Panama: NO to copper mining in the rainforest!

A colorful red-eyed tree frog sitting on a flower The rainforests in the copper mine area are the habitat of the red-eyed tree frog (© Eduardo Estrada) Panama City: people with hand-painted banners protesting against mining Protest against mining in the capital, Panama City (© Movimiento Panamá Vale Más Sin Minería MPVMSM) Aerial view of a copper mine cut into the rainforest Aerial view of the open-pit copper mine of Minera Panamá, a subsidiary of the Canadian company First Quantum Minerals, in the rainforest of Panama (© CIAM Panamá) Aerial view of a copper mine cut into the rainforest Aerial view of the open-pit copper mine of Minera Panamá, a subsidiary of the Canadian company First Quantum Minerals, in the rainforest of Panama (© CIAM Panamá)

Panama is in turmoil: The government of the Central American country triggered a deep crisis of confidence by ignoring public opinion and permitting a vast copper mine in the rainforest. Tens of thousands are taking part in demonstrations, strikes and road blocks to demand that nature be preserved and the environment protected.

News and updates Call to action

To: the Government of Panama, Members of Parliament, the Supreme Court

“Contract Law 406 permitting the operation of Minera Panamá’s vast copper mine in the rainforest must be annulled.”

Read letter

Tens of thousands of people have been taking to the streets in Panama in recent weeks to speak out against mining, accusing the government of selling out their nation and its resources to the mining industry.

The protests focus on Minera Panamá, a subsidiary of the Canadian company First Quantum Minerals. Their vast open-cast copper mine is located in the middle of a biological rainforest corridor that connects Central and South America.

Years ago, an alliance of the Panamanian people, environmental and social organizations took legal action against the mining concession, and in 2018, the Supreme Court declared the mining contract unconstitutional. Since then, however, the authorities have been obstructing efforts to enforce the ruling.

Minera Panamá cleared rainforest, destroyed biodiversity and blasted an open-cast mine into the heart of the jungle. Factory buildings, tailings heaps and ponds with toxic mine sludge dot the landscape. A harbor and a coal-fired power plant were built to support the operation. Since 2019, the company has been exporting copper to China, Japan, South Korea, Spain and Germany.

President Laurentino Cortizo hails the mine as Panama's future, ignoring public opinion and sidelining environmental concerns.

In mid-October, a contract law was rushed through parliament and signed by the president on the same day to legalize the copper mine for at least 20 years.

This abrupt move has sparked a crisis in public confidence, triggering widespread protests against the irreversible damage to public health and the environment. The people demand a clean environment and intact nature, asserting that the mining company's money cannot outweigh the severe consequences.

We urge you to support our petition, a joint effort with our Panamanian partners Radio Temblor-Colectivo Voces Ecológicas, to amplify the voices against destructive mining practices and protect Panama's natural heritage. Please sign the petition for a sustainable and ecologically responsible future.

Start of petition: 17/11/2023

Back­ground

The nationwide protests in Panama are not only directed against the Minera Panamá copper mine, but also against the contracts for 15 existing mining concessions throughout the country and 103 pending applications. Almost 200,000 hectares have been staked out as mining concessions, a good quarter of which are for the extraction of metals.

The protests have had some early successes by drawing attention to the general unsuitability of the country for mining and the Panamanian state’s lack of transparency and accountability.

Minera Panamá, a subsidiary of First Quantum Minerals

By far the largest and already active mining concession is located in the mountains around 120 kilometers west of the capital: Minera Panamá, a subsidiary of the Canadian company First Quantum Minerals, operates the largest open-cast copper mine in Central America on a 12,995-hectare concession.

The previous contract for the operation of the copper mine in the rainforest of Donoso district was awarded by the government in 1997. Environmental organizations had sued against it because the people were not consulted and the company was not even required to pay taxes.

In 2018, after years of protracted proceedings, the Supreme Court declared the Minera Panamá/First Quantum Minerals mining contract unconstitutional. The court decision only came into force in 2021, however. Several proceedings against the new Contract Law 406 are already underway at the Supreme Court on the grounds that it violates the constitution.

In the meantime, Minera Panamá set up operations and started mining, processing and exporting copper in 2021, even though the authorities do not have the technical capacity to monitor the mining operations or measure their impact on the environment.

Tearing a giant hole into an ecological corridor

The open-cast mine is located in the middle of an ecological corridor (Corredor Biológico Mesoamericano) consisting of still-intact primary rainforest that forms the only bridge for wildlife between North and South America. The corridor links the rainforests in southern Mexico across Central America with Colombia and the rainforests of South America.

At the edges of the mine, the rainforest abruptly ends in total devastation: Huge mine pits have been blasted into the ground, conveyor belts and pipelines wind their way across the bare earth, bulldozers, excavators and cranes work non-stop. In between are tailings heaps and ponds full of mine sludge that are slowly but surely leaching their toxins into the environment.

According to the company, up to 100 million tons of rock are ground up mine’s huge rock crushers and mills to produce 300,000 tons of copper concentrate per year, as well as small amounts of gold, silver and molybdenum.

The open-cast mine is located in an area that receives extremely high rainfall. 4,000 to 5,000 liters of rain fall there per square meter per year (4,000 to 5,000 millimeters/year). To put this into perspective, London receives 615 liters per square meter per year (615 mm/year). When mine dams burst, which happens several times a year around the world, millions of tons of mine sludge flow down the slopes into streams and rivers, destroying and contaminating everything along the way.

A road and pipelines connect the mine to an industrial complex and port located 20 kilometers to the north at Punta Rincón on the Caribbean coast, which the mining company built in what was previously largely untouched nature. The copper concentrate is pumped there via the pipelines and stored temporarily. A large coal-fired power plant (300 MW) produces the electricity for the mining operation. From there, the coveted raw material is shipped to China, Japan, South Korea, Spain and Germany.

Copper production and use

Around 22 million tons of copper are produced globally every year. The reddish-brown metal is an important material in the construction, electrical and tech industries: It is not only used for electrical cables and as roofing material, but also in large quantities in power generators, electric vehicles, appliances, smartphones, etc.

Further information in Spanish

- Website of our partner Radio Temblor - Colectivo Voces Ecológicas in Panama: https://www.radiotemblor.org/

- Article by our partner Avispa Midia: Pese a represión, continúan protestas masivas contra minería de cobre y oro en Panamá: https://avispa.org/pese-a-represion-continuan-protestas-masivas-contra-mineria-de-cobre-y-oro-en-panama/

- Mongabay 2023. Panamá: las razones detrás de las multitudinarias protestas que exigen el cierre de la mina más grande de Centroamérica: https://es.mongabay.com/2023/11/las-razones-detras-de-las-protestas-que-exigen-el-cierre-de-la-mina-panama/

- Mongabay 2019. Panamá: minería arrasa con bosques del Corredor Biológico Mesoamericano: https://es.mongabay.com/2018/12/panama-mineria-bosques-del-corredor-biologico-mesoamericano/

Letter

To: the Government of Panama, Members of Parliament, the Supreme Court

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We call on you to annul Contract Law 406 permitting the operation of Minera Panamá’s huge copper mine in the rainforest.

Revenues from mining concessions must not be used as a justification to authorize the destruction of nature and the pollution of the environment.

The impacted ecosystems, biodiversity and provision of clean water are vital to Panama’s future. They form the basis of the Panamanian people’s health and prosperity.

Yours faithfully,

News and updates Footnotes

4,000 to 5,000 liters of rainFirst Quantum Minerals 2023. MITOS VS REALIDADES: https://cobrepanama.com/mitos-vs-realidades


China, Japan, South Korea, Spain and Germany

First Quantum Minerals 2023. Cuatro años de exportaciones de Cobre Panameño: https://cobrepaname.com/nota/cuatro-anos-de-exportaciones-de-cobre-panameno

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