Panama President Pushes Back Against Canadian Copper Mine Protests

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Panama President Pushes Back Against Canadian Copper Mine Protests

By AFP News 10/24/23 AT 11:41 PM EDT
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Demonstrators and police clashed Tuesday in Panama as protests over a copper mine spilled into their fifth day, with President Laurentino Cortizo vowing he would prosecute acts of “vandalism.” The protesters are concerned about potential environmental damage from operations at the mine owned by First Quantum, a Canadian firm and one of the biggest copper extractors in the world.

After protests erupted on Friday and continued over the weekend, demonstrators had yet to let up by Tuesday in Panama City and in other provinces. They blocked several roads as they demanded the repeal of the contract allowing continued operations at the site, the largest copper mine in Central America. Security forces responded with tear gas as protesters threw stones and lit tires in downtown Panama City.

“I will not tolerate vandalism or calls for anarchy, nor the commission of any crime. These acts will be prosecuted,” President Laurentino Cortizo said in a televised address, warning he wouldn’t tolerate disorder.

Opened in 2019, the open pit Cobre Panama mine, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of the capital and 20 km from the Caribbean coast, can produce 300,000 tons of copper per year.

In 2021, Panama’s Supreme Court ratified a lower court’s ruling that the original concession of mining rights granted to subsidiary Minera Panama until 2037 was unconstitutional. Negotiations between the government and First Quantum were reopened and finalized earlier this year.

The new contract determines that the company will pay the government at least $375 million each year — ten times more than previously — and allows First Quantum to operate in Panama for 20 years, renewable for another two decades. But opponents believe the amount is still insufficient, especially given potential threats to the environment. Protesters want the law passed Friday to formalize the agreement to be repealed.

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