In a recent turn of events, protesters in Panama have taken their concerns about the environmental impact of Cobre Panamá, an international port used by First Quantum Minerals, to new levels. The protests, which began earlier this week, have now escalated to the point where demonstrators have broken into the port, leading to significant disruption.
The subsidiary of Canada’s First Quantum Minerals has responded strongly to the incident, calling it “violent and illegal.” The company expressed concern for the safety of their staff and urged relevant authorities to protect their facilities.
Panamanians have been expressing their worries over the potential environmental consequences of Cobre Panamá through massive protests across the capital city and various provinces. With attendance in Panama City alone reaching over 50,000 people, organizers have been encouraging individuals to physically join these events instead of simply using social media.
At the core of the demands presented by the protesters is the repeal of Law 406, which governs the mining concession and was published in the Official Gazette of Panama on October 20, 2023. This law outlines a new contract that grants First Quantum the rights to mine copper for 20 years, with an option for an additional 20 years. The contract also guarantees a minimum annual income of $375 million to the government.
The protesters have also called for a gradual shutdown of Cobre Panamá, presenting a concrete plan for its closure.
In response to the social pressure, President Laurentino Cortizo implemented a ban on new metal mining concessions and expressed openness to discussing First Quantum’s mining contract. Additionally, Panama’s Supreme Court has decided to consider a lawsuit alleging that the contract with First Quantum violates the nation’s constitution. The court will make a decision within 10 business days and, if necessary, proceed to a ruling by magistrates after reviewing the written arguments from both sides.
These recent developments come after a history of disagreements and halted operations at Cobre Panamá. Last year, the Panamanian government ordered First Quantum to halt operations during heated contract negotiations, which resulted in significant financial losses for the company. Talks eventually resumed, and an agreement was reached in March.
Cobre Panamá, which began commercial production in 2019, is the leading revenue generator for First Quantum Minerals, contributing to approximately 1.5% of global copper output. The facility has the capability to process 85 million tonnes of ore each year, producing over 300,000 tonnes of copper annually. It also recovers gold, silver, and molybdenum. The complex comprises of two open pit mines, a processing plant, two 150MW power stations, and the international port that has recently seen protests.
As the situation continues to unfold, it remains to be seen how these protests and potential legal challenges will impact both the environmental landscape of Panama and the mining operations of First Quantum Minerals.
What are the protesters demanding?
The protesters are demanding the repeal of Law 406, which grants First Quantum Minerals the rights to mine copper for 20 years, with an option for an additional 20 years. They are also calling for a gradual shutdown of Cobre Panamá.
What is the response from the Panamanian government?
The Panamanian President has banned new metal mining concessions and expressed openness to discussing First Quantum’s mining contract. Additionally, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider a lawsuit alleging that the contract violates the constitution.
What is the significance of Cobre Panamá?
Cobre Panamá is a top money-maker for First Quantum Minerals, accounting for approximately 1.5% of global copper output. It is capable of processing 85 million tonnes of ore annually and producing over 300,000 tonnes of copper each year. The facility also recovers gold, silver, and molybdenum.