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Panama bans new mining contracts in response to protests

PANAMA CITY (AFP) – Panama’s Parliament approved a moratorium on new metal mining contracts after thousands took to the streets for days on end to protest a deal with a Canadian copper company.

Amid the social unrest, the National Assembly passed a law banning new mining concessions for metal exploration or extraction. President Laurentino Cortizo promulgated the law shortly thereafter.

The move follows two weeks of demonstrations that have blocked roads and starved shops of supplies.

The protests broke out on October 20 after Congress approved a law that allows Vancouver-based First Quantum Minerals to operate Central America’s biggest open pit copper mine for 20 years, with an option to extend for another two decades.

Demonstrators swelled into the country’s streets to oppose the contract, setting up blockades in the capital and other cities. Some blocked the Pan-American highway that connects Panama with the rest of Central America.

Protesters concerned over the potential environmental impacts of the mine later upped their demands to include a moratorium on all new mining contracts.

The ban approved on Friday for an indeterminate period of time does not affect the already-signed First Quantum deal – the constitutionality of which is being reviewed instead by Panama’s Supreme Court.

But it will pause 103 mining concessions that were under review, and the renewal of 15 other existing contracts, according to Panama’s CIAM environmental advocacy centre, a non-governmental organisation.

People protest during a march a in Panama City, Panama. PHOTO: AFP