Panama celebrates Supreme Court ruling against copper mine - protests continue

A protest march with thousands of people fills a street in the capital Protest march against mining in the capital, Panama City (© Radio Temblor) Protesters march with banners, national flags and umbrellas on a country road in Panama Protest against mining in Veraguas province, Panama (© Radio Temblor)

Nov 30, 2023

The people of Panama have achieved an important legal victory against the mining industry and widespread corruption. Yesterday, the Supreme Court unanimously declared the permit of the largest open-cast copper mine in Central America to unconstitutional. The protests will continue, however, until all mining projects in the country have been shut down.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Panama on Tuesday to celebrate a landmark court decision against the mining industry. On the 202nd anniversary of the country’s independence from Spain, Panama’s Supreme Court ruled that Contract Law 406 – the legal basis for Central America's largest copper mine – violates 25 articles of its constitution.

Contract Law 406, which was rushed through parliament and the government on October 20, 2023, was intended to legalize the largest open-cast mine for copper, gold, silver and molybdenum in Central America for up to 40 years. The mine’s operators are the Canadian mining giant First Quantum Minerals and its local subsidiary Minera Panama.

“We are celebrating the triumph of the Supreme Court ruling that declares Contract Law 406 unconstitutional,” reported Olmedo Carrasquilla from our partner organization, Radio Temblor - Colectivo Voces Ecólogicas, live from a march. “Today, on November 28, 2023, the people of Panama said a resounding no to exploitation by the mining industry. People are celebrating because they want a truly solidarity-based, people-oriented and ecological economy and a country free of corruption.”

The copper mine project was established in 1997. Its impact on the environment and local communities, as well as the exclusion of grassroots participation in the approval process, triggered massive protests throughout the country for over four weeks. Thousands of people brought the country to a standstill with protest marches, road blocks and strikes demanding the closure of the mining operation, which is located in a nature reserve in the middle of the rainforest.

We will continue until we are a country free of mining”

“The protests and resistance against mining in Panama will continue, because there are other mining concessions, including Veragold’s Santa Rosa mining project,” reports our partner Olmedo Carrasquilla from Radio Temblor - Colectivo Voces Ecólogicas. “Together with the communities and social movements affected by mining in the country, we demand the complete annulment of Contract Law 406”.

The government and authorities in Panama pushed the copper mine through illegally from the outset. In 2009, the environmental organization Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM) filed a lawsuit against the mining project, then called Minera Petaquilla, and in December 2017, the Supreme Court declared the concession approval at the time unconstitutional.

However, the ruling only came into force in September 2018 with the official notification of the parties to the lawsuit by the court and subsequent publication in the official gazette – and was then not implemented by the government and authorities. Minera Panamá continued to build the mining, industrial and port complex and began mining and exporting copper a year later. To this day, the mining operation simply continues to operate despite the rulings.

First Quantum Minerals threatens to take legal action in World Bank arbitration tribunal

Late last week, prior to the ruling, First Quantum Minerals tried to pressure the authorities and government in Panama. According to France Press, the mining company announced that it would consider an arbitration claim against the Republic of Panama before the World Bank Group’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), based in Washington DC.

The free trade agreement between Panama and Canada provides the framework for lawsuits before such a private arbitration tribunal. With such multi-million dollar lawsuits for damages, foreign corporations often try to overrule national laws on environmental protection and social aspects.

Further information:

The Guardian 2023: ‘Historic moment’: Panama activists celebrate ruling against copper mine

  1. France PressFrance Press - Radio Canada 2023. Le Panama prêt à se défendre si un groupe minier canadien recourt à l’arbitrage:

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