MAC: Mines and Communities

Controversial mining law green-lighted, Panama

Published by MAC on 2011-02-14
Source: News Room Panama, Latinamerica Press

While the debate over proposed reforms to Panama's mining code are not over in the National Assembly, a declaration from 57 Panamanian civil society organizations expressed deepest concern over the process and content of a "controversial and pernicious bill".

Reforms are seen as a necessary step to making projects such as Inmet's Panama Copper  possible, and as such have sparked significant demonstrations in opposition to metallic mining by both indigenous and non-indigenous organizations.

Menwhile, the Panamanian government has opened up the copper-rich Cerro Colorado to a public bidding process and proposed reforms to the country's mining code to the National Assembly, provoking public debate in the streets and the legislature.

In the lead up to public consultations over the proposed amendments, Panama's ombudsman, Ricardo Vargas, recommended a moratorium on mining "until the country has sufficient institutions," citing the "disaster" that has occurred as a result of mining to date.

Public consultations took place between Tuesday and Friday of last week and brought hundreds of indigenous people out in protest and marching, but the National Police reportedly repressed them with tear gas and pepper spray. The indigenous Ngöbe Buglé who led protests, demonstrated opposition to the reopening of the Cerro Colorado project. "We can't permit foreign companies to come and take away our lands and resources," said Pedro Rodríguez, president of the Ngöbe Buglé comarca.

Over sixty delegations made presentations to the legislature, most of them opposed to the proposed reforms. In addition to environmental groups, indigenous peoples and leftist organizations, the Panamanian Union of Journalists (SINDIPER) also came out in opposition to the reforms, indicating concerns about the impacts on indigenous people, state sovereignty, and the environment.

At week's end, Panama's Minister of Trade and Industry, Roberto Henriquez, said "there has been a balance" in the consultations. This week the Committee on Trade and Economic Affairs of the National Assembly will debate the amendments.


Buckshot and tear gas dispersed indigenous demonstrators

News Room Panama

8 February 2011

Police used tear gas and buckshot on Monday to disperse Ngäbe indigenous people protesting in Chiriqui against changes in the mining code.

At least 13 were injured and taken to hospital, and 19 were arrested on Monday February 7.

About 2,5000 Indians descended from the mountains to block the Trans Panama highway in San Felix and Viguier.

They were protesting against the draft law to reform the Code of Mineral Resources, and the possible exploitation of Cerro Colorado, one of the largest copper reserves in the Bugle Ngäbe region. The detainees were released later in the day, after indigenous leaders reached an agreement to withdraw from the road that had been blocked for several hours.

Meanwhile in the comfort of the the National Assembly the second debate on the project continued while environmental groups, civil society and indigenous leaders shouted slogans against the proposal. The debate they believe is merely a rubber stamp of approval for a law dear to the heart of President Ricardo Martinelli, who has publicly called for an opening of the doors to investment from foreign countries.

Local authorities in the region where the Indians gathered lamented the way the Indians were attacked while participating in a peaceful protest, and on Tuesday Ngäbe Bugle leaders were meeting to evaluate their next move.

Controversial mining law green-lighted

Environmentalists slam legislation they say will cause irreversible damage.

Latinamerica Press

2 February 2011

In the first of two votes, Panamanian lawmakers Feb. 1 approved a controversial mining law that aims to exponentially expand the sector in the country, a legislation that was staunchly opposed by environmental and indigenous rights groups.

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry currently has more than 180 requests for mining licenses that, if granted, would encompass 40 percent of Panamanian territory.

The proposed law would allow foreign entities or persons to mine in Panama, as well as increase double the royalty fee to US$0.04 per dollar of mining-generated income.

Several environmental and indigenous organizations complain that there has not been enough debate and technical analysis about the ecological and social impact the industry could have.

Canadian company Inmet is developing a $5 billion copper-gold project that would require the relocation of more than 5,000 people, mainly indigenous and campesino villagers near Panama´s northern coast. The project would be the largest in Central America.

President Ricardo Martinelli's government is also looking for partners to develop the Cerro Colorado copper project in the western Chiriquí province, which would make Panama one of the top copper producers in the Western Hemisphere. According to Martinelli, the mine has more reserves than El Teniente mine, in Chile, the world's top copper producer.

A year ago, production began at the Molejón gold mine, owned by Canada´s Petaquilla Minerals Ltd., a project that sparked criticism and protests.

In a joint statement by more than a dozen environmental and indigenous groups, signatories expressed "our deepest worry about the process and content of this polemic and nefarious bill that attacks Panama´s environmental security and sovereignty," referring to the mining bill.

"Particularly worrying is the recalcitrant position of the government representatives by not effectively integrating members of civil society," said the statement.

They added that the law completely skirts the issue of previous consultation of the indigenous community members affected by potential mining and other investment projects, as is stated in the International Labor Organization´s Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.

Before the vote, organizations including the National Association for Nature Conservation presented a counter-bill: a moratorium on open-pit mining.

President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, Panamá's northern neighbor, last year issued a moratorium on open-pit mining over a similar controversy.

Declaration and Mobilization against Mining in Panama

31 January 2011

Panama - Following a week of public consultation before the Commission for Trade and Economic Issues of the National Assembly, and pending the imminent passage of Bill #277 aimed at reforming Panama's Mineral Resources Code, we would like to express:

• Our deepest concern over the process and content of this controversial and pernicious bill, which is a threat to Panama's environmental security and national sovereignty. Lack of consultation prior to the presentation of the bill, developed in secret and behind closed doors, make the current "Days of Consultation" before the Commission untimely and unproductive, since the grounds for these reforms were not previously consulted with diverse sectors of civil society and affected communities, in the same way that neither the draft text, nor the scientific studies (if they exist), nor the opinions of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) were ever made public, despite repeated attempts on the part of interested groups to obtain this information. All of this has also taken place without consideration for even casual input or opinions on the part of the Environmental and Development Commission of the National Assembly, upsetting the internal regulations of this state body.

• In particular, the recalcitrant position of government representatives toward integrating in any effective way the input of civil society as a whole is worrisome. It's disconcerting and anti-democratic above all, that the responsible commission within the assembly, the Ministry for Trade and Industry (MICI), ignores a proposal to organize working groups that could carry out a deep analysis of and make improvements to the proposed bill, in the way that civil society groups recommended to the respective minister prior to the initiation of the so-called consultation process.

• The content of the bill - despite being marketed as "for the environment" and to "provide tools for the National Environmental Authority (ANAM)" - is full of grammatical errors, which complicates a full understanding of the intended functions of this institution to ensure environmental control of mining. Inspections that ANAM currently carries are conditioned to a requirement from the Office for Mineral Resources, which is under MICI. Additionally, ANAM is ordered to carry out environmental audits, although no regulation exists for this and when it is not this body, but rather the Auditor General of the Republic, that has the authority to do so. It also conditions preventative suspensions, part of the process of investigation, without suspending legal measures that mining companies may put forward that enable them to keep polluting.

• The bill eliminates article 165 from the mining code, which requires the names and addresses of public servants that receive requests for mineral concessions and corresponding payments to be published in the Office Gazette, while retaining articles that enable government officials to maintain interests in mining concessions.

• The project permits things that are prohibited by law today, including that the state can create private companies using state capital, which contravenes the constitution. What is worse is that it would allow foreign states to provide capital to private companies. In both cases, this disrespects the separation that should exist between "the private" and "the public," creating distortions among economic agents, and unjustly and disproportionately privileging these businesses over other civil society actors, the Panamanian state, and Panamanian companies that will face disloyal competition in this sector.

• The most worrisome aspect of this proposed bill is that it is presented in the context in which processes for environmental evaluation remain uncertain, given that regulations have not been developed for Law No. 30 regarding Environmental Impact Assessments, and despite efforts on the part of the environmental movement to develop its regulation.

• Similarly, a weakened ANAM has not made any pronouncement with regard to this bill, which, added to decades of unfulfilled responsibilities, environmental disasters, unfulfilled promises and citizen complaints regarding the way in which projects related to metallic and non-metallic mining have been carried out in the country, heightens the level of concern within the Panamanian population.

We respectfully request that discussions over this bill be suspended until working groups can be established to analyze the various themes under consideration and have a serious discussion that is transparent, technical, and scientific. In the meantime, while such a discussion takes place, Vice President Juan Carlos Varela's proposed bill for a moratorium on mining activities should go into effect and consultations occur, starting from the group up, as is characteristic of democratic countries worldwide.

Signed by the following organizations and individuals:

National Environmental Organizations:

1. Asociación Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (ANCON)

2. Fundación Avifauna

3. Panamá Sostenible (PASOS)

4. Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM)

5. Fundación para la Protección del Mar (PROMAR)

6. Almanaque Azul

7. Audubon Panamá

8. Fundación Albatros Media

Organizations belonging to the Citizen's Assembly

9. Asociación Ecologista Panameña

10. Asociación de Derecho Ambiental

11. Asociación Panameña de Derecho Constitucional

12. Asociación Conciencia Ciudadana

13. Asociación Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panamá

14. Asociación Verde de Panamá

15. Centro de Estudios y Acción Social Panameño (CEASPA)

16. Centro de Estudios, Promoción y Asistencia Social (CEPAS)

17. Centro de Estudios y Capacitación Familiar.

18. Centro de Trabajo sobre Seguridad Social

19. Central General de Trabajadores de la República de Panamá (CGTP)

20. Central Nacional de Trabajadores de Panamá CNTP

21. Consumo Ético.

22. Colectivo Voces Ecológicas.

23. Coordinadora Nacional de Pastoral Indígena

24. Human Rights Everywhere

25. Federación de Asociaciones de Profesionales de Panamá

26. Foro Mujer y Desarrollo

27. Espacio Encuentro de Mujeres

28. Madres Maestras

29. Manos & Cerebros

30. Servicio Paz y Justicia- Panamá

31. Movimiento Democrático Popular

32. Unidad de Lucha Integral del Pueblo.

33. Sindicato de Periodistas de Panamá.

34. Voces Libres de Panamá

Environmental Organizations of Chiriqui

35. Amigos del Parque Internacional La Amistad (Amipila)

36. Fundación para el Desarrollo Integral , Comunitario y Conservación de los Ecosistemas en Panamá

37. Asociación de Productores Agroecologistas La Amistad (Adpaela)

38. Colibrí Asociación Ecologista de Panamá

39. Asociación Agroecologista Macho de Monte

40. Asociación Ambientalista de Chiriquí

41. Asociación Conservación de la Biósfera

42. Grupo Ecologista para la Conservación del Parque Internacional la Amistad (Gerpropila).

43. Asociación Ecologista de Productores Orgánicos de Rovira (Asepor)

44. Centro Misionero de la Concepción para la Defensa del Ecosistema (Cemcode)

45. Asociación Agroecoturística la Amistad (Asaela)

46. Grupo Expedición Natural Agroecoturística (Genat)

47. Asociación de Productores de Cultivos Exportables (Apce)

48. Comité por la Defensa del Río Gariché y sus afluentes Environmental Organizations from Bocas del Toro

49. Alianza Bocas (made up of over 40 environmental organizations from Bocas del Toro)

Other Organizations and Individuals

50. Coordinadora Nacional de Pastoral Indígena

51. Comité de Protección al Paciente y Familiares (Propafa)

52. Federación de Comunidades de Áreas Revertidas

53. Asociación de Propietarios y Residentes de Clayton (Aprecla)

54. Comisión de Derechos Humanos de la Comarca Ngobe Buglé

55. Centro de Asistencia Legal Popular (CEALP)

56. Dr. Azael Barrera

57. Harley Mitchell

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