Panama Celebrates: Supreme Court Unanimously Declares Canadian Copper Mine Concession Unconstitutional - Expat Community

Panama Celebrates: Supreme Court Unanimously Declares Canadian Copper Mine Concession Unconstitutional

Dec 5, 2023 | Knowledge Base, Panama | 0 comments

On Tuesday, in a historic and unanimous decision, Panama’s Supreme Court ruled that the 20-year concession for a Canadian copper mine, is unconstitutional.



The verdict prompted President Laurentino Cortizo to announce the commencement of a process to close the controversial Cobre Panama mine.



Critics of the mine, operated by Minera Panama, a local subsidiary of Canada’s First Quantum Minerals, argued that its activities would cause irreversible damage to a forested coastal area and pose a significant threat to water supplies. The court’s announcement, following four days of deliberation, ignited cheers from a crowd outside, waving Panamanian flags in celebration.



Demonstrator Raisa Banfield expressed relief, stating, “This is what we had been waiting for. The president has to suspend (mine) operations today.” Minera Panama, in response, acknowledged the court’s decision in a statement, reaffirming their commitment to regulatory compliance and promising further comments as additional details of the ruling unfolded.



President Cortizo, addressing the nation, assured that upon the formal receipt of the court’s decision, it would be promptly published in the official gazette. He emphasized that this would mark the beginning of a meticulous process for the “orderly and safe closure of the mine,” signaling a turning point in the tumultuous history of the Cobre Panama mine.



The mine, a significant economic contributor employing thousands and constituting 3% of Panama’s gross domestic product, has been a focal point of contention. In March, the Panamanian legislature reached an agreement with First Quantum, allowing Minera Panama to continue operating the copper mine for an additional 20 years. The contract, granted final approval on Oct. 20, permitted the subsidiary to continue operations in a biodiverse jungle on the Atlantic coast, with the potential for a further 20-year extension if productivity levels persisted.



However, the mine faced a temporary closure last year amid breakdowns in negotiations between the government and First Quantum over payments. The subsequent dispute triggered some of the most extensive protests in Panama’s recent history, including blockades of the mine’s power plant and disruptions on the Pan American highway, including sections near the border with Costa Rica.



Celebration and Joy


Protestors, who had blocked parts of the highway, temporarily opened the roadway for freight trucks to pass through. The atmosphere shifted from tension to jubilation as celebrations broke out on the streets in front of the Supreme Court. Protesters, expressing their triumph, danced, waved flags, and sang the national anthem.



While the court’s decision dealt a significant blow to investors and raised concerns about the country’s long-term credit rating, it provided a momentary sense of relief for Panama, which had been gripped by its largest protest movement in decades. The news of the ruling coincided with the anniversary of Panama’s Independence from Spain, adding symbolic weight to the occasion.



Nestor Gonzalez, a 58-year-old restaurant worker, captured the prevailing sentiment, stating, “Today, we are celebrating two independences – independence from Spain and independence from the mine. And no one is going to forget it.”



The celebratory mood extended beyond symbolic significance, reaching tangible aspects of daily life.



As the nation celebrated its dual independence on this historic day, the ruling underscored the delicate balance between economic development and environmental preservation. The Cobre Panama mine saga, marked by protests, negotiations, and legal battles, now enters a new chapter with the closure process set in motion—a pivotal moment in Panama’s ongoing struggle to reconcile economic progress with ecological sustainability.




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