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Panama orders Canadian mining company to cease operations

Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo ordered Thursday the stoppage of operations in the country of Canadian copper giant First Quantum Minerals, which exploits the largest mine in Central America in the Panamanian Caribbean.

“I have decided […] to instruct the Minister of Commerce to implement a preservation and safe management plan, that is, [only] care and maintenance in the Cobre Panama project,” Cortizo said in a message on television.

This decision by the President, backed by his Council of Ministers, implies the suspension of operations in the country of a company that contributes 75% of exports and 4% of Panama’s GDP.

Cortizo affirmed that Minera Panama, the subsidiary of First Quantum, “has not complied with the commitments” to sign a new concession contract this Wednesday at the latest, which would raise the amount of royalties to 375 million dollars per year, 10 times more than in the previous agreement.

“That is not acceptable for me as president, neither for the government nor for the Panamanian people”, added the social democrat president.

The Canadian company has invested more than 10 billion dollars in Panama in earthworks, construction of buildings to house its 7,200 employees, purchase of heavy machinery, a power plant, a port for deep-draft merchant ships, access roads, reforestation and community assistance programs.

The mine, discovered in 1968, is on the Caribbean coast, 240 km by road from the capital and has been producing 300,000 tons of copper concentrate per year since February 2019, which is exported from the Punta Rincón Port, adjacent to the deposit.

The company’s manager in Panama, British Keith Green, did not immediately react to the president’s announcement. 

Last week, Green said that his company had “the intention of reaching an agreement” with the Panamanian government, but admitted that “the negotiation is a bit stuck”.

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