The economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been used by the Panamanian government as a justification to promote an increase in the number of open-pit metal mines in the country as part of an economic reactivation "strategy" . Ignoring the extensive biodiversity of its tropical forests and water resources , the government insists on promoting mining as an economic recovery activity despite serious risks, given the large number of approved contracts (14) and concession applications (130) are located in areas near or overlapping protected areas, watershed source areas, and biological corridors. Considering the topography of the country and its narrow territory, which includes more than 500 rivers, these licenses will cause disproportionate environmental and social harm .
On May 13, 2021, the Ministry of Commerce and Industries (MICI), the authority in charge of granting licenses and concessions for resource extraction, reincorporated 25,599.72 hectares  into the land registry for mining. Most of this land is located within the Donoso protected area of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor . This was done without consultation  through the mechanisms for civic participation established by the Escazú Agreement, ratified by Panama in 2020.
Panamá Vale Más Sin Minería: Panama is worth more without mining,
The actions taken by the government of Panama to promote open-pit metal mining have triggered a series of protests and other actions at the national level . At the end of 2020, the government of Panama announced the development of new mining policies for the country and made clear its intentions to put a new spin on mining in the country — indicating that sustainable mining is possible and that mining will contribute to the country’s economic recovery after months of restrictions and labour shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first part of 2021 was decisive for communities affected by Empresa Minera Panamá’s operations who, in response to the government's announcements to expand the mining exploitation zones in the province of Coclé, began to mobilize and seek support from national organizations. Protests took place throughout the country, in an effort to point out the dangers of mining and denounce the exclusion of the population in the decision making around mining.
Students from the University of Panama (located in Coclé, a province directly affected by Minera Panamá) have taken part in protests. Environmental and civic organizations, NGOs, social movements, and educators associations from all over the country have joined in the protests and have advanced a national campaign called Panamá Vale más sin minería (Panama is worth more without mining, in English). The national movement is fighting to stop the government's intentions to turn Panama into a mining country. In the midst of the Covid 19 crisis, the government argues that it is necessary to save the national economy by handing over the territory to Canadian mines.
Attempts to promote metal mining as a "sustainable"
Minera Panamá has widely disseminated its messages across all forms of media (radio, print, television, social media networks), conveying a message that “for our long-term success, it is fundamental that we earn and maintain community support for mining. We seek to bring tangible benefits to the employees and communities around the mining projects. Our global Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program seeks to balance best practice with the needs of each site and the host communities in each country where we operate. In our CSR program and strategy, our initiatives and activities are consistent with international best practice and are carried out systematically at all sites. These are just some of the many examples of our CSR programs around the world" .
Social unrest over the promotion of metal mining as a "sustainable" economic activity has grown since the media reported on a recent spill of mine wastewater into a local river . If new mining concessions are granted within the Donoso protected area, not only will the number of spills in the area likely increase, but the species in the region will be cut off from the natural migration routes provided by the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.
The development or operation of the copper mine has generated environmental, social, labour, and cultural impacts that have not received due attention. The Ministry of the Environment has recognized that mining has already led to 209 environmental violations of the Environmental Impact Assessment, and that many of these are repeat violations by the company. For example, a 2019 news article stated that "Wastewater discharges from the mine and port ‘cause negative impacts on natural ecosystems and human populations [...] through the contribution of hazardous pollutants, heavy metals, disease-causing pathogens.’”
For the citizens of Panama, this is not surprising. It is widely recognized that the Ministry of the Environment carries no institutional weight. Many of the mechanisms for environmental monitoring and oversight lack the qualified personnel or the equipment to be effective. On the other hand, instances of serious environmental violations are reduced to merely an administrative record of non-compliance and are issued a negligible sanction. 
Labour, health and corruption issues
With regards to labour issues, workers at the Panama copper mine are in an ongoing labour dispute with Minera Panama. The Ministry of Labour (MITRADEL) has not acted within its mandate to protect labour rights, but rather has acted as a mediator between Minera Panama and various unions —including the Sindicato Industrial de Trabajadores Mineros de Panamá (STM), Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de la Construcción (SINDICOS) and Sindicato Único Nacional de Trabajadores de la Construcción y Similares (SUNTRACS) — to promote negotiation and conflict resolution, particularly around the following issues:
Violation of freedom of trade unionism
Hiring of foreign workers without labour permits
Complaints of massive hiring of foreign workers and not including workers from affected communities .
Regarding the issue of health, the Industrial Union of Mine Construction and Mine Development Workers (STM) have denounced many health issues during the pandemic. They have urged the Ministry of Health (MINSA) to immediately relocate more than 2,000 workers who remain on site at Minera Panama’s mine due to “risks posed by unsanitary conditions and a lack of infrastructure to implement preventative measures to avoid the massive spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).”
In April 2020, a third Minera Panamá employee was reported dead. Members of the workers’ union denounced the company for its lack of responsibility. Minera Panamá and the subcontractor Stracon reported the death of their employee who worked on the Panama copper project, which led to inspections carried out by the Ministry of Health.
With regards to the issue of corruption, this mining company has been in the spotlight for several years for allegations of having manipulated information that implicated former Panamanian presidents.
The mining company Petaquilla Gold has initiated an investment arbitration against Panama at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), demanding close to US$2.8 billion for a mining concession that was cancelled in 2015. According to information published by Agencia EFE, on October 5, 2021, the law firm K&L Gates LLP filed the claim in ICSID (see "Owners of extinct gold mine in Panama claim €2.39 billion (06.10.2021).
In December 2017, Panama’s Supreme Court declared a 1997 contract between Petaquilla and the State of Panama unconstitutional . Panama had initially made available some 13,600 hectares for mining exploitation, later dividing that amount in half in 2014 and leaving Petaquilla Gold with approximately 645 hectares. The mine is currently owned by Canadian company First Quantum Minerals through its Panamanian subsidiary, Minera Panamá S.A . The Supreme Court declared the contract unconstitutional for the following reasons: not complying with the basic principles of public procurement, not representing the interests of the State and for ignoring social welfare and public interest. However the mine continued to operate under the pretense that the ruling was not yet final .
The contract between the State of Panama and Pataquilla Gold was a twenty-year concession to exploit the mineral resources of Cerro Petaquilla, later known as Molejón, and the lawsuit responded to a constitutional challenge filed by the Environmental Advocacy Center in 2009 for endangering Panama's biodiversity.
The 2017 ruling meant the end of the contract with Petaquilla, and even then, there was a warning of the possible investor arbitration claim in international courts.
In May of 2021, the Panamanian Ministry of Commerce and Industries invalidated the Molejón mining concession granted to Petaquilla Gold, converting the nearly 645 hectares into a reserve. The Ministry accused the company of failing to remedy non-compliances related to royalty payments and environmental protection measures (see "Estado recupera tierra concesionada a Petaquilla." Ohigginis Arcia Jaramillo, La Prensa, 15.05.2021).
After nine years, the February 25, 1997 contract was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Despite the Court's ruling, the government of Panama announced on July 14, 2020 that it would initiate a “renegotiation” process for Minera Panama's contract so that the mine could continue operating . Only after the government’s announcement that the contract would be renegotiated, the Supreme Court finally rejected the appeals filed by Minera Panama against the ruling .
“Mining is not the way to combat climate change”
Despite this series of actions by the government to try to turn Panama into a mining country, the government was recently in Glasgow for COP26 ensuring the target of 1.5C was written into the Paris agreement . However, as the Center for Environmental Advocacy- CIAM Panamá points out, "The government's strategy to promote mining in a biodiverse country such as Panamá shows that the discourses of climate change and conservation are just empty arguments. This is a Climate Emergency. Speeches do not save ecosystems, actions do #PanamaValemássinMinería" .
For the Movimiento Panamá sin Mineras, "mining is not the way to combat climate change". On the contrary, the fight against climate change is realized by protecting ecosystems such as the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and preventing mining from reaching these territories and ecosystems.
|Name of conflict:||Cobre Panamá from First Quantum Minerals Ltd, Panama|
|State or province:||Provinces of Colón and Coclé|
|Location of conflict:||Donoso District|
|Accuracy of location||HIGH (Local level)|
|Type of conflict. 1st level:||Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction|
|Type of conflict. 2nd level:||Water access rights and entitlements|
Tailings from mines
Thermal power plants
2020 Production Copper 206.000kt, Gold 85.000koz Silver 1,595,000 oz
Power from the project will be generated by a coal-fired power plant located on the port site and transmitted to the mine and plant sites along a new access corridor. Excess electricity and feedback supply is possible from the national grid. Electrical power entering the mine is provided by a 34 kV transmission line
Water requirements for the Project are expected to be largely met by rainfall alone due to high annual precipitation throughout the area. Collection and containment facilities will be required, much of which will be within the tailings basin and surrounding the mine and plant areas.
All runoff from active areas will be treated to remove solids and recycled to the processing plant.
Minera Panama has built an extensive road network. This includes improvements to existing highways, including the main access road from Llano Grande, as well as the construction of an Eastern Access road to connect to the national road network.
The development of the Project required the construction of a port facility and an adjacent capacity of 300 MW
at Punta Rincón, approximately 25 km north of the mine and plant area.
An all-weather road has also been built between Punta Rincón and the plant site. Other required developments have included a 120 km long double circuit, a 230 kV power transmission line connecting to the national grid, pipeline infrastructure for water and metallurgical concentrates, worker accommodation and other support facilities maintenance and storage, etc.).
Land required for the provision of mining facilities, including waste rock storage and tailings facilities, stockpiles, mills and port sites, has been acquired or leased by MPSA in accordance with its rights under Law No. 9, 1997. ( declared unconstitutional)
The mine expansion will require the acquisition of an additional 6,800 ha beyond the current EIA.
|Project area:||38,000 ha aproximadamente. (13,000 ha concesionadas a Minera Panama y 25,000 ha reincorporadas al régimen de concesiones mineras)|
|Level of Investment for the conflictive project||For the Mining Chamber of Panama and allies, although the Government of Panama seeks to expand mining, the success of these efforts could be hampered by the lack of projects and very limited exploration. The sector is dominated by Cobre Panamá, which at US$6.5bn is one of the largest investments in the country's history, with a production capacity of 350,000t/y of the red metal. Vancouver-based First Quantum started commercial operations at the mine in 2019. The company is moving forward with the US$327mn expansion of Cobre Panama that aims to increase the pace of processing to 85Mt/y. at 100Mt/y from, and due for completion in 2023. Molejón is an open pit mine with a production capacity of 100,000oz/y gold, although Broadway has yet to release information on its plans for the asset. Lastly, Orla Mining owns the Cerro Quema gold project, which is expected to produce 78,500oz/y gold after a US$117mn investment.|
|Type of population||Rural|
|Affected Population:||24 peasant communities|
|Start of the conflict:||2007|
|End of the conflict:||2007|
|Company names or state enterprises:||Inmet Mining Corporation from Canada|
Korea Panama Mining (KPM)
Minera Panama SA from Panama
First Quantum Minerals Ltd. from Canada
|Relevant government actors:||MICI,|
Gobierno Nacional de Panama,
Defensoria del Pueblo,
Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente
|International and Finance Institutions||Inmet Mining from Panama|
J.P. Morgan, Credit Suisse, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley y RBC Capital Markets
|Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:||Movimiento Panamá vale más sin Minería (sitio web en construcción),|
Comite Pro-cierre Petaquilla,
Colectivo Panama Profundo,
Etnia Rey Quibian,
|Intensity||HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)|
|Reaction stage||Mobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt|
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
|Forms of mobilization:||Development of a network/collective action|
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Boycotts of companies-products
|Environmental Impacts||Visible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Air pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Noise pollution, Oil spills, Mine tailing spills|
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Genetic contamination
|Health Impacts||Visible: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases|
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
|Socio-economical Impacts||Visible: Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures|
Potential: Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession
|Project Status||In operation|
|Conflict outcome / response:||Criminalization of activists|
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
|Proposal and development of alternatives:||A legal action has been filed before the Supreme Court of Justice and in 2017 it ruled in favor of the Environmental movement.|
In 2021, more than one hundred organizations signed a law initiative to declare a moratorium on metal mining, which was signed by organizations from all over the country .
|Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:||No|
|Briefly explain:||Despite the ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice, the company Minera Panamá continues to operate and recently was granted a mining reserve for exploration of a total of 25,000 ha.|
|Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)|
|References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries|
|Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network|
|Contributor:||Ficha original: Patricio Chávez; Actualizado en otcubre del 2021 por Damaris Sánchez Samudio ([email protected]), Serena Vamvas ([email protected]) y Jonathan González Quiel ([email protected]).|
Vista de la mina Petaquilla
Fuente: OCMAL https://www.ocmal.org/nueva-etapa-en-conflicto-entre-petaquilla-gold-y-panama/
Fuente: Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM) Panama