Conflicts & War

Panama’s Supreme Court debates unconstitutionality of mining contract behind crisis

Panama City, Nov 24 (EFE). – Panama’s Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) began a permanent session Friday to debate and analyze the unconstitutionality of Law 406, which approves the contract between the state and Minera Panama, which has been at the center of a month of protests.

The plenary session of Panama’s highest judicial body, made up of nine judges and headed by President María Eugenia López Arias, will convene in permanent session at 9:00 am local time at the Gil Ponce Palace of Justice in the Panamanian capital to analyze the unconstitutionality claims.

“The duration of the permanent session will depend on the time needed for the analysis, debate and discussion of the project by the judges of the plenary session of the CSJ. Once a decision is reached, it will be announced,” the judicial body said in a statement.

Expectations are high in Panama for a possible declaration of unconstitutionality, which would put an end to more than a month of protests, in which the continuous cuts to main roads have caused a supply crisis that has left the country semi-paralyzed.

The contract with Minera Panamá, a subsidiary of the Canadian company First Quantum Minerals (FQM), for the exploitation of Central America’s largest open-pit copper mine was ratified by Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo on October 20, after being expressly approved in the three obligatory parliamentary debates.

Environmentalists and young people took to the streets en masse to oppose the contract, joined by other social groups, a pressure that forced the parliament to approve a moratorium on mining and repeal Law 406.

However, this option ultimately failed when the legislative body decided that a declaration of unconstitutionality was the best option to avoid a multi-million dollar lawsuit by the company.

Since November 12, a group of protesters has been “watching” the Supreme Court day and night, urging it to make a decision as soon as possible to put an end to this mining project, which environmentalists accuse of causing serious damage to the Central American Biological Corridor.

Among them is Guido César Berguido, biologist and director of the Adopta Bosque Panamá Foundation, in addition to being one of the most prominent members of the movement that has promoted the protests Panama Vale Más Sin Minería (Panama is Worth More Without Mining).

“After both the executive and legislative branches have abandoned us, after more than a month in the streets, the Panamanian people have raised their voices and we are aware that the most likely thing is that there will be a ruling of unconstitutionality, which is what the country needs to recover its social peace,” Berguido told EFE on Friday.

According to the activist, “the ruling of unconstitutionality is basically the first step to eliminate this disastrous mining contract,” he said.

Then it will be necessary for the “relevant ministries to take the measures and issue the corresponding decrees to eliminate the mining activity, which in this case would be totally illegal in our country. Then the closure plan will proceed,” he added.

“There are currently more than a thousand hectares affected by mining activity. God willing, this ruling will prevent the destruction of more than 15,000 additional hectares,” said the biologist, who regretted that in the affected areas that have already been excavated, it will take “decades”, possibly generations, before a forest can be seen there again. EFE

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