Joint communique about First Quantum / Minera Panama
by Antónima, Polo Ciudadano, ASOPROF capítulo de la Universidad de Panamá, Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Educación Nacional (SITEN), Colegio de Sociología y Ciencias Sociales de Panamá (CoSCiesPa), Servicio Paz y Justicia (SERPAJ-Panamá), Movimiento Alternativa Socialista, Juventudes Revolucionarias de Panamá & Reforma Estudiantil (et al)
The signatory individuals and organizations, motivated by the serious events that are taking place regarding the negotiation of a new contract with the transnational company First Quantum Minerals (FQM), registered in our country as Minera Panamá, point out:
- Panama is a country whose biophysical characteristics (such as being part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor) make it incompatible with mining, an economic activity whose sustainability is impossible, contrary to FQM’s propaganda. In turn, the Isthmus, according to Cepal (2020), has a “severe” level of vulnerability to climate change by 2030. During all the years of operating in the country, the company has used drastic open-air extraction methods, with which they have destroyed hundreds of hectares of tropical forest in the Donoso district, in addition to incurring more than 200 registered environmental violations, despite which they continue to demand even more hectares each year. Despite all of the above, more than 50% of the isthmian territory remains open to mining exploration and exploitation concessions.
- Although the economic aspect is important, it is a mistake to continue focusing it on GDP, an obsolete and insufficient indicator, both to measure the well-being of the population and make decisions that respond to their needs, and to face a climate crisis that continues without being discussed in Panama with the breadth and seriousness it deserves.
- Since it began operations, FQM has violated the constitution and the laws of the country in every possible way: its concession did not go through a tender and also violates article 290 of the constitution, which prohibits companies owned by foreign states from operating, as is the case of FQM, whose shares are 60% in the hands of China, Singapore and South Korea.
- After being approved under dubious circumstances in the National Assembly, the FQM contract law was immediately challenged, but it took the Supreme Court almost 20 years to issue a ruling of unconstitutionality. The ruling was issued only in 2017 (and hidden by the government of J.C. Varela), with which the company has continued to operate unconstitutionally. The foregoing turns their profits into a vile robbery of the country.
- FQM has looted not only copper from Panama, but also gold, paying 2% crumbs on huge multi-billion dollar royalties, (compared to what similar companies and the same company pay in other countries), while enjoying other large exemptions. At the same time, it is an extraction that does not generate real well-being (in the long term and with autonomy) for the populations that depend on the environmental services provided by the rich biodiversity of the areas devastated by FQM.}
- The multinational FQM has systematically violated the Panamanian Labor Code, with gangster methods and even firing part of the union leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. To this day, FQM refuses to abide by the rulings of the labor courts that require their reinstatements.
- FQM has become a mining enclave that the Panamanian authorities cannot access without authorization from the company’s managers, as if it were a foreign country or the former Canal Zone.
- Since the publication of the unconstitutionality ruling, FQM pretended to negotiate a new contract, making the president of the republic, Laurentino Cortizo, look ridiculous, since now the company refuses to sign and shamelessly asks for more onerous concessions of Panamanian territory.
- Faced with the mockery of the feigned negotiation, aggravated by more than a year without paying royalties to the country, while the company continues extracting ore, the Cortizo government took lax and inconsistent measures by decreeing the suspension of commercial operations, with the subsequent appeal of the company to continue as if nothing happened.
- We understand that the lukewarm and inconsistent action of the current government against FQM is due to the fact that it is leaked by people related to the mining business, beginning with Vice President José Gabriel Carrizo, former attorney for Petaquilla Minerals, a company that “transferred the rights” to FQM.
For all the above considerations, the environmental, labor union and popular organizations, among other signatories, DEMAND that the Panamanian government:
- Declare a moratorium for new concessions throughout the national territory, allowing the country to safeguard water, forests and wildlife, whose protection is imperative in the face of the climate emergency that the planet is experiencing and to which the Isthmus is no stranger.
- Proceed to the nationalization of the mine to enforce the constitution, the environmental and labor laws of Panama against the abuses of this multinational. The foregoing would imply exploring the possibility of declaring compensation to the multinational inadmissible, taking into account the incalculable value of the devastated natural environments for its benefit and the exorbitant profits obtained (and not taxed) with an unconstitutional contract for more than five years.
- Conduct a broad and democratic debate that allows the Panamanian people to decide how to use the post-nationalization income and how to manage and mitigate the effects of the eventual closure of the mine. We propose to stimulate other economic activities in harmony with nature and use policies focused on the situation of workers and communities, whose systematic abandonment has served FQM to make them dependent on extractivism. The eventual total closure is unavoidable if the country assumes a true commitment in the face of the global environmental crisis and its effects on the Isthmus.
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