Two Killed in Panama Mining Protests

(News Alert) Two indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé men were killed and dozens more injured in connection with a police crackdown on dissent over mining and hydroelectric developments in Panama, where Canadian mining companies have a significant presence.

Since January 30, thousands of Ngöbe-Buglé blocked the Inter-American Highway at San Felix in western Panama, demanding that the government approve legislation that would annul existing mining and hydroelectric concessions granted in their territory.

Despite calls for peaceful dialogue, the Martinelli government responded with police force on Sunday in an attempt to suppress protests and clear the highway for transit. Jerónimo Rodríguez Tugri was killed on Sunday when police opened fire against indigenous demonstrators. Mauricio Méndez died Monday.

The violence in San Felix has triggered widespread dissent from civil society groups and other indigenous nations throughout Panama. Road blockades, marches, and vigils are taking place across the country, including in the capital city, where universities have also been closed. The banana workers union in Bocas de Toro has declared an indefinite strike until the government complies with the Ngöbe-Buglé’s demands.

In response to police violence, indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé protestors have burned down police stations in the towns of San Felix and Volcán.

The Ngöbe-Buglé territory is home to Cerro Colorado, one of the world’s largest remaining copper deposits. In recent years, Canadian consulting agency, Kokopelli, recognized locally as working on behalf of Vancouver-based Corriente Resources, has maintained a controversial presence on indigenous lands carrying out activities to promote mining that local indigenous leadership have criticized.

In central Panama, in the town of Coclesito, protestors also blocked the access road to Petaquilla Minerals’ mine and the future site of Toronto-based Inment Mining's proposed open-pit copper mine project. Residents of this area have had long-standing conflicts with Petaquilla Minerals over environmental contamination from the mine. There is also concern that the recently approved Inmet mine will destroy a protected area in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. State-owned Korean Resources Corporation is poised to obtain a 20% share in the INMET project, which environmental groups say violates the Panamanian constitution.

International human rights organizations denounce the violent actions taken against Ngöbe protestors. Today, Amnesty International released an Urgent Action urging the international community to condemn the violence meted out by Panamanian authorities. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on indigenous rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have also called on the Panamanian government to halt the police violence and enter into negotiations with the Ngöbe-Buglé.

Dialogue was slated to begin Tuesday between indigenous leaders and government officials.

Proposed mining law reforms to permit foreign state investment that would enable Asian investors to finance Inmet’s Copper Panama project have also been subject to protests during the past year. The rights of Canadian corporations operating in the Mesoamerican country could be further strengthened by a free trade agreement, which the Canadian parliament has yet to ratify.

For more information:

  • Jen Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada, 613-569-3439
  • Rosie Simms, 'fixer' for CBC's 'The National’ television crew who was recently denied entry to Panama, 250-352-2347

To take action:

  • To respond to Amnesty International’s Urgent Action Notice or voice concern to the Panamanian Government, please see attached pdf.
  • Cultural Survival also has an online urgent action that you can respond to here.