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IMAGO / Agencia EFE

Country Reports

A nation loses its patience

by Winfried Weck, Alejandro Marin

Controversial mining contract in Panama triggers mass protests across the country

In recent months, Panama has been involved in a controversial debate about a controversial mining contract with far-reaching implications. The contract, which was approved by the Panamanian Congress on October 20, grants Minería Panama, a subsidiary of First Quantum Minerals from Canada, the right to operate the largest open pit copper mine in Central America for a period of 20 years. This mine covers approximately 12,000 hectares in Donoso, Colón province. The agreement promises significant economic benefits for Panama and ensures that at least USD 375 million in license fees will be paid annually. President Laurentino Cortizo emphasized at the approval of the contract on 24 October: 'We have made the right decision, not the easiest one. Nevertheless, nationwide protests broke out, reflecting public dissatisfaction with both the agreement itself and current government policy.

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"No a la Mineríaa" - mining project controversy and widespread unrest

Violent protests are currently sweeping across Panama, triggered by the Cobre Panama mining project, the largest single private foreign investment in the country. The resistance to this project, which began commercial operations in 2019 and now accounts for around four percent of the country's gross domestic product, is seen as the culmination of the growing dissatisfaction of the Panamanian people with their president and the ruling center-left PRD party . Although Panama's economy has recovered after the pandemic shock, many people are still or again unemployed or receive wages that can no longer keep up with rising prices. Money and work have become rare commodities in Panamanian society.


The first draft of the concession agreement, which was published by the government under President Laurentino "Nito" Cortizo in March of this year, led to protests, but these were peaceful and manageable. The main point of criticism from opponents of the draft was that the Panamanian government wanted to grant the Canadian mining company First Quantum extensive sovereign rights over the mining area, including the airspace; a concession by their government to the Canadian operating company that many Panamanians found unacceptable. This sensitivity is linked in particular to the history of Panama and the canal, as the US government had declared the canal area to be its own territory, to which no Panamanian who did not work for the US military or the canal company had access. It was not until December 31, 1999 that the canal and all operating and sovereign rights were handed over to Panama.

The full-length publication is only available in German.

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Winfried Weck

Winfried Weck (2020)

Head of the regional program "Alliances for Democracy and Development with Latin America" ​​ADELA and the Panama Office +507 387 4470

Alejandro Marin

Project Coordinator +507 387 4474


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