Open Letter to His Excellency President Martín Torrijos Espino

[On November 12, 2007, a coalition of ten major environmental groups appealed to Panamanian President Martin Torrijos to put a moratorium on mining in the country. The most immediate threat to the environment and to the livelihood of indigenous and peasant communities is the development of the Petaquilla gold and copper deposits.]

The undersigned organizations address you with all due respect to request a reasonable moratorium on mining activity and especially the open-pit of metal mining, so that Panamanian society, in open and transparent debate, can decide whether the conditions under which this activity is taking place are keeping with the best interests of the country.

Our request follows the following considerations:

• Panama has chosen a state policy of promoting tourism, especially the natural wonders of our country. Therefore, it is important that public policy on mining not be inconsistent with the strategy of protecting the environment and attracting tourism.

• Regardless of the different views that exist regarding the importance of nature in the national economy, our natural resources have an incalculable value that translates into sustainable income. We must evaluate all the development alternatives that can be promoted in each region.

• The circumstances surrounding open pit mining threaten fragile ecosystems, particularly in tropical rainforests, exposing the soil to landslides and the people to water, air, and land pollution affecting large areas of forests. The Santa Rosa mine, in Veraguas, is a clear testimony of a negative precedent in our country.

• It is worrying that some of the current and future mining projects could affect the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, which by international convention includes Panama along with Mexico and Central America. This has allowed the State to receive financial support from multilateral cooperation agencies such as the World Bank and the German Agency for International Cooperation, as well as grants from the Global Environment Fund, for its protection.

• Countries in the region are reassessing their mining policies. In fact, in 2002, Costa Rica banned the opening of new open-pit mines in its territory, achieving a true and permanent source of sustainable development with this initiative. These experiences make it worthwhile for us to review our mining laws.

• The agreements recently validated through the process of the National Coalition for Development incorporate not only the need to “ensure the sustainability of environmental services” in Panama, but also to “generate the changes necessary for a transparent investment system” in which “productive activities are sustainable in economic, social and environmental terms.”

Therefore, we reiterate our call for a reasonable moratorium on open pit metal mining, echoing your words during the last UN Assembly: “There is already full awareness of the problem – the planet’s environmental crisis – but we need the political will to confront it with determination and to take responsibility for the consequences.” It is to this political will that we appeal.

Signed by the following organizations,

ANCON – National Association for the Conservation of Nature
Audubon Society
CEASPA – Panamanian Centre for Social Studies and Action
CIAM – Center for Environmental Advocacy
CICA – International Centre for Environmental Training
Green Panama
Pro Mar – Foundation for the Protection of the Sea
Network of Private Nature Reserves