Tuesday 31st October 2023.
October 30, 2023
This Monday afternoon, the two bills proposed by the Executive arrived at the National Assembly, in an attempt to recover social peace, after a week of uninterrupted protests against the contract in favor of Minera Panamá, for the extraction of copper in Donoso.
As the legislative plenary session goes into recess starting October 31, President Laurentino Cortizo called extraordinary sessions, but only on November 1 and 2 , to approve the two bills presented this Monday. Later, Cortizo could extend the extraordinary sessions and include other topics, such as the general state budget for the year 2024, which has not yet been approved.
First, the bill was presented that calls for a popular consultation on December 17, to decide whether or not to terminate Law 406 of 2023 , which is the one that adopts the contract with Minera Panamá. President Laurentino Cortizo promised that the result of this consultation will be “binding.”
The project came from the hand of the Minister of Government, Roger Tejada.
Tejada told the legislative plenary session that Cortizo was “forced” to sign the new contract with the mining company, “to preserve thousands of jobs and ensure the growth of the country’s gross domestic product.”
Now, he says that it will be up to the country to decide “whether it agrees or disagrees” with the contract in favor of Minera Panamá.
Then it was the turn of the Minister of Commerce and Industries, Federico Alfaro , who presented the bill that prohibits new metal mining concessions. The mining moratorium had already been adopted through Executive Decree 23 of last October 27 , but Alfaro indicated that it will now be elevated to the category of law, responding to the clamor of several unions.
Alfaro said that the concessions that are already in process will be rejected in the next three months.
Immediately afterwards, Deputy President Jaime Vargas closed the session and declared a recess until Tuesday, October 31, at 9:30 am
Before Ministers Tejada and Alfaro arrived, Law 406 was repudiated by the deputies who had defended it and who even voted for it.
Some, like deputy Fátima Agrazal , from the Democratic Change (CD) rebel group, apologized. Agrazal even expressed that she did not receive money in exchange for her vote.
Deputy Tito Rodríguez , from Molirena, who also voted in favor, referred to the angry reaction of the population to the approval of the contract with Minera Panamá. “Some of us can’t get close to our circuit,” he acknowledged.
Jairo Salazar , from the PRD, urged his colleagues to terminate the contract with Minera Panama. “We have to repeal it,” he said, referring to Law 406, approved in the third debate, sanctioned and promulgated in the Official Gazette on the same day: last October 20.
The official party of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), together with that of Molirena, announced that they will propose an article that suspends the effects of Law 406 that renewed the contract between Minera Panamá and the State.
This was announced on the afternoon of October 30 by the president of the National Assembly, Jaime Vargas, at a press conference and accompanied by his colleagues.
According to Vargas, they will include within the bill presented this afternoon by the Minister of Government, Roger Tejada, on the call for a popular consultation, an article that suspends such effects so that citizens can prepare for the referendum, scheduled for December 17.
Vargas recounted the journey that the law had in the Assembly until its approval. The proposal arrived on August 3.
“In short, this count is palpable proof that the National Assembly complied with the procedure in a comprehensive manner and, above all, listening to the Panamanians, who have an important voice within this administration,” said Vargas.
“However, the socio-political environment that we live in today forces us to make a respectful, serious and committed call to add good will from all parties, focusing on the future of the country. Enough of creating atmospheres of conflict around an issue as serious as this contract with the State,” he said.
After noon this Monday, October 30, the shares of the Canadian mining company First Quantum Minerals plummeted by up to 36% on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
The fall is recorded after the president of Panama, Laurentino Cortizo, announced a popular consultation for the population to decide whether to repeal or maintain a mining contract awarded to the company this month.
There is widespread discontent over the approval of the contract, the terms reached and the possible irreparable environmental damage for 40 years.
On October 22, the company had announced to investors the approval of Law 406, which approved the mining concession contract for the Cobre Panamá mine.
First Quantum Minerals indicated to its investors that the sanction of Law 406, by Cortizo, was the final step in the review of the legal framework for the Cobre Panamá mine and that they were “pleased that the revised contract established the bases for a renewed long-term relationship between Panama and First Quantum .”
However, the demonstrations in which nearly 200,000 people participated in the streets of the capital city, the closure of the main roads throughout the country and the popular rejection after the approval of the mining contract, forced Cortizo to propose a citizen consultation. .
For First Quantum Minerals, the Panama operation is the most important in a mining portfolio.
With 3,000 million tons of proven and probable reserves, the Cobre Panamá project is one of the largest copper mines opened worldwide in the last decade. They indicate that their projection is to produce more than 300,000 tons of copper per year, along with gold, silver and molybdenum.
The Administration Attorney, Rigoberto González , will submit his opinion this week on the unconstitutionality lawsuit presented by Juan Ramón Sevillano against Law 406 of 2023 , which approved the contract between the State and Minera Panamá.
This is the same contract that the Executive now intends to take to a public consultation to decide its termination or not, on December 17, as announced by President Laurentino Cortizo on the night of Sunday, October 29, when a week of citizen protests was completed. uninterrupted against Law 406.
In a statement made public this Monday morning, the Administration Attorney’s Office reported that although article 2563 of the Judicial Code gives it a period of 10 business days to issue its opinion, González is already working on that task.
The lawsuit filed by Sevillano is in the office of Judge María Eugenia López Arias, who admitted it last week and sent it to Attorney González, who was on duty at that time.
The Court also sent the attorney Javier Caraballo a second claim of unconstitutionality admitted by Judge Olmedo Arrocha, which was presented by Martita Cornejo.
There are four other claims of unconstitutionality against Law 406, pending admission.
Judge López ordered the suspension of the judicial terms during next November 2, when the country commemorates the day of the dead. The staff will work until noon. The offices of the adversarial criminal system will maintain their shifts.
The plenary session of the National Commission for National Parades has not yet defined whether or not these activities will be carried out next November (during the month of the Homeland).
The members of this commission summoned the media this Monday, October 30, to report that they continue to evaluate the issue, amid the nationwide development of citizen protests against Law 406 of October 20, 2023 (mining contract between the State and Minera Panama).
Guillermo Alegría, National Director of Education and member of the commission, said that at this moment they are receiving information through the educational communities, regional education directorates and some mayors’ offices about the national holiday activities in November. For this reason, he insisted that they have not finished making the evaluations, in view of the latest telephone and email calls that have reached the celebration board.
“We have not finished the evaluations, we are going to finish the session today [Monday] or tomorrow [Tuesday] when we have complete information,” he stressed.
This will allow society and the educational community in general to be informed about what decision the commission can make, the official added.
This Monday, October 30, marks the ninth day of protests by citizen groups that reject Law 406. Several teachers’ unions declared an indefinite strike, until the law is repealed, as they have insisted.