Panama: Outright Rejection to New Mining Projects

Photo: Radio Temblor

According to Radio Temblor, a coalition of over 30 organizations that make up Panama Is Worth More without Mining Movement (MPVMSM, for its acronym in Spanish) has outright rejected the government’s plans to expand mining projects in the country, citing mismanagement and corruption. Members of this coalition gathered in mid-September for a conference to explore possible next steps after Panama’s government announced new mining contracts with Minera Panamá or First Quantum Minerals Ltd, plus a mining refinery through Broadway Strategic Mineral, both Canada-based companies. 

Canadian mining has been long accused of causing extreme deforestation, water and land contamination in Panama. According to Mongabay, a copper mine owned by Minera Panamá with operations in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor was doing so illegally for over 10 years. The Supreme Court of Panama ruled in favor of the Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (Center for Environmental Impact, CIAM), declaring Minera Panamá’s operations and contract unconstitutional in 2018.

People still remember the short-lived economic boom at Cloclesito where Molejon Gold Mine, owned by Vancouver-based Petaquilla Minerals Ltd., took away all the jobs it had offered when it shut down its operations in 2015.  It left behind US$30 million of unpaid wages and benefits, poisoned rivers, and environmental degradation. Petaquilla Copper was sold to Inmet Mining Corporation for $400 million in 2020.

Now Panama’s government wants to reopen copper and gold mining operations in Cloclesito through First Quantum and Broadway Minerals, and in Santa Rosa and Cerro Quemas, through Germany-based Veragold Mining, which boasts “community” programs on its website such as a support for a women’s soccer team. 

The Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development (IGF), which Panama is a member of, published an assessment in December 2020 expressing concern for the country’s outdated legal framework for international standards and best practices, a lack of safety regulations for mine closure and postclosure, and inadequate environmental oversight. 

“The global environmental crisis is making an urgent call for us to mobilize and demand that the national government stops the destruction of biodiversity. As well as rethinking the model of economic production within the framework of responsibility and balance with nature. An Ecological Economy could replace the current predatory development model,” MPVMSM coalition members told Radio Temblor.

Meanwhile, the National Coordination of Indigenous People in Panama (COONAPIP), the Coordinadora Las Bartolinas Originarias del Área Anexa de Ño Kribo, and the Asociación de Estudiantes Ngäbe-Buglé y Campesino de la Universidad de Panamá (AENBUP), representing indigenous leaders from all sectors, women and indigenous youth, have consistently rejected mining projects in their territories. 

During a press conference in September, COONAPIP members lamented that President Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, who rose to power in 2019, has yet to meet with them despite continuous requests. The executive has many pending issues with indigenous groups, including a missing $2 million emergency fund for the COVID-19 pandemic destined for indigenous families. Their complaints directly contradict IGF’s finding that indigenous peoples in Panama “are able to decide whether or not to accept mining projects,” if the Panamanian government refuses to even acknowledge indigenous nation’s authorities.

Panama Is Worth More without Mining Movement has called for all negotiations with Minera Panama to stop immediately and for the implementation of a moratorium on all future mining projects.

Source: Radio Temblor
  • Radio Temblor is an alternative means of communication of Voces Ecológicas COVEC that emerged in 2008 in the context of the Rural and National Socio-Environmental Mobilization in Panama. In the midst of these events, the founding team composed of university students set out to make a popular communication medium, turning Radio Temblor into an informative…

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