Activists in Panama are rejoicing over a landmark ruling against a proposed copper mine, calling it a significant moment in history.

Panamanian environmental advocates have gathered on the streets in celebration of a decision made by the nation’s highest court that has the potential to close a controversial copper mining venture and put an end to several weeks of widespread demonstrations that have disrupted major transportation routes and seaports.

Serena Vamvas, who has been demonstrating against the mine since 2021 with Foundation My Sea (Fundación Mi Mar), stated that today marks a significant occasion for Panama that we have long been anticipating. While initially a small group, we now all realize the value of Panama’s green resources.

Activists holding flags gathered in the square outside of the courthouse in Panama City to rejoice over a decision that they believe will stop two decades of harm to the country’s jungles caused by a large copper mine.

According to Lilian Guevara from the Environmental Advocacy Centre (CIAM), the protests and outcome acted as a vote on Panama’s environmental future.

Guevara expressed by phone that the citizens of Panama have chosen to reject the idea of becoming a mining-based country. Amidst the loud cheers, her voice was almost inaudible as she stated, “Rather than sacrificing our most precious and valuable resource for a mere few million in royalties, let us instead focus on creating a sustainable development model.”

People celebrate after the ruling in Panama City on 28 November.

The demonstrations were triggered by worries that the mining plan would lead to deforestation and theft of water resources, but the movement soon grew into a larger manifestation of political turmoil.

Swift negotiations between President Laurentino Cortizo’s administration and First Quantum, a major Canadian mining company, have sparked accusations of corruption. Labor unions and Indigenous organizations have also expressed their concerns through protests.

Demonstrators obstructed the Panamerican highway and utilized small vessels to impede the mine’s port, resulting in a decrease in production.

Cortizo’s efforts to appease the increasing discontent by proposing a referendum on the fate of the mine were unsuccessful in calming the unrest. As a result, the constitutional court will now handle the issue.

According to mining expert Paul Harris, the Central American country’s economy would suffer greatly if the government decides to terminate the project. This would add to the already declining revenues from the Panama Canal, which has been affected by drought and restricted traffic. Harris stated that the government is guaranteed a minimum of $375 million in royalties annually.

“The construction of the Cobre Panama mine cost $6.8 billion and it currently makes up approximately 3% of Panama’s GDP and accounts for 75% of its exports.”

The demonstrators are not giving up their cause because the mining company may challenge the ruling. However, Guevara expressed her desire for the protest to shift from the streets to a more peaceful form of civic engagement in order to prevent unnecessary fatalities.

Guevara expressed hope that the decision would not only put an end to the project, but also bring an end to the state of uncertainty that has caused people to protest and endure hardship on the streets.


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