June 21, 2024

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Mass protests over copper mine risk Panama’s business-friendly image

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Swelling protests in Panama against a large copper mine have shocked politicians and investors, with the strength of opposition to the project and the government response casting a cloud over the country’s investor-friendly reputation.

The open pit mine, owned by Canada’s First Quantum Minerals, is one of the world’s largest sources of copper and has faced multiple legal challenges. Thousands took to the streets of Panama City to protest after congress approved a renegotiated contract for the project last month.

A broad group bolstered by labour unions, students and indigenous groups has repeatedly demonstrated across the country, closing roads as they carried national flags and signs saying “enough of destroying our land”.

The visible fury put pressure on President Laurentino Cortizo’s government, which has promised a referendum on whether to cancel the 20-year contract for the mine, which accounts for almost 5 per cent of gross domestic product.

Congress this week banned all new metals mining concessions after holding emergency sessions, but this will not affect the existing contract.

“We won’t stop until the mining law is struck down,” teachers’ union leader Álvaro del Cid told local television at a protest this week, referring to legislation approving First Quantum’s latest contract.

Mining has long been controversial over its environmental impact and perceptions of corruption, but the protests were also fuelled by high living costs and an unpopular government, said Orlando Pérez, professor of political science at the University of North Texas at Dallas.

“This issue is not new, but it has now lit the match over a large woodpile of grievances,” Pérez said.

“It could [scare] investors, particularly for other extractive industries, if investors start doubting how secure the Panamanian legal and political environment…



2023-11-04 07:00:48

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