Panama President Laurentino Cortizo declared a total ban on all new mining projects, effective October 27, reported Reuters. Cortizo said the new restriction will apply to both future mining projects as well as those currently seeking permits.
The abrupt halt comes as the government defends a controversial extension of First Quantum’s Cobre Panama contract. The deal guarantees the country an annual income of US$375 million while allowing the miner to operate the copper mine for at least 20 years.
The news agency said thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to criticize the deal, as well as the mine’s environmental costs, and demand its withdrawal.
“Panama is a mining country,” Economy Minister Hector Alexander told Reuters, arguing that without the mine, the country’s economy would barely grow this year, versus the robust 6% growth the government estimates.
Located 120 kilometers west of Panama City, Cobre Panama’s activity accounts for nearly 5% of the country’s economy. The open-pit mine started commercial production in 2019.