Workers protest after Canadian giant halts ore processing at Panama mine
Panama City, Feb 23 (EFE).- A group of Minera Panama (MPSA) workers held a peaceful protest here Thursday after that unit’s Canadian parent suspended ore-processing operations at its open-pit copper mine near Panama’s Caribbean coast.
Canada’s First Quantum Minerals said in a press release Thursday that MPSA has suspended ore processing operations at the Cobre Panama mine.
FQM said it took that step, which comes amid a more than year-long dispute with Panama’s government over taxes and royalties, after the Panama Maritime Authority refused to permit copper concentrate loading operations at the mine’s port, Punta Rinco.
It also announced that it will “begin a partial demobilization of its workforce of over 8,000 employees and contractors, of which the impact is expected to increase significantly in the coming weeks if concentrate shipments do not resume.”
“We hope there will be a sensible agreement, something that’s worked out between the two sides. There are companies (contractors) that have seen a drop in volume and have reduced personnel until the (situation) improves,” the spokeswoman for MPSA’s workers, Delia Cuadra, told Efe.
Carrying signs with slogans reading “For the Sake of My Job, Sign the Agreement Now” and “We Support Minera Panama. We’re 30 Families at Risk of Losing our Livelihoods,” around 100 people wearing white T-shirts marched to the presidential palace in Panama City’s old town, Cuadra said.
“We haven’t received hardly anything (since January),” she added. “They (the mine) had been operating at half their capacity, and we in turn lowered our volume of work.”
A group of protesters was received at the presidential palace, Efe observed.
Panama’s government on Thursday accused the mining company of engaging in “delay tactics” that have dragged out the process of reaching a new concession contract for the mine for more than a year.
Negotiations between Panama’s government and MPSA began in September 2021 and the two sides announced in January 2022 that they had reached an agreement.
But with the deal still unsigned, the government in December announced a plan to halt the mine’s operations.
The agreement announced 13 months ago would raise royalties from 2 percent of revenue to between 12 percent and 16 percent of gross profits; guarantee a minimum payment to the state of $375 million, a 10-fold increase over the previous amount; and end a tax holiday that has thus far allowed MPSA to avoid paying taxes until it has recouped the costs it incurred in building the mine.
In 2017, Panama’s Supreme Court ruled that a 1997 law that approved the concession to develop the mine, Central America’s largest open-pit deposit, was unconstitutional.
FQM, which began commercial production at Cobre Panama in June 2019, has invested some $10 billion in the mine and has around 5,279 employees, according to government figures.
“Cobre Panama contributes to approximately 5 percent of Panama’s (gross domestic product), makes up 75 percent of the country’s export of goods and has created at least 40,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, that supports an estimated 100,000 or more Panamanians,” the Toronto-based mining and metals company said. EFE