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Indigenous resistance to Canadian mining in Panama

What is going on in Panama? And just what exactly are Canadian mining companies doing down there?

Dana Holtby and Rosie Simms, two McGill students currently studying in Panama, wrote an article in March and another recently about ongoing  indigenous resistance to proposed international mining projects in the Central American country. It’s a fascinating story that has a strong Canadian connection so I talked to them to find out more about it. Click the audio player above to hear our interview on Skype.

Having spent over a year in Panama myself, I know that strange things can happen there when big money resource projects are at stake. Case in point: two Spanish journalists and human rights activists residing in Panama were recently detained without charges, allegedly bullied and then kicked out of the country for documenting and supporting Ngäbe Indigenous protests against the Cerro Colorado mine in Chiriquí.

Indigenous and environmental groups throughout Panama have been staging massive protests against reforms to the mining code, approved by President Martinelli in early February. Agence France-Presse reported  that clashes between protesters and police erupted around the country when demonstrators set up blockades along the Pan-American Highway and demanded that Martinelli reverse the legislation.

And the Canadian connection? Here’s how Holtby and Simms explain it in their articles:

“Panama contains several major copper and gold deposits. The two largest copper deposits are Cerro Colorado and Cobre Panama. Canada’s Inmet Mining Corporation, a publicly-traded company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, owns 100 per cent of the Cobre Panama concession, located in north-central Panama. The proposed open-pit mine site neighbours several Indigenous Ngobe and campesino (peasant) communities. The Cobre Panama project is expected to begin operations in the near future, pending approval of its Environmental and Social Impact Assessment.

“Since entering office in 2009, President Ricardo Martinelli has made clear his intent to attract international investors and push forward mining projects across the country. To facilitate this, the government passed a controversial law in February of this year. Law 8 revised the 1963 Mining Code to permit foreign state-owned companies to directly invest in mining concessions. This would allow such companies to control vast tracts of land in Panama, despite contravening Article 3 of the Constitution, which prohibits ceding national territory to other states.

“Despite substantial community resistance, Law 8 was passed on February 11. Immediately thereafter, another wave of demonstrations swept the country. Not only did protests in San Felix grow from 3,000 to an immense 10,000 people, but marches and protests were staged across the country. Still unsatisfied with the lack of government response, the Ngöbe intensified their efforts by establishing a roadblock on the Transamerican Highway – the main transportation route through the isthmus, stretching from the border of Costa Rica to the most eastern regions of Panama.”

Then on March 3, yet another strange twist in this story:

“Martinelli travelled to San Felix to announce that Law 8 would be renounced. This will effectively erase the contentious changes to the mining code. It is unclear to what degree this change was motivated by the Ngöbe protests or external pressure.

“While the future for the Ngöbe remains unclear, indigenous leaders have been firm that they will not back down until they are assured that a moratorium on mining developments in their territory has been established.”

To download the interview, right click here and select ‘Save as’ or ‘Save target as’.

For more information on the Organization for the Defence of Natural Resources and the Rights of the Ngäbe Buglé People, visit http://ulippanama.blogspot.com (in Spanish)

  1. John
    February 4, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Having been there and other places in the world the indigenous people do not want development it is actually people from outside of the community or country that are the trouble causers and this is certainly the case in Panama and particularly with the development of the Cerro Colorado Deposit. The indigenous people actually would like to see the mine developed, but they also want part of rewards for having it developed. They want the good jobs that it would provide, and they also want part of the royalties that would be paid to the Panama goverment. I found the Ngabe Bugle people that I talked very respetive of the mine development.

  2. Christina Caap
    February 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Hello,
    I am in Panama now and is worried about what is happening.
    It is hard if you are not fluently in spanish to follow all the details.

    Are you following up what is happening now. I can not find anything in canadian papers.
    Let me know

    • February 9, 2012 at 9:15 am

      Hello,
      No I have not seen anything either in Cdn papers about the situation in Panama. Please let me know what is happening. Yes I speak Spanish so feel free to send local media links.
      best,
      Mark

  3. Christina Caap
    February 10, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Hello,

    Yes the paper to read is http://www.prensa.com
    There is also a section for english.
    The Pan American highway is now open and the buses are running.
    The canadian Ambasador to Panama has been briefed from a local activist.

    Christina

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