MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Panama: Peasants arrested over gold mine

Published by MAC on 2009-06-02
Source: La Estrella

Panamanian police have arrested opponents of Petaquilla Gold Mine project for peaceful protest. See MAC's previous coverage of this issue: Despite Anam's concerns, Petaquilla sets start date (11-05-2008)


Peasants and environmentalists have been demanding the closure of the controversial Petaquilla Gold Mine project for the last ten days. According to Dr Anabel Herrera, an environmentalist, who has been fighting the mining company for the last two years, Petaquilla Gold has destroyed thousands of hectares of virgin jungle, polluted the rivers and caused the disappearance of fish and wildlife from the area.

Panamanian anti-riot units have arrested 12 people, among them the Chiriqui environmentalist Carmencita Tedman. A peasant who did not want to be identified, said that he was really afraid, because policemen were hitting the protestors mercilessly, even women and children. He added that when all this was happening Petaquilla Gold helicopters were surveying the scene.

"We were protesting in a peaceful manner, so I do not understand why the police was so violent. I am asking the National Police director Francisco Troya to release the peasants, after all, they are ill because of the mining operation," said Herrera.

Meanwhile, employees of Petaquilla Gold were staging another protest in the city of Penonome, Cocle province, to ask the authorities to remove the peasants from their mining camp. The leader of the Petaquilla Gold workers, Edy Rosas said that the workers are tired of being threatened by peasants and environmentalists who prevent them from earning a living.

"We have not being able to go to work for the last ten days, because of these people and the authorities are not doing enough to stop them," said Rosas.

"The company has reduced the number of workers, because of the constant protests of peasants and environmentalists, who do not want development in the area," said the union leader. "If Petaquilla Gold decided to close the operations more than 1500 jobs will be lost forever in an area of high unemployment," said Rosas.

"The government should do something about and create a high level commission to decide if it going to allow the operation of the open cast mine," said Rosas.

In November 2008, the National Environmental Agency ANAM ordered Petaquilla Gold to suspend its mining operations, because an environmental impact study had not yet been approved. The ANAM also imposed a fine of almost $2 million for environmental damages.

Petaquilla Communities Close Project

May 14, 2009
By Julio Yao

The Committee to Close Petaquilla maintains its roadblock on the highway that leads to projects operated by Petaquilla Gold and Minera Panamá, a subsidiary of Canada's Inmet Mining. The roadblock began at 3 am. May 9, and is located near Nazareno, a few minutes up the road from Coclesito.

The 24 campesino communities that make up the Committee demand the cancellation of the contract and the closure of the mining projects due to violation and failure to comply with the agreement as well as aberrant predation and destruction of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, where hundreds of hectares of virgin jungle and forest have been cut down, and where the mountain passes and rivers that made the area one of the most important in the world due to its rich biodiversity have been destroyed and polluted.

The one-sided 1997 contract grants Petaquilla Mining a vast territory equivalent to half of the old Panama Canal Zone. Not happy with this, the mining interests have solicited an expansion of the concession into seven neighboring areas, which would double the territory and surpass the size of the Canal Zone, some 1,432 square kilometers. All this, in exchange for what?  

In 2008 the mining companies paid the municipality of Donoso, in Colon Province, a sum of $318.00, and as such the participation of the state in the future profits is reduced to a ridiculous, absurd, and anachronistic 2 percent!

The Japanese initiated feasibility studies for metal extraction in Petaquilla but abandoned these pretensions precisely for environmental reasons. To put it bluntly, they decided that developing open-pit mining projects in the dense tropical jungle of Petaquilla wasn't a good idea.

Last year, the US organization Sustainable International Harvest, headquartered in Ohio, decided to reject a juicy offer from the Canadian company Teck Cominco to introduce development projects in the communities, judging that the contract was in conflict with the principles and objectives of the organization – which helps thousands of poor campesino communities in Central America – because in Petaquilla indigenous and campesino communities would be forcibly removed and would have nowhere to go.

The communities have never been consulted, but rather deceived, and their lands have been taken from them unfairly in many ways, including the destruction and burning of ranches of indigenous peoples, without even indemnifying the local residents and without any authority of the PRD government fulfilling its constitutional obligation to defend the communities.

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