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Mining becomes bone of contention between Panama environmentalists and developers

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – “Bread for today and hunger for tomorrow”, as defined by environmentalists who demonstrated this Tuesday in Panama City against mining, at a time when the Government is promoting the sector as an engine for the recovery of the economy after the hard blow of the pandemic.

A little more than a hundred people gathered in front of the building that houses the offices of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MICI) with banners that read “there is no sustainable open-pit mining”, or “to another dog with that bone, mining has never solved our problems”.

Open-pit mining in Panama. (Photo internet reproduction)
Open-pit mining in Panama. (Photo internet reproduction)

The environmentalist and former mayor of Panama City, Raisa Banfield, said that the Central American country has already suffered the consequences of mining, which has left environmental and social liabilities that do not compensate the monetary gains, which were never the amount promised by the companies and the State.

The architect also recalled that after the 1989 US invasion to overthrow dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega (1934-2017), Panamanians were sold “the idea that all problems were solved with metal mining”.

“And here we have been left with environmental liabilities, irreversible damage to the water, to the subsoil, loss of forests, people who had to migrate from their communities and activities, because the sight generated an illusion, like all the ephemeral glitter of gold,” he said.

Banfield, a member of the Sustainable Panama Foundation, acknowledged that metals such as copper or gold are needed in the world, but stressed that “there are other countries with other climatic conditions and natural environments (that make them) less vulnerable than Panama to the impact of a metallic extractive activity”.

Mining “is bread for today and hunger for tomorrow, it generates more wealth for those who already have it and more poverty for those who have never had access to wealth”, added the environmentalist.

The government of Laurentino Cortizo is promoting a consultation “to create a mining policy” that has been criticized by environmental sectors, which label it as excluding and inconsistent because, at the same time, it has enabled 25,000 hectares for mining in protected areas.

“We are totally against open-pit mining, not only because it will have an impact on natural resources, but also because it will destroy (land in) the Central American Biological Corridor” in Panama, said Serena Vamvas, one of the protesters.

The Government has also said that it is renegotiating the contract between the Panamanian State and the Canadian company First Quantum, owner of Minera Panama, which exploits in this country one of the largest open-pit copper mines in Latin America.

In this context, the Mining Chamber of Panama (Camipa) defended on Tuesday the contribution of mining to sustainable development and its role in recovering the country’s economy.

Mining is “key and essential” to “maintain and enhance the benefits that the country receives”, Camipa said in a statement. However, it recognized the need for a “strong” institution with “technical capacities and adequate hierarchy” to “regulate, supervise and watch over” the “compliance with legality”.

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