Panama: Workers’ protests vs. mining concession continue amidst state repression

For eight consecutive days, the BWI-affiliated SUNTRACS, together with the Panamanian working population, poured to the streets to protest the approval in less than 72 hours of a law that authorises a 20-year concession (extendable for another 20 years) to a Canadian company that allows it to exploit the largest open-pit copper mine in Central America. Trade unions, environmentalists, scientists, indigenous peoples and young people closed ranks to denounce the railroaded Law 406 by the National Assembly of Representatives, which grants the concession to the multinational company First Quantum Mineral. They said that the national government must first discuss with them and other stakeholders the future of the mining industry.


The police have repressed the massive demonstrations even as the popular protests continue to gain strength and support. The executive tried to intervene in vain to quell the protest by declaring a moratorium on granting more concessions, and announcing that it will submit the issue to a popular consultation on 17 December. The Pueblo Unido coalition, wherein SUNTRACS  is a part of, said that the executive’s measures are insufficient and that protests will continue until Law 406 is fully revoked. SUNTRACS General Secretary and BWI Deputy President Saul Mendez Rodriguez reported that at least 127 demonstrators have been arrested since 23 October. Others have been injured, such as independent photojournalist Aubrey Baxter, who lost an eye when he was hit by arbitrary detonations, as well as union leaders such as SUNTRACS leader Irving Pinzon, who was seriously injured by pellets and pepper spray used by security forces.  

SUNTRACS and other trade unions continue to lead the mobilisations asserting that unless the law is junked, the country's sovereignty, environment, particularly the Mesoamerican biological corridor, and labour code are seriously threatened. It says that the mining contract will take precedence over Panama’s labour laws, which will create inferior conditions for mining workers and violate the state's exclusive power to guarantee compliance with the laws in the national territory.