Panama Protestors Defeat First Quantum Minerals’ Copper Mine
Cobre Panamá, the largest open pit copper mine in Central America, is operated by Toronto-based First Quantum Minerals. After some 250,000 people in Panama took to the streets to protest against corruption and environmental damage at the mine, Panama’s supreme court declared that First Quantum’s contract to operate the mine unconstitutional, causing it to be shut down.
“Today Panama celebrates a historic moment that we have been waiting for for years. At first there were only a few of us but now we all understand that Panama’s gold is green.” - Serena Vamvas, Fundación Mi Mar.
First Quantum Minerals
First Quantum is one of the largest copper producers in the world with operations in nine countries - from Australia to Mauritania. Cobre Panamá, which opened in 2019, is the company’s biggest copper mine. The company signed a 20-year contract with the Panamanian government in October 2023 allowing it to operate the mine in exchange for royalty payments of US$375 million a year.
Cobre Panamá is located within the Donoso protected area as well as two national parks: Omar Torrijos and Santa Fe National. A recent report by Panamá Vale Más Sin Minería (Panama is Worth More Without Mining) found that Cobre Panamá had violated environmental laws 295 times – and the mine was fined PAB 11 million (US$11 million) for environmental damage.
The October 2023 contract for Cobre Panamá was the last straw for many Panamanians who were already fed up with the high cost of living. An estimated 250,000 people (6 percent of the country’s population) took to the streets including farmers, students, teachers, trade unions and Indigenous groups. The groups successfully blockaded the Pan American Highway, the country’s most important road.
The protests led to over 1,000 arrests and also to violent clashes in which four protestors were killed. Cobre Panamá was forced to curtail operations when fishermen in Donoso (where the mine is located) organized protests at sea, blocking the company from bringing in mining equipment and from exporting copper.
“It is a contract to basically completely put up for sale our entire national park system and watersheds that are critical for the survival and operation of the Panama Canal. Ultimately what we’re risking is global trade and global economic stability.” - Juan Carlos Monterrey, executive director of the NGO Geoversity.
In late November Panama’s supreme court ruled that the Cobre Panamá contract had 25 different violations of the law including failure to conduct a public tender or proper citizen consultations. Shortly after, Panama’s president ordered that the mine be shut down. First Quantum has responded by suing Panama in the ICC International Court of Arbitration.
“First Quantum, through Cobre Panama, reiterates that transparency and compliance with the law has always been fundamental for the development of its operations and remains open to constructive dialogue in order to reach consensus.”
This is #70 in our series of Instagram infographics on resistance against corporate power.
Click here to see the full post on Instagram.
📸 @yaesya_panama, @kenny_valdespino, @chiruxphotography, @kaubbz