MAC: Mines and Communities

Panama erupts in protests against new mining law

Published by MAC on 2012-02-07
Source: Prensa Latina, Americas Quarterly, Panama News, AP

Crucial Indigenous Rights provision ignored. Two people killed and 39 injured in clashes.

Last Sunday, Panamanian police fired tear gas to clear blockades, mounted on the Pan-American Highway by indigenous groups which were protesting changes to the country's mining law.

Two people have been killed and 39 injured in the resulting clashes.

Meanwhile, other protests have taken place elsewhere in the Central American state.

Nearly a year ago, in talks between government officials and indigenous Ngobe leaders, it was agreed that a new Article would be included in the mining law, aimed at protecting the entire mineral-rich, semi-autonomous, Ngäbe Buglé Comarca region from exploration and exploitation.

However, the legislation approved last month omitted this crucial provision.

Previous coverage on MAC: Panama president to repeal mining law reform


Two killed during Panama mining protests

Mining Watch Canada release

7 February 2012

Two indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé men were killed and dozens more injured in connection with a police crackdown on dissent over mining and hydroelectric developments in Panama, where Canadian mining companies have a significant presence.

Deadly clashes in Panama
Deadly clashes in Panama. Source: AP.

Since January 30, thousands of Ngöbe-Buglé blocked the Inter-American Highway at San Felix in western Panama, demanding that the government approve legislation that would annul existing mining and hydroelectric concessions granted in their territory.

Despite calls for peaceful dialogue, the Martinelli government responded with police force on Sunday in an attempt to suppress protests and clear the highway for transit. Jerónimo Rodríguez Tugri was killed on Sunday when police opened fire against indigenous demonstrators. Mauricio Méndez died Monday.

The violence in San Felix has triggered widespread dissent from civil society groups and other indigenous nations throughout Panama. Road blockades, marches, and vigils are taking place across the country, including in the capital city, where universities have also been closed. The banana workers union in Bocas de Toro has declared an indefinite strike until the government complies with the Ngöbe-Buglé's demands.

In response to police violence, indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé protestors have burned down police stations in the towns of San Felix and Volcán.

The Ngöbe-Buglé territory is home to Cerro Colorado, one of the world's largest remaining copper deposits. In recent years, Canadian consulting agency, Kokopelli, recognized locally as working on behalf of Vancouver-based Corriente Resources, has maintained a controversial presence on indigenous lands carrying out activities to promote mining that local indigenous leadership have criticized.

In central Panama, in the town of Coclesito, protestors also blocked the access road to Petaquilla Minerals' mine and the future site of Toronto-based Inmet Mining's proposed open-pit copper mine project. Residents of this area have had long-standing conflicts with Petaquilla Minerals over environmental contamination from the mine. There is also concern that the recently approved Inmet mine will destroy a protected area in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. State-owned Korean Resources Corporation is poised to obtain a 20% share in the INMET project, which environmental groups say violates the Panamanian constitution.

International human rights organizations denounce the violent actions taken against Ngöbe protestors. Today, Amnesty International released an Urgent Action urging the international community to condemn the violence meted out by Panamanian authorities. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on indigenous rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have also called on the Panamanian government to halt the police violence and enter into negotiations with the Ngöbe-Buglé.

Dialogue was slated to begin Tuesday between indigenous leaders and government officials.

Proposed mining law reforms to permit foreign state investment that would enable Asian investors to finance Inmet's Copper Panama project have also been subject to protests during the past year. The rights of Canadian corporations operating in the Mesoamerican country could be further strengthened by a free trade agreement, which the Canadian parliament has yet to implement.

- 30 -

For more information:

Jen Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada, 613-569-3439

Rosie Simms, fixer for ‘CBC The National' television crew who was recently denied entry to Panama, 250-352-2347

To take action:

Cultural Survival also has an online urgent action that you can respond to here

Jennifer Moore
Latin America Program Coordinator
MiningWatch Canada

tel: 613.569.3439 / fax: 613.569.5138

Fears for Protestors After Two Killed

Amnesty Action Urgent Action

7 February 2012

Two protestors were killed and reportedly over 40 people injured when police dispersed a protest by Indigenous Peoples in Panama on 5 February. Protests are likely to continue across the country and there are fears that excessive force may be used by State security forces.

On 30 January members of the Ngäbe-Buglé people took to the streets to protest against an amendment to a bill which they believe will leave their lands vulnerable to the construction of hydroelectric projects, in the provinces of Chiriquí, Veraguas, and Bocas del Toro in the north of the country. Since then protests have grown and parts of the Pan-American Highway have been blocked by thousands of demonstrators. On 5 February one demonstrator, Jerónimo Rodríguez Tugri, was shot dead in San Felix, Chiriquí province, and there are reports that another protestor is in a critical condition. Over 40 others have reportedly been wounded, including police officers. On 7 February the media reported the death of another demonstrator, Mauricio Méndez, in David, Chiriquí province. The circumstances of his death have yet to be confirmed.

There are numerous allegations of excessive force on the part of the police by human rights, environmental and church groups, including the use of firearms to disperse the protestors which resulted in the death of Jerónimo Rodríguez Tugrí.

Media and civil society organizations have also reported the use tear gas in close proximity to medical centres, the denial of access to legal representation of those arrested, and lack of access to medical attention for the injured. After initially denying reports that it had cut off access to the mobile phone network in areas where the demonstrations were occurring, the government has now confirmed it had cut access. As of 7 February, the phone network has been restored.

Demonstrations are likely to continue over the coming days and there are fears that more people could be wounded or killed.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:


Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal
Presidencia de la República, Panamá 1,
Fax: +507 527 9034
Salutation: Estimado Sr.Presidente/ Dear President

Ministry of Public Security
José Raúl de Mulino
Ministro de Seguridad Pública
Cl. 3 y Av. 7, Central San Felipe
Ciudad de Panamá, Panamá
Fax: +507 512 6001
Salutation: Estimado Sr. Ministro/ Dear Minister

And copies to:
Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM) (NGO)

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

Additional Information

Last year, in February 2011, the Ngäbe-Buglé staged protests against a mining law on the basis that it facilitated new mining projects in Indigenous Peoples' territories, and did not include sufficient safeguards for the environment or consultation with local communities. The law was passed in February but repealed in March after the government and the Ngäbe-Buglé negotiated a solution to the crisis and reached an agreement, which according to Indigenous Peoples' groups, includes a provision that would see their territories protected from mining and hydroelectric development projects.

On 27 January 2012, the National Assembly debated a bill to protect the territories of the Ngäbe-Buglé Indigenous Peoples from mining and hydroelectric projects. During the debate, legislators eliminated Article 5 from the Bill, leading to mass protests across the country. Indigenous and environmental groups claim that Article 5 would have protected Indigenous lands from the imposition of hydroelectric projects, which in the past have led to the threat of Indigenous villages being flooded. Indigenous Peoples took to the streets on 30 January to protest agains the amendment to the Bill.

Name: Jerónimo Rodríguez Tugri, Mauricio Méndez, and Ngäbe-Buglé protestors
Gender m/f: Jerónimo Rodríguez Tugri (male), Mauricio Méndez (male), protestors (both)
UA: 39/12 Index: AMR 44/001/2012 Issue Date: 7 February 2012

Broken Promises Fuel A New Wave Of Anti-Mining Protests In Panama

By J. Kennedy

Intercontinental Cry

5 February 2012

An indigenous Ngobe protester was killed by a gunshot wound to the chest during confrontations with the police this morning, 5th February, in San Félix, Panama. It has been confirmed that three more people have been hurt with local residents insisting many more are injured. In flat contradiction, the Security Minister Jose Mulino has stated that his officers are not carrying guns. In retaliation to the death, Ngobe protestors have set light to a police station in San Félix.

Since 30th January, demonstrators have been positioned at various points along the international Interamerican highway using branches, pieces of wood, metal and rocks to block the road. They are protesting against the government's decision to remove a law that would provide environmental protection to their lands. The police continue to deny that there has been any violence, although on Thursday 2nd January there were reports of up to 7 people injured in attacks involving tear gas.

Early 2011 saw similar actions by thousands of Ngobe who protested the government's amendment of the national mining law 415, which would have allowed for the commission of mines and other projects in the region. In March 2011, after talks between government officials and Ngobe leaders, it was agreed that article 5, which will protect the entire Comarca from exploration and exploitation, would be written into the mining law 415.

Although the government has begun the exploration of other mines in Panama, the semi-autonomous Comarca holds an extremely considerable amount of mineral wealth. Not only is it home to Cerro Colorado - the second largest copper deposit in the world - but it hold several small but significant sites already under exploration by foreign mining companies.

Corriente Resources Inc. have reportedly been working in the area since 2009 with the assistance of the consultancy firm, Kokopelli, owned by Canadian Don Clarke. Kokopelli's role is, according to its own website, "to work directly with industry to build sustainable, respectful and responsible relationships with Indigenous communities."

Don Clarke was also Vice President of sustainable development for Ecuacorriente, a subsidiary of Corriente Resources Inc, a company which was allegedly at the centre of human rights abuses and social conflicts in Ecuador.

In early January, Hector Lopez, leader of the Association for the Rights and Social Development of the Ngäbe-Bugle People, stated at the National Assembly that he opposed article 5 as it would affect development in the region, and in his opinion, violate law 10, a founding law of the Comarca. Lopez is strongly in favor of mining in the region and believes the Ngobe should receive 50% of mining profits.

However, Celio Guerra, president of the traditional Ngabe Bugle Council also stated in January that "the people who protested last year in San Felix spoke loud and clear. We don't want mining in the Comarca."

As protests continue to swell on the highway, there are growing concerns over Panama's freedom of press. On 20th January, a Canadian journalist and fixer, Rosie Simms, was denied entry into the country. She had been working on behalf of the Canadian broadcaster CBS who were covering a story about Canadian mining companies in Latin America.

Many believe that this is symptomatic of a wider issue relating to freedom of press. A recent report by Reporters Without Borders revealed that Panama has dropped 58 places on the freedom of press index since 2010.

As the protests continue, other parts of the country have joined in solidarity. In Donoso district, Colón province, a group of Ngobe and campesinos have blocked a road to the Petaquilla mining project. In Bocas del Toro province, Banana plantation workers have announced that they will strike in 73 hours unless the government honors its agreements. Truckers, stuck in San Felix, have also pledged to strike. In the capital, many people have taken to streets in support of the Ngobe.

After five days of protests there is major disruption throughout Panama. Market sellers in the capital have reported losses of up to $10,000. In Bocas del Toro, Banana Companies have estimated a loss of $270,000 due to road closures. According to the Chamber of Commerce the economy could face a total loss of over 10 million dollars.

Meanwhile, the Costa Rican government has expressed concern that 270 of its citizens remain stuck in Panama due to the road closures. Pressure has been increasing for all sides to enter into talks.

UN representatives in Panama have urged both Ngobe leaders and the government to begin 'a peaceful dialogue' and 'to avoid violence.' Although President Martinelli has said the situation is 'reaching a limit,' he has refused to reach out to the Ngobe. He also continues to undermine the legitimacy of the protests by accusing opposition parties of 'manipulating' them.

In a continual distortion of the facts, the government has been using misleading rhetoric such as 'kidnapped' and 'hostages' when referring to travelers delayed on the highway.

Yesterday morning, 4th February, mobile phone coverage was suspended along a large stretch of the highway where the protesters are concentrated. Later in the afternoon, six teachers were arrested in the city of Santiago whilst protesting in solidarity.

The situation is extremely charged and tension is mounting across the country. As violence continues to unfold in San Félix, journalists and human rights organizations are being denied access to the area. The government continues to spread disinformation and there have been no attempts so far to reach out to the Ngobe and begin peaceful talks.

Jennifer is a freelance journalist and teacher living in Central America. She spent two moving months volunteering in the Comarca Ngobe-Bugle in 2010.

Panama Police, Indigenous Clash Over Blockade

Associated Press 

6 February 2012

PANAMA CITY - Police fired tear gas Sunday to clear blockades of the Pan-American highway by indigenous groups protesting changes to the mining law. One person was killed and 39 injured in the resulting clashes.

Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino said police broke up the blockades after members of the Ngobe-Bugle tribe in western Panama refused calls for dialogue.

Protest leader Liborio Miranda said a 26-year-old indigenous man was shot dead in the chest.

"It was a cowardly attack," Miranda said of the early morning police operation. Indigenous activists had started blocking the key highway linking Panama and Costa Rica on Monday.

IMAGE Riot police run to clear a road blockade set by members of the Ngobe-Bugle ethnic group at the Pan American highway in El Vigui, Panama, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012. Ngobe-Bugle people blocked roads in two provinces on the border with Costa Rica to protest against mineral exploitation on their lands. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

In retaliation, protesters burned a police station in retaliation in San Felix, located 250 miles (400 kilometers) west of the capital.

Mulino denied the use of lethal force and told a television station the cause of the man's death was unknown. He said demonstrators threw stones at officers.

Mulino said later in a news conference that the outcome of the clashes was one person dead along with 32 protesters and seven police officers injured. He added that the gun that killed the protester was not police issue. Forty-one protesters were detained.

He said police only acted after the blockades had created an "unsustainable situation."

The blockages of various parts of the highway had stranded travelers, mainly from other Central American countries, and created a huge traffic jam of trucks and cars.

The indigenous groups were protesting a decision by a legislative committee to lift a suspension of mining and reservoir construction in their region.

Panamanian Indigenous People Protest Anti-Mining Law

Prensa Latina

30 January 2012

Panama - Panamanian indigenous people on Monday will march against a draft mining bill the National Assembly is discussing, from which an article prohibits the exploration and exploitation of minerals in the region of Ngobe Bugle.

Alberto Montezuma, member of the Coordinating Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Ngobe Bugle People, leads the rally along with other indigenous leaders, in the community of San Felix, Chiriqui, stage of previous protests.

The indigenous leader said the protests began on Sunday with mobilizations from the Ngobe Bugle mountain range of hundreds of compatriots. They are opposed to the exclusion from the new bill of an article that annuls concessions granted by previous government.

In Changuinola, in Bocas del Toro province, at least 300 indigenous people from different sectors of the province on Sunday closed the road from Almirante to Changuinola, through the community of Tibite, and announced they will do it again today.

The bill, including nine articles, was approved after many months of meetings with the indigenous people. They do not understand the reason why the article that protects the community, located in the western region of Panama, was eliminated.

Panamanian Indigenous against Mining Close Interamerican Road

Prensa Latina

1 February 2012 

Panama - Hundreds of Panamanian indigenous people of the region Ngobe Bugle kept the Interamerican Road closed for the second day in a row to protest against a law that the National Assembly is discussing, without taking them into account.

Other protesters have come down from the mountains to join those who are against mining in the region and denounce the violation of the agreement on a special law that protects these areas from exploration and exploitation of deposits and the construction of hydroelectric power stations.

The demostrations are taking place in the eastern province of Chiriqui and Veraguas.

For her part, the Coordinator for the Protection of Natural Resources and the Rights of the Ngobe Bugle Peoples denounced that those who negotiate in the government of Chiriqui with a commission headed by the Minister of Government, Jorge Ricardo Fabrega, do not represent them.

The indigenous people's protests continue as there are no solutions offered by government authorities, say truckers who are affected by the closure of the highway.

Spokespersons of the Coordinator said they are willing to negotiate with government representatives as long as the meetings are held in San Felix.

Indigenous Protesters Continue to Block Pan-American Highway

Americas Quarterly

2 February 2012

For the second day in a row, Indigenous groups protesting mineral resource extraction and hydroelectric projects in Panama shut down parts of the Pan-American Highway yesterday. Hundreds of Indigenous Panamanians from the Ngabe Buglé comarca in the country's northwest placed tree branches and rocks at points along the highway in Chiriquí and Veraguas provinces, as well as on the highway between Chiriquí and Boca del Tora. All locations are part of the comarca, a type of reservation for the Ngabe and Buglé Indigenous groups with a high degree of administrative autonomy.

The demonstrators were protesting mining activities and the construction of hydroelectric projects in the region. Their leader, Toribio García, told local press that "we don't want transnational companies to take over our natural resources and [cause people to] lose their lands."

Specifically, the Indigenous protesters were incensed over the approval last week by the National Assembly's Commerce Committee of a bill, Ley 415, which addresses the protection of mineral, water and other natural resources in their region. They said they were not consulted during debate over the bill, and demanded that Article 5 of the original bill, which was dropped in the approved version, be reinstated.

That article had called for an immediate suspension of all active concessions to national or foreign companies interested in mineral resource extraction or the development of hydroelectric plants within Ngabe Buglé and neighboring territories.

Home | About Us | Companies | Countries | Minerals | Contact Us
© Mines and Communities 2013. Web site by Zippy Info