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Mass protests continued in Panama this week over the government’s contract with First Quantum Minerals, which grants the Canadian company mining rights to a significant portion of the country’s land, the Washington Post reported.
The unrest has seen demonstrators block key arterial roads and vandalize businesses. Clashes with police have resulted in hundreds of arrests and at least four people have been killed during the demonstrations.
The discontent was sparked over a government contract with First Quantum, which allowed the company to expand its copper mining operations in the country. Under the deal, the company had the right to mine copper across a 32,000-acre expanse on the country’s Caribbean coast for at least 20 years.
Supporters said that the deal will bring substantial economic benefits to the country, creating thousands of jobs and bringing in significant financial revenue to the Central American nation. But opponents have raised concerns about the environmental consequences of large-scale mining operations.
For some Panamanians, the issue of land and resource management is deeply rooted in Panama’s history. US President Theodore Roosevelt broke the country off from Colombia in 1903 so the United States could complete and control the Panama Canal. That international interest in Panama’s natural wealth and strategic location continues to this day.
However, protesters want Panama to prioritize sustainable industries, such as agriculture, fishing, and tourism over large-scale mining projects. They also want local control over local resources.
President Laurentino Cortizo has tried to appease the protesters by imposing a moratorium on new mining concessions and renewing any existing contracts – via a bill that was passed by parliament last week, the Associated Press reported. However, demonstrators view this as a temporary solution and insist on a more comprehensive resolution.
Also, the moratorium doesn’t apply to First Quantum – it already has a deal in place.
Meanwhile, Panama’s Supreme Court is slated to review the legality and constitutionality of the First Quantum contract.
If the court deems the contract unconstitutional, it could lead to significant repercussions for the Canadian firm, observers told the Post.