Demonstrators clashed with police in Panama Tuesday as protests continued for a fifth straight day over a copper mine owned by Canadian company First Quantum. Critics are concerned about potential environmental damage from the Cobre Panama open pit mine, the largest copper mine in Central America.
After protests erupted Friday and carried on over the weekend, demonstrators blocked roads and marched again Tuesday in Panama City and other provinces. They are demanding repeal of the contract allowing First Quantum to continue operating Cobre Panama until 2037.
Security forces responded with tear gas as protesters reportedly threw stones and lit tires downtown. “I will not tolerate vandalism or calls for anarchy, nor the commission of any crime. These acts will be prosecuted,” warned President Laurentino Cortizo in an address Tuesday night.
Located 120 km from Panama City and 20 km from the Caribbean coast, Cobre Panama has produced 300,000 tons of copper annually since opening in 2019. Its original mining concession was ruled unconstitutional by Panama’s Supreme Court last year.
After renegotiations this year, First Quantum will now pay Panama at least $375 million yearly, ten times more than before. The new deal enables operations for 20 years, renewable for 20 more. But protesters say the amount is still too low given environmental risks.
Clashes over Cobre Panama highlight tensions over mining’s impacts and economic benefits in Latin America. Mines often promise jobs but can scar landscapes and pollute waters. With copper prices high, protests have erupted this year from Peru to Ecuador to Chile.
Panama relies on mining for 4% of its economy. But some citizens are skeptical companies will protect sensitive tropical ecosystems. Further protests are expected unless concessions are made.