Panama City – The ongoing protests in Panama against a long-term copper mining concession granted to a Canadian company have prompted President Laurentino Cortizo to propose a referendum to allow Panamanians to decide the fate of the deal. The demonstrations, which have entered their second week, have seen a diverse range of participants demanding the cancellation of the contract with Panama’s subsidiary of Canada’s First Quantum Minerals, citing concerns over the potential environmental and water supply risks associated with the project.
In an attempt to address the growing discontent, President Cortizo’s administration announced plans to present a bill to Congress, scheduling a referendum for December. However, the Electoral Authority has stated that the vote cannot be conducted before the presidential election slated for May next year. Interior Minister Roger Tejado urged the electoral authorities to fulfill their historic role in allowing the referendum to take place.
The mining contract has significant economic implications for Panama. Panama Mining, the local subsidiary of First Quantum, currently employs over 9,000 individuals, and the company claims that its operations contributed to 4.8% of Panama’s gross domestic product in 2021. The government asserts that the new contract secures a minimum annual payment of $375 million for the country, which is ten times more than what the previous contract offered.
The terms of the new agreement grant Panama Mining a 20-year extension for its concession over 32,000 acres (12,955 hectares), with a provision for an additional 20-year extension. However, the magnitude of the deal has sparked nationalist sentiments and attracted criticism from environmentalists. Critics argue that granting the company control over water usage during a period of drought, which has already impacted Panama Canal traffic, is an error. Despite these concerns, Panama Mining asserts that it solely collects rainwater for its operations.
During the protests, one demonstrator, Omayra Avendaño, a real estate broker, expressed her anxieties over the water shortage: “We’re almost out of water. All the money in the world will not be able to make up for the lack of water, which is already critical.” First Quantum Minerals has not provided any comments concerning the protests, except for condemning the actions of protesters who accessed a port used by the company by boat.
Q: What is the purpose of the referendum proposed by President Cortizo?
A: The referendum intends to involve Panamanians in deciding whether to proceed with the controversial long-term mining concession granted to a Canadian company.
Q: Why are people protesting against the mining contract?
A: Protesters have voiced concerns about potential environmental risks and the impact on Panama’s water supply associated with the mining project.
Q: How does the mining contract affect Panama’s economy?
A: The mining project contributes significantly to Panama’s economy, providing employment for over 9,000 individuals and accounting for 4.8% of the country’s gross domestic product in 2021.
Q: What are the terms of the new mining contract?
A: The new contract grants Panama Mining, the local subsidiary of the Canadian company, a 20-year concession extension over 32,000 acres and an option for an additional 20-year extension.