Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo announced on Sunday that he will hold a referendum to determine the fate of a contentious mining contract. Cortizo also said late last week that he was placing a prohibition on any new mining projects in response to protests.
In his national address announcing the citizens’ vote, President Cortizo said, “I’ve respectfully listened to those who oppose the contract with Minera Panama.” The referendum will give Panamanian citizens the opportunity to vote to repeal the contract. In a later post, President Cortizo said that “the vote will legitimize the will of the people” and “the result will be final.” The referendum is scheduled to take place on December 17, 2023.
The operating contract was formed between the Panamanian government and Minera Panama, the local unit of Canada-based mining company First Quantum. It was approved by the nation’s Congress as Law 406 just over a week ago. The contract guaranteed Panama $375 million annually for at least 20 years while allowing First Quantum to conduct the Cobre Panama copper mining project. First Quantum claims that Cobre Panama would be a considerable economic contribution to Panama, supporting about 40,000 jobs and representing 4.8% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The contract has sparked significant environmental concerns and public protests since its approval. According to a demonstration alert from the US Embassy of Panama City last Wednesday, Panamanian National Police met demonstrators with “tear gas and other riot control measures.”
In July 2023, Human Rights Watch released a report critiquing the Panamanian government’s lack of support for Indigenous people whose homelands have been destroyed by climate change.