Environmentalists: ‘New contract with Minera is unconstitutional, Government betrays its responsibility to Panamanians’

Environmental and scientific organizations, social movements, trade unions, human rights and community-based organizations reject the announcement of a new contract between the National Government and Minera Panamá (formerly Minera Petaquilla).

“With this act, the National Government again eludes the holding of a public tender and betrays its responsibility to Panamanians and our natural wealth,” they reiterate.

Through a statement, these organizations indicate that the Executive Branch disregards the decision of the Supreme Court of Justice that declared the previous Minera Panama contract unconstitutional, demonstrating once again that this industry will always operate outside our Constitution and the Law, and the fundamental rights that they enshrine. By avoiding the public tender and the competition of the bidders, the maximum benefits for the Panamanian State are not guaranteed.

They add that during the irregular negotiation, in charge of a “high-level commission that was never legally constituted, the Government announced tiny advances in environmental and labor issues that, in short, only force the company to comply with previously acquired commitments or current regulations applicable to all economic actors in the country.

“As announced, the new contract should suppose for the Panamanian State 10 times the average annual contributions reached to date; however, only the collection of the annual evasion of the Income Tax of legal entities, according to the amounts estimated by the General Directorate of Revenue, would give the country more than 100 times what the mining company has received annually to date The new contract continues to completely ignore the immense natural and cultural wealth that continues to be destroyed in a protected area that is key to the connectivity of biodiversity throughout the region, where it accumulates 295 environmental incidents in the last three years according to the company’s own reports.The negotiation also ignores the will of the Panamanians, who reject open pit metal mining and do not want to pawn our rivers and forests”, reads part of the letter.

The environmental unions specified that in exchange for the increase in royalties, the company has requested the necessary protections to guarantee its operation, in a clear allusion to the unconstitutionality lawsuit filed by the Center for Environmental Advocacy in 2008. “We denounce this request as an attempt to obstruct access to justice for citizens in search of the protection of the Constitution and the Law,” they affirmed.

“It is appropriate to make a call to the deputies, on whom the responsibility will now fall, emphasized by the ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice, to scrutinize the contract to determine whether or not it is in accordance with the related legal regulation, even more demanding, given the risks involved in mining activity and the rights and interests at stake”, the various organizations point out.

In the opinion of these groups, the continuity of Minera Panamá is also a serious and worrying precedent in the face of the threat of multiple metal mining projects throughout the country. Such is the case of a new concession of 10,000 hectares in the districts of La Pintada, Omar Torrijos Herrera and Donoso, rampantly ignoring complaints from locals about the non-existence of the consultation; and the illegal extension of the concession contracts for the Cerro Quema project in Azuero, without an approved Environmental Impact Study, whose operations would cause great damage to vulnerable water sources in Azuero.

“The path to the economic recovery of the country, one that leads us to the fair and equitable development that we have never had and that generates decent jobs, unavoidably requires the conservation of the environment. It is time for the government to honor its international commitments, including those related to biodiversity and climate action, and that opts for truly sustainable economic projects, such as investment in low-emission public infrastructure, agricultural development with sovereignty and food security, ecological tourism, new renewable energies, among others”, highlights the statement.

Panama is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. This diversity, on a daily and sustainable basis, produces a wide range of environmental services and goods that benefit millions, including the production of safe water and irrigation and electricity generation, air purification, pollination, firewood production, natural medicines and timber, food, and climatic stability. The Panama Worth More Without Mining Movement, which has continued to add members from across the country since its formalization in August 2021, is committed to maintaining these goods and services, as well as the quality of life they bring to present and future generations.

At the conclusion of the letter, the unions invited all the social actors to demand the same bet from the National Government, beginning with the approval of the moratorium on metallic mining committed in the Bicentennial Pact, thus the constitutional duty of the State and all the inhabitants to promote social and economic development that prevents environmental pollution, maintains the ecological balance and avoids the destruction of ecosystems.

Said statement was prepared and endorsed by some 35 organizations that make up the Movement Panama is worth more without Mining, who watch over biodiversity and the protection of the environment.

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