Panama City, Oct. 18 (EFE) – Panama’s National Assembly resumed debate Wednesday on the amended law with Minera Panama, a subsidiary of the Canadian company First Quantum Minerals (FQM), for the exploitation of Central America’s largest open-pit copper mine, amid continued protests.
After hours of delay, the deputies began the first of the three obligatory debates to approve or reject the contract.
They can not make any modifications after the executive branch made some changes recommended by the Assembly last month.
In September, the treaty was defeated in the first debate, and Parliament sent it back to the government after hearing from various sectors of society, workers and residents of the mining project area.
The vice president of the Commission for Trade and Economic Affairs, Ariel Alba, called on Wednesday for a positive vote.
Alba said he hoped the agreement would “reach a second debate in the plenary session of the legislature, where the whole country is represented, and where it should be decided” whether or not to approve the document.
If the mining law is accepted in the first debate by the commission, it would go to two other chambers and, once approved, the President of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo, must ratify it.
What has changed and why is the contract still rejected by critics?
Among the changes made by the government, following the suggestions of the Parliament, is the elimination of “land expropriation clauses” and the condition that “allowed Minera Panama to request restrictions on airspace”.
In response, a section was included that “reaffirms that the contract cannot limit or restrict Panama’s sovereignty over its territory”.
A provision that would grant a concession to explore for gold, silver and molybdenum was also deleted.
The right of the company to ask the State to classify the identity of the final beneficiaries of the restricted access was modified, stating instead that “this information is subject to the law”.
“The self-determination of our people is being surrendered with a leonine contract,” Saúl Méndez, general secretary of the powerful Suntracs union, told EFE.
According to environmentalist Raisa Banfield: “What they have done to the contract is not substantial, but rather they have removed controversial words to leave the same structure, the same spirit. They even strengthened the clauses that refer to the rights of the company. ”
Throughout Wednesday, environmentalists and labor unions demonstrated in front of Parliament in Panama City, while temporarily blocking some roads throughout the country to reject 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 moment has come, there is no more time for maneuvering,” said union leader Méndez.
In March, the Panamanian Executive and Minera Panamá, a subsidiary of FQM, reached a final agreement on a 20-year renewable concession contract for the exploitation of the Cobre Panamá mine, which began exporting copper in 2019.
This new contract establishes, among other things, a minimum annual revenue of 375 million dollars (about 355 million euros) for the public treasury and broad powers of state supervision of the operation. EFE