shot and killed. While this incident sparked outrage, it has not altered the status of the mine.

Investors, however, remain skeptical about the future of First Quantum Minerals. Shares in the company have plummeted by over 40 percent since the protests began. Analysts express concern over the uncertainty surrounding the dispute and the possibility of contract renegotiation. With a high degree of fluidity and unpredictability, the situation is expected to continue impacting the company’s shares until the national elections in May 2024.

FAQ

1. Why are there protests against First Quantum Minerals in Panama?

The protests stem from opposition to the mining contract held by First Quantum Minerals in Panama. Local groups have raised concerns about the financial and environmental impact of the company’s operations.

2. What is the economic significance of the Cobre Panama copper mine?

The Cobre Panama copper mine is the second-largest contributor to Panama’s economy, accounting for approximately five percent of the country’s GDP. It also provides direct and indirect employment opportunities for a significant number of Panama’s population.

3. Has the recent violence affected First Quantum Minerals’ mining operations?

While the recent violence during the protests has caused disruptions in Panama, First Quantum Minerals has stated that its mining operations have remained uninterrupted. The company emphasizes that the violence occurred in a different part of the country, away from the mine site.

4. How have investors responded to the situation?

Investors have shown skepticism, leading to a significant decline in shares of First Quantum Minerals. Uncertainty surrounding the future and the potential for contract renegotiation contribute to the cautious approach taken by investors.

5. When will the situation be resolved?

The situation remains fluid and unpredictable, with no clear resolution in sight. The dispute could potentially extend until the national elections scheduled for May 2024.