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PANAMA. THE BIG COPPER MINE WILL BE CLOSED
(December 24, 2023)

PANAMA CITY. After months of popular protests, the Panamanian Supreme Court of Justice canceled Law No. 406, issued last October 20, which authorized the renewal of the concession contract for the exploitation of the largest open-pit copper mine in Central America.

The decision publicly announced by the President of the Court was greeted by popular celebrations.

The beneficiary of the operation, which was supported by the government of President Laurentino Cortizo, was Minera Panamá, a branch of the Canadian First Quantum Minerals.

The project had aroused strong opposition: now, however, there are fears that the multinational will request international arbitration which will force the authorities to respect what was agreed.

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WIDE PROTESTS

Various elements of Panamanian civil society had taken the field against the mine: trade unions, environmental movements, opposition parties… It had been since 1989, when the Crusada Civilista was launched against the regime of Manuel Antonio Noriega, known as “cara de piña”. , that the civil society of this small Central American state did not react so energetically to the will of the authorities.

The police arrested more than 1,300 people, while agricultural and commercial leaders speak of economic damage of 1.7 billion dollars due to the blockade imposed on the national economy by the strikes.

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THE REACTIONS

Once the ruling was published, President Cortizo, whose five-year mandate will expire on July 1, 2024, declared on TV that a transition process for an orderly and safe closure of the mine will soon begin. All decisions will be made in a responsible, inclusive and participatory manner.”

“It’s wonderful news,” environmentalist Raisa Banfield told AFP. “No foreign company will ever be able to come here waving banknotes and pretending to do what they want.”

“First Quantum – writes France Presse – reacted with a press release in which it assures that it has always operated “in a transparent manner and respecting the laws of Panama”.

It added that it was open to a “constructive dialogue”.

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THE CONTRACT

Panamanians’ opposition to the exploitation of a mine that should produce 1% of the world’s copper dates back many years.

The deposit, located in the province of Colón, has been managed since 1997, through a contract signed between the State and the mining company Petaquilla S.A.

The agreement, concluded without a tender and without environmental impact studies, pushed civil society to file a lawsuit in 2009. However, only in 2017 was a ruling of unconstitutionality obtained, which was however published in the Official Journal only four years later.

This has allowed dealers to extend their activities: meanwhile in January 2022 the government and Canadians resumed negotiations behind closed doors for a new concession contract.

March 2023: Panama and First Quantum announce the reaching of a new agreement.

Panamanian civil society reacts: in the National Assembly, fiery debates take place, while doubts about the published document emerge from various quarters.

The government returns to the negotiating table proposing changes which are accepted.

October 20: after 72 hours of debate, parliament approves the bill and the President promulgates it overnight.

Days later, faced with popular anger, he promises that on December 17 there will be a referendum to ask citizens their opinion on the matter: the announcement is in vain because the rebels donn’t give up.

The agreement, now invalidated, provided that the concession would last twenty years with the possibility of an extension for another twenty years: the Canadians, who say they have invested more than ten billion dollars in the mining site, promised to create at least 50,000 jobs.

According to them, the mine would have contributed to 5% of the GDP and would have brought 375 million dollars a year into the state coffers.

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COPPER

It’s one of the most expensive metals on the international commodity markets due to its rarity, as well as its ability to conduct electricity.

The world’s largest producers are Chile and Zambia, but multinationals in the mining sector are looking for new sources of supply.

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PANAMA

The República de Panamá is located in the narrowest part of the Isthmian region of Central America. In a diagonal west-east position, it borders Colombia (eastern border) and Costa Rica (northwestern border).

The coasts are washed by the Antilles Sea (north) and the Pacific (south): it extends for 75,517 km² and has a population of 4.3 million inhabitants.

The capital is Panama City, populated by almost one million people.

An eminently maritime country, it is crossed by a mountain range of considerable altitude which divides the territory into two very different plains: the first, on the Caribbean side, is narrow and covered with rainforests; the second, on the Pacific side, is larger and wooded. The main economic resource is navigation on the famous canal with the related commercial and financial activities. Furthermore, tropical products are grown and copper is extracted from the large deposits of Cerro Colorado.
Air and water pollution in urban areas is considerable, as is that of Panama Bay, into which 40 million tons of waste water are released every year. The “Darién Cap” – a large area of ??forest inhabited by some indigenous ethnic groups, as well as various animal species – is threatened due to the construction of a highway.
Today it is a transit point for migrants who try to reach the United States from South America, crossing all of Central America up to the Rio Grande.
The majority of Panamanians (64%) descend from the integration between Spaniards and indigenous people. 14% are of African origin. The natives form three main ethnic groups; the cunas, on the island of San Blas in the Caribbean, the chocoles, in the province of Darién and the guaymiés, in the provinces of Chiriquí, Veraguas and Bocas del Toro.

Religions: Catholics (80%); Protestants, mostly evangelicals (10%); Muslims (5%); Baha’is (1%); Jews (0.3%); others (3.7%).

Languages: Spanish (official), English and Wari Wari, a dialect that merges Spanish and English terms, widespread in the Antilles.

The state is a presidential republic: the President, elected every five years by universal suffrage, also leads the executive.

The legislature is made up of a national assembly, elected at the same time as the head of State.

It’s one of three Latin American countries with adollarized economy: the legislation makes it a “fiscal haven” as it allows the creation of anonymous companies and encrypted bank accounts.

PIER LUIGI GIACOMONI

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