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Panama is Worth More Without Mining: Position Statement on the Defense of the Environment and a Rejection of the New Mining Contract

Source: 
Panamá Vale Más Sin Minería (Panama is Worth More Without Mining)

Original statement in Spanish.

Environmental organizations, rural communities, and social movements firmly express their opposition to a new mining contract between the State of Panama and Minera Cobre Panama, given that the deal is unconstitutional and presents a step backwards for environmental protection in the country. The civil society organizations who make up the movement Panama Vale Más Sin Minería (Panama is Worth More Without Mining) reiterate their opposition to this project as it directly threatens the natural heritage of this country. This is especially true given the negative experiences with several mining projects that have caused environmental harms without remediation. 

The following statement was presented at a press conference on Wednesday, January 19 in Panama City. 

THE NEW CONTRACT WITH MINERA PANAMA IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL AND IS IN BREACH OF PANAMA’S RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT ITS BIODIVERSITY 

Panama, January 19, 2022.  

Environmental, scientific, social, trade, human rights and community-based organizations express their opposition to the announcement of a new contract between the national government and Minera Panama (formerly Minera Petaquilla). With this agreement, the government once again sidestepped a public bidding process and neglected its responsibility towards all Panamanians and our natural resources. 

The Executive Branch disregards the Supreme Court’s ruling where it found Minera Panama’s previous contract to be unconstitutional. Once again, this shows how the mining industry will always operate above the law, ignoring the constitution and our fundamental rights enshrined therein. By refusing to hold a public and competitive bidding process, the State of Panama is not guaranteeing that it will obtain the maximum benefits [from this project].  During this unorthodox business deal – carried out by a “high-level” commission that never had any legal backing – the government announced minuscule advances on environmental and labour issues that essentially only require the company to uphold commitments that were previously agreed upon and uphold current norms that govern all economic actors across the country. 

According to the public announcement, the new contract should provide the government of Panama with ten times the annual contributions [from mining] to date. However, the General Directorate of Revenues [the national tax authority] estimates that recuperating the money lost each year to tax evasion would give the country 100 times more than the yearly contributions to date from mining. This new mining contract completely ignores the immense natural and cultural wealth that is being destroyed in a protected area key to biodiversity networks and where, according to the company’s own reporting, 295 environmental infractions were committed in the last three years alone. This deal also ignores the will of the people of Panama who oppose open-pit metal mining and who do not want to sell off our rivers and forests. 

In exchange for an increase in royalties, the company has requested all necessary protections to guarantee its operations, clearly alluding to the lawsuit filed by the Environmental Advocacy Centre in 2008 that challenged the constitutionality of the license. We denounce this request as an attempt to obstruct access to justice for citizens seeking to uphold the law and the constitution.

We must call upon Members of Congress, upon whom the responsibility now falls – as underscored by the Supreme Court ruling – to scrutinize the contract to determine whether or not it “conforms with the related legal regulations,” [and is] “even more stringent, given the risks involved in mining activities and the rights and interests at stake...” 

The ongoing presence of Minera Panama is setting a grave and worrisome precedent in light of the threats posed by several mining projects throughout the country – like the new 10,000-hectare concession in the districts of La Pintada, Omar Torrijos Herrera and Donoso, which ignores concerns from local communities about a lack of consultation, and the extension to the Cerro Quema concession which was illegally approved without an Environmental Impact Study, whose operations would cause significant harm to Azuero’s vulnerable water sources. 

The road to Panama’s economic recovery – one that will lead us to the fair and equitable development we have yet to experience and one that will create decent jobs – inevitably requires environmental protection. It is time for the government to honour its international commitments, including those related to biodiversity and climate action, and to opt for economic projects that are truly sustainable, such as investments in low-emissions public infrastructure, agricultural development with food sovereignty and security at the forefront, eco-tourism, new renewable energies, among others. 

Panama is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Daily, this diversity sustainably provides a wide range of environmental functions that benefit millions of people, including providing safe water and irrigation, generating electricity, air purification, pollination, production of firewood, natural medicines, timber, food, and climate stability. The movement Panama Vale Más Sin Minería, which has continued to grow across the country since its formal inception in August 2021, is committed to protecting these functions, as well as the quality of life they provide for the present and future generations. We invite all members of society to demand the same from our national government, starting with the approval of a moratorium on metal mining outlined in the Bicentennial Pact. Through this, the State will finally fulfill its constitutional duty to its citizens to promote social and economic development that prevents environmental contamination, maintains ecological balance, and avoids the destruction of ecosystems. 

Panama Worth More Without Mining Movement 

Photo: CIAM Panamá