Panama Faces Mounting Protests Over Controversial Mining Deal

Protests erupted in Panama on Monday as citizens demanded the government to revoke a contentious contract that allows copper mining to proceed in a biodiverse region. The demonstrations, led by teaching and construction unions in collaboration with environmentalists, aim to protect the forested landscapes and essential groundwater sources located just 120 kilometers west of Panama City, in the state of Colon.

Peaceful protests were held throughout Panama City, with demonstrators distributing informative flyers to raise awareness about their cause. However, in some areas on the outskirts of the capital, protesters encountered the police using tear gas. In response to the anticipated protests, both the Department of Education and the University of Panama canceled classes.

The government took to social media to emphasize the economic benefits of the mining venture, highlighting its significant contribution to Panama’s economy. The mine, operated by First Quantum’s subsidiary, Minera Panama, is the country’s largest private investment.

In March, the Panamanian legislature reached an agreement with First Quantum, allowing the extension of operations at the copper mine for a minimum of 20 more years. However, the government and First Quantum had experienced prior difficulties in negotiations, resulting in the temporary closure of the mine.

On October 20, the Panamanian National Assembly passed Bill 1100, enabling the continuation of mining in the Cobre Panamá mine with a strong majority vote. President Laurentino Cortizo subsequently approved the bill, transforming it into Law 406. The enactment of this law signifies the completion of a comprehensive revision of the legal structure governing the mine.

The protests were triggered when President Cortizo swiftly approved the contract following its endorsement by the congress. Critics, including teachers’ union leader Fernando Abrego, viewed this action as secretive and a disregard for the will of the people. Despite opposition from various labor groups and concerns about the environmental impact, the economic benefits generated from the mining operations are significant.

The new contract guarantees Panama an annual sum of at least $375 million from Minera Panama, more than ten times the previous agreement. This financial gain, alongside the creation of thousands of jobs and the contribution to the nation’s exports, presents a counterargument to those who oppose the mining venture.

Despite the approval of the contract, protests persist, with unions and activists vowing to fight against the government’s decision. The teachers’ union, in particular, is determined to continue demonstrating in defense of sovereignty and environmental preservation.

Vancouver City News