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Protests Threaten Operations of Canadian Mining Company in Panama

by Anna

The contract between the Panamanian government and Canadian mining company First Quantum Minerals has ignited weeks of protests, leading the company to announce a reduction in operations and potential suspension due to a blockade of its mine’s power plant.

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Minera Panama, the local subsidiary of First Quantum Minerals, revealed that small boats obstructed its port in Colon province, impeding vital supplies from reaching the copper mine. In a statement, the company warned, “If the illegal actions continue impeding the necessary supplies to operate the power plant, the company will reduce the remaining processing train this week and will temporarily suspend production.”

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The situation escalated when a ship carrying coal opted to turn back last week due to hostility from protesters. Naval police reported that individuals in boats threw rocks and blunt homemade objects, prompting authorities to intervene and disperse the group.

Panama has witnessed extensive protests and highway blockades over the past weeks as citizens express concerns about the environmental impact of the mining project. The protesters, representing a broad coalition of Panamanians, are particularly worried about the mine’s effects on nature and the water supply.

The copper mine, operated by Minera Panama, is a significant contributor to Panama’s economy, employing thousands and accounting for 3% of the country’s gross domestic product.

In March, an agreement between Panama’s legislature and First Quantum allowed Minera Panama to continue operating the massive open-pit copper mine for at least 20 more years. The mine had been temporarily closed last year during negotiations between the government and First Quantum, which had broken down over payment terms.

The contract, finalized on October 20, permits the subsidiary to operate the copper mine in a biodiverse jungle west of the capital for the next two decades, with the option of extending for an additional 20 years if the mine remains productive.

Amid the ongoing protests, the government initially considered legislation to revoke the contract but reversed its stance during a late-night debate in the National Assembly on November 2. The uncertainty surrounding the mining project and its potential environmental repercussions continues to fuel tensions between the government, the mining company, and concerned citizens.

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