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Panama: Public Rejection of Mining Code Reforms

January and February of 2011 have been turbulent months for Panama. The latest cause of discontent and division among Panamanians is a law approved by the National Assembly and signed by President Ricardo Martinelli that reforms the mining code. As reported by the Panamanian Government's website [es]:

El presidente de la República, Ricardo Martinelli sancionó –este viernes 11 de febrero- el proyecto que reforma el Código de Recursos Minerales, por lo que ahora, la minería tendrá que aportar más dinero a las comunidades, a los municipios y al Estado.

The president, Ricardo Martinelli, passed –on Friday February 11– the bill that amends the Mineral Resources Code, so now, the mining industry will have to put more money into communities, municipalities and the State.

Students, indigenous people, civil rights and environmental groups marched on the Coastal Highway to protest reforms to the mining code. Image under copyright by Demotix taken by Guillermo Johnson

The same site also points out the reforms’ strengths, concluding that they benefit all Panamanians:

Con este nuevo código ganamos todos los panameños al modernizar un código que tenía 50 años de atraso y abre las puertas para la generación de miles de empleos.

With this new code all Panamanians win with the modernization of a code that was 50 years behind and that opens the door to generate thousands of jobs.

However, Panamanians have not been very receptive to these reforms and they talk about the damage it can cause to the environment. Several environmental groups, students and unions rallied in marches and protests. Telemetro [es] reported:

Más de 70 organizaciones ambientalistas panameñas e internacionales le han pedido al gobierno dialogar para cambiar la reforma porque, advierten, la minería a cielo abierto en un país de clima tropical y lluvioso como Panamá tendrá efectos adversos graves.

More than 70 Panamanian and international environmental organizations have asked to dialogue with the government to change the reform because, they warn, open-cast mining in a rainy, tropical country like Panama will have serious adverse effects.

Furthermore, indigenous groups blocked roads for more than several days until the government committed to dialogue, as reported in La Prensa [es]:

Así, reiteró que hoy, martes 1 de marzo se inicia el diálogo sobre las reformas mineras entre el Gobierno y los indígenas.

Como parte del acuerdo se revisarán qué artículos de la Ley 8 que reformó el citado código tienen incidencia en la comarca Ngäbe Buglé y la posibilidad de crear un articulado o ley que garantice la protección de recursos naturales e hídricos de esas regiones, mencionó la funcionaria en el noticiero matutino.

Thus, [Interior Minister Roxana Méndez] reiterated that on Tuesday March 1st the dialogue on mining reforms between the government and indigenous people will begin.

As part of the agreement they will review which sections of Law 8, which amended the [mining] code, have an impact on the Ngäbe Buglé territory and the possibility of creating an article or law guaranteeing the protection of natural and water resources in those regions, as the official mentioned in the morning news.

Reactions appeared quickly on social networks. Cheryl Martinez (@chery2621) writes to the president through his Twitter account, asking him to not use mining as a means to move the country forward.

@rmartinelli el medio ambiente y la belleza de Panama vale muchos mas… Hay otras manera de hacer crecer el pais no con la mineria :(

@rmartinelli the environment and the beauty of Panama are worth a lot more…There are other ways to develop the country, not with mining :(

Carlos Moral (@cmmoral), on the other hand, represents the group that is in favor of mining and criticizes the double standard that some seem to reveal as they are against mining but in favor of the benefits it brings:

Aca en #panama nos quejamos de las minas y la mineria, pero como consumidores la incentivamos, no queramos torta sin que se rompa el huevo

Here in #panama we complain about mines and mining, but as consumers we encourage them, let's not ask for cake without breaking an egg

Meanwhile, the president insists that the protests and discontent are due to a hidden political agenda and to misinformation. The site Terra [es] reports on the president's statements:

“Hay personas que han querido por cuestiones políticas oponerse a esto”, dijo Martinelli al canal 13 de televisión. “También hay personas de afuera empresas que no quieren que haya más cobre en ninguna parte del mundo para ellos seguir manteniendo el monopolio y seguir manteniendo los precios alto”

“Some people have wanted to oppose this for political reasons,” Martinelli said on television on Channel 13. “There are also people from outside [,] companies that do not want more copper anywhere in the world so they can continue maintaining a monopoly and keep prices high”

Avarana replies to the president's stance in his blog Avarana [es]:

Si vemos las noticias y declaraciones de “altos” funcionarios gubernamentales, alguien podría pensar que la lucha en contra de la mineria en Panamá es un asunto entera y exclusivamente de indígenas, extranjeros, y esos ambientalístas locos. Esa es la mentira que nos ha vendido el gobierno, el mismo que dice no entender el porque las protestas: si ya no se van a tocar las comarcas, entonces no hay nada por qué quejarse, ¿verdad? Además, qué saben ellos sobre la Naturaleza; de seguro estan manipulados. ¿Verdad?

If we watch the news and statements from “senior” government officials, one might think that the struggle against mining in Panama is a matter entirely and exclusively of indigenous people, foreigners, and those crazy environmentalists. That is the lie that the government has sold us, the same government that says they do not understand the reasons behind the protests: if you are not going to touch the territories, then there is nothing to complain about, right? Besides, what do they know about nature; they are surely manipulated. Right?

Avarana later adds that the only interest in mining is economic, not taking into account other issues:

Los perjuicios de la mineria trascienden los límites comarcales o provinciales, pero el gobierno no puede ver más allá de sus bolsillos, y se complica aún más porque decide azuzar a una de las sociedades que históricamente más ha sufrido la manipulacíón y desinterés de los políticos.

The hazards of mining go beyond the territorial and provincial boundaries, but the government can not see beyond their pockets, and it gets more complicated because they've decided to incite one of the societies that has historically suffered manipulation and a lack of interest from politicians.

Students, indigenous people, civil rights and environmental groups marched on the Coastal Highway to protest reforms to the mining code. Image under copyright by Demotix taken by Guillermo Johnson

The dialogue began on March 1st with some drawbacks and is expected to continue until Thursday March 3rd, as reported by La Prensa [es]:

Nueve horas después de lo pactado originalmente, quedó instalada anoche en San Félix, Chiriquí, la mesa de diálogo entre la Coordinadora ngäbe buglé y el Gobierno para revisar la Ley 8 que reformó el Código de Recursos Minerales.

Nine hours later than originally agreed, last night in San Felix, Chiriqui, the dialogue table between the Ngäbe Buglé coordinator and the Government was set up to revise Law No. 8 which amended the Code of Mineral Resources.

Meanwhile, Panamanians hope the conflict is resolved in the best possible way for the whole country.

Update 03/03/11: La Estrella [es] reports that during a meeting with the indigenous ngöbe, President Martinelli announced Law 8 will be repealed.

1 comment

  • […] mattina del 3 marzo il Presidente Ricardo Martinelli ha promesso che annullerà la legge numero 8 che modificava la serie di norme riguardanti l'industria estrattiva [en] a Panama. Il quotidiano online Hora Cero riferisce che: El Presidente de Panamá, Ricardo […]

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