In a landmark decision on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, Panama’s Supreme Court unanimously declared a 20-year concession for a Canadian copper mine unconstitutional, sending shockwaves through environmental and economic circles. The court’s decision culminated after four days of intense deliberations, sparking widespread celebrations among Panamanians who had vehemently opposed the Cobre Panama mine.
The Environmental Battle Cry
The Ruling that Resonated
Panama’s Supreme Court, comprised of nine members, delivered a resounding verdict, deeming the long-contested concession for the Canadian copper mine as a violation of the country’s constitution. The focus of extensive environmental protests, opponents argued that the Cobre Panama mine posed a severe threat to a lush coastal forest and jeopardized vital water supplies.
Scenes of Jubilation
As news of the court’s decision echoed outside the courtroom, jubilant crowds, adorned with Panamanian flags, erupted into cheers. Demonstrators, like Raisa Banfield, expressed relief after what they described as an agonizing wait. “This is what we had been waiting for,” Banfield exclaimed. The ruling prompted immediate calls for the suspension of mine operations.
The Corporate Response
Acknowledging the Verdict
Minera Panama, the local subsidiary of Canada’s First Quantum Minerals, which operates the contested mine, promptly acknowledged the court’s decision. In a statement, the company affirmed its commitment to regulatory compliance and pledged to provide further commentary once additional details of the ruling were made public.
The President’s Pledge
President Laurentino Cortizo, addressing the nation, pledged swift action following the court’s decision. As soon as the administration formally receives the verdict, it will be published in the official gazette, initiating a process for the “orderly and safe closure of the mine.” The Cobre Panama mine, employing thousands and contributing 3% to Panama’s GDP, now faces an uncertain future.
The Legislative Dance
A Legislative Backstory
The dispute over the mine’s operation has a convoluted legislative history. In March, the Panamanian legislature reached an agreement with First Quantum, allowing Minera Panama to extend its operation for at least 20 more years. However, talks broke down, leading to the mine’s temporary closure last year. The final approval of the contract on Oct. 20 granted the subsidiary a 20-year extension, with the possibility of an additional 20 years if deemed productive.
A Torrent of Protests
Panama witnessed some of its most extensive protests in recent years as opposition to the mine grew. Blockades, including the mine’s power plant and sections of the Pan American highway, showcased the fervent resistance. Small boats even blocked the mine’s port, hampering vital supplies. The protesters, representing a broad coalition, were primarily concerned about the mine’s impact on nature, especially its potential threat to the water supply.
The Global Perspective
The Canadian government, closely monitoring the contract negotiation, expressed respect for the court’s decision. Jean-Pierre J. Godbout, a spokesperson for the government’s Global Affairs Department, conveyed consistent hopes for a mutually beneficial solution. The global community watches as Panama navigates the aftermath of this historic legal decision.