The National Assembly (Parliament) of Panama resumed the debate on the revised bill with Minera Panama, a Canadian company First Quantum Minerals (FQM) subsidiary, to exploit Central America's largest open-pit copper mine. This debate took place amid ongoing protests against the controversial agreement.
Photo: EFE/ Bienvenido Velasco
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Legislative Debates and Contractual Law
After hours of delay, lawmakers began the first of three mandatory debates to either approve or reject this contractual law. Significantly, they cannot modify the contract following the Executive's changes, as the Legislative body recommends.
In September, the contract did not pass the first debate, and it was returned to the government by Parliament after hearing from various sectors of society, workers, and residents of the mining project area.
Ariel Alba, Vice President of the Committee on Trade and Economic Affairs, called for a favorable vote this week, allowing the contract to proceed to the "second debate in the legislative plenary, where the entire country is represented, and where the decision will be made on whether to approve the document."
If the committee approves the mining bill project on this week's first debate, it will proceed to two more debates in the plenary. Once approved, Panama's President, Laurentino Cortizo, will ratify it to effect it.
What Was Modified, and Why Does Opposition Persist?
Among the changes made by the government, based on Parliament's suggestions, was the elimination of "expropriation clauses" related to land and the condition that allowed Minera Panama to request airspace restrictions. Additionally, a section was included that "reaffirms that nothing in the Contract restricts or limits Panama's sovereignty over its territory."
The provision that the State would grant a concession for the exploration of gold, silver, and molybdenum, as well as the company's right to request the State to classify the identity of restricted access ultimate beneficiaries, was also removed. Instead, it was stated that this information is subject to the law.
Critics argue that the contract, even with the modifications, compromises the autonomy of the Panamanian people and maintains the same structure and spirit with enhanced company rights.
Throughout the week, environmentalists and labor unions staged protests outside the Parliament in Panama City and temporarily blocked various roads across the country to express their opposition to the controversial contract.
"We call on the people to be aware of what is happening. We call on the people to take to the streets. The time has come. There is no more time for maneuvering," said union leader Méndez.
Modifications and Opposition Concerns
The Executive and Minera Panama, a subsidiary of FQM, reached a final 20-year concession contract agreement in March to exploit the Cobre Panama mine, which has been exporting minerals since 2019.
This new contract stipulates a minimum annual revenue of $375 million to the State, with broad state supervision powers over the operation, among other conditions.