President of Panama Enacts Indefinite Halt on Issuing New Mining Permits; Canadian Operated Mine Remains Exempt

by Michael Nguyen
Panama mining moratorium

The head of state in Panama, President Laurentino Cortizo, has enacted legislation imposing an indefinite halt on the issuance of new mining permits. This legislation also includes a clause preventing the renewal of current mining permits.

The legislative body of Panama, the National Assembly, gave its endorsement to the legislation on Thursday, with one exception: the withdrawal of a contentious clause that would have terminated an existing mining agreement. This decision followed two weeks of widespread demonstrations across the nation.

Despite the moratorium, the law will not affect the ongoing operations of the copper mine managed by Minera Panama, located in the Colon region. This concession grants the mine a two-decade operational period with a potential renewal for an additional 20 years.

Environmental advocates have raised concerns that the mine’s activities pose significant risks to the local ecosystem, particularly the destruction of the dense jungle in its vicinity and potential contamination of water sources utilized by local communities.

Minera Panama operates as a subsidiary within the jurisdiction of Panama and is owned by the Canadian corporation First Quantum Minerals Ltd.

The legislation has been met with approval from certain legal professionals who caution that the annulment of the existing contract could expose the Panamanian government to substantial financial liabilities from legal challenges.

Nevertheless, specialists have indicated the potential for these liabilities to be mitigated should the Supreme Court of Panama declare the initial contract unconstitutional. There are currently eight cases challenging the contract on these grounds.

There is a pending legislative proposal which, if debated and passed, would subject the said mining contract to a national referendum.

President Cortizo’s ratification of the mining contract occurred on October 20, despite the ongoing civil unrest.

The protests persisted on Friday, garnering participation from diverse societal segments, including Indigenous communities, and various professional unions from sectors such as education, construction, and healthcare.

A notable precedent in the region was set in 2017 when the Salvadoran congress legislated a comprehensive prohibition on metal mining within the nation, a pioneering move aimed at safeguarding the nation’s water reserves.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Panama mining moratorium

What has Panama’s President recently signed into law regarding mining?

President Laurentino Cortizo has signed a law that imposes an indefinite moratorium on new mining concessions and prohibits the renewal of existing ones in Panama.

Was any mining operation exempt from the new mining moratorium in Panama?

Yes, the law does not apply to Minera Panama’s existing open-pit copper mining operations, which is allowed to continue for 20 years with an option to extend for another 20 years.

What concerns have been raised by environmentalists about the mining operations in Panama?

Environmentalists are concerned that the mining operations, especially the copper mine run by Minera Panama, threaten to destroy dense jungle areas and endanger local water sources.

Why did some lawyers approve the exclusion of Minera Panama from the moratorium?

Some lawyers agree with the exclusion because revoking Minera Panama’s contract might expose the government to significant legal liabilities.

Are there any legal challenges against the mining contract in Panama?

Yes, there are eight cases brought before the Supreme Court that argue the mining contract is unconstitutional. If the court rules in favor of these, liabilities from revoking the contract could be avoided.

Is there another legislative proposal related to mining awaiting debate in Panama?

There is a proposal pending debate that aims to put the mining contract to a popular referendum.

What actions did the public take in response to the mining legislation in Panama?

Protests continued across Panama with participation from indigenous groups and unions from education, construction, and healthcare sectors.

Has any other country in the region passed significant mining legislation?

El Salvador passed a law in 2017 banning all metal mining to protect the nation’s water supplies, one of the first such broad bans.

More about Panama mining moratorium

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Sarah Johnson November 4, 2023 - 7:33 am

just heard about the protests in Panama over this mining deal. is it really worth the environmental cost??

Linda Smith November 4, 2023 - 8:23 am

The government might face legal issues if they cancel the contract with the Canadian mine. I get it, but what about the environmental concerns.

Mike Anderson November 4, 2023 - 11:14 am

Can someone explain why we’re signing new mining laws but still going on with old ones, Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

Bob Walters November 4, 2023 - 3:44 pm

saw the news on this, minera panama gets a pass while everyone else is stopped. doesn’t seem fair at all.

John Miller November 4, 2023 - 9:21 pm

Really not sure what the government is thinking with this one… a moratorium on new mines but letting a Canadian company keep their operation? seems a bit off to me


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