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    Protests in Panama Suggest Uncertain Future for First Quantum Minerals

    ByThemba Hadebe

    Nov 17, 2023
    Protests in Panama Suggest Uncertain Future for First Quantum Minerals

    In the heart of Central America, Panama is experiencing widespread protests and civil unrest surrounding a contract with Canadian mining company First Quantum Minerals. The situation has escalated rapidly, with thousands of people taking to the streets to voice their opposition. The root cause of the protests is the extension of First Quantum’s mining license, which has raised concerns about the environmental impact and the delicate ecosystem of the region.

    First Quantum Minerals, a prominent player in the copper industry, is a Canadian company with operations worldwide. Its flagship mine in Panama, known as the Cobre Panama mine, is considered the company’s most lucrative asset. The mine boasts an impressive three billion tons of “proven and probable” copper reserves, making it one of the largest new copper mines globally in the last decade.

    However, the protests have led to a significant disruption of operations at the Cobre Panama mine. First Quantum was forced to reduce its activities due to both demonstrations and local opposition, including a blockade of small boats at its port that impeded the delivery of essential supplies. The company confirmed its decision to scale back operations and cited an “illegal blockade” as the reason behind the disruption.

    Panama’s president, Laurentino Cortizo, initially supported the mining project but recently changed his stance in response to growing public concern. He has promised a referendum to be held, allowing the people of Panama to voice their opinion on the future of the mining license. However, the proposed referendum and a congressional push to repeal the contract have been put on hold. Instead, Panama’s government awaits a ruling from the Supreme Court regarding the termination of the agreement. The court cases related to the Cobre Panama contract are currently ongoing, and a decision is expected soon.

    The protests have tapped into a deeper resentment within Panama. Indigenous groups and environmentalists fear that continued mining operations will have severe consequences for the country’s biodiversity. They argue that the delicate jungle ecosystem will be irreversibly damaged if the open-pit copper mine continues to operate. On the other hand, the Panamanian government believes that the mine provides much-needed employment opportunities and is thus reluctant to annul the contract.

    The tumultuous situation has had a significant impact on First Quantum Minerals. Since President Cortizo’s change of heart, the company has witnessed a staggering 40 percent decrease in its market value. This decline showcases the vulnerability of mining companies when significant capital investments are concentrated in smaller areas. Lyle Stein, an investment expert, emphasizes the inherent risks involved in such ventures, stressing the importance of diversification.

    As the protests continue, it remains to be seen how First Quantum Minerals and the Panamanian government will resolve this contentious issue. The fate of the Cobre Panama mine hangs in the balance, and the outcome will significantly shape both the environmental landscape of Panama and the future of the company.