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Nito Cortizo, presidente de Panamá.

Popular conquest in Panama

01 November, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

In the midst of a great social mobilization that has been going on for several days and faced with the threat of a declaration of unconstitutionality, on October 27, 2023, Panamanian President Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo signed a resolution prohibiting new metal mineral concessions throughout the country, including those that are in process.

A real wave of protests took place in Panama during the second part of October demanding the repeal of the mining contract 406 signed between the government and the Empresa Minera Panamá, a subsidiary company of the Canadian First Quantum Minerals for the exploitation of what would be the largest copper mine in Central America (FQM).

One of the aspects that provoked the greatest indignation was the speed with which Congress approved the controversial law authorizing mining exploitation, which even prohibits the State from making overflights in the concession area, which is understood to violate national sovereignty. After the parliamentary approval, the president signed the decree the same day, in an unusual demonstration of administrative speed.

In fact, it was the extension of a contract already existing since 1991, which was already declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Justice in 2017, a body that, in 2021, reiterated its assessment after considering six appeals that it intended to challenge its judgment.

Precisely, on October 26, the same Court admitted a new appeal of unconstitutionality, now against the presidential decree of Cortizo, which must be resolved in a short time, according to the SCJ itself.

Faced with this social and judicial panorama, the president announced the prohibitions on mining concessions and declared himself open to dialogue although he did not indicate concrete ways to take it forward.

The episode mentioned is added to a long list of social conflicts caused by the granting of authorizations to large, in general transnational companies for the exploitation of natural resources through unclear processes, in general with a lot of secrecy, without respecting the opinion of the citizenry, even in those cases in which the national laws themselves require it.

While the narrated events were taking place, in Bogotá, Colombia, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights was holding its 162nd Ordinary Session. One of the agenda items was the analysis for judgment of the case of the Community of La Oroya v. Peru.

The regional Court analyzes the possible international responsibility of the State for the damages caused to a group of residents of the Community of La Oroya, because of acts of contamination carried out by a metallurgical complex in that community, which would have seriously impacted the health of the alleged victims.

The plaintiffs claim that the State failed to comply with its obligation to act with due diligence in the execution of its duties to regulate, supervise and supervise the behavior of private and state companies regarding the potential impact on the human rights of the inhabitants of the community, as well as its general obligation to prevent human rights violations.

In addition, the State had not adopted the appropriate measures to deal with the risks caused by environmental pollution to the health of children in the community.

It is also alleged that Peru did not guarantee public participation or the right of access to information of the alleged victims in decisions that would directly affect them, nor did it investigate the threats, harassment and reprisals against the alleged victims.

For this reason and other arguments, it is argued that the State failed to fulfill its immediate obligations regarding the right to a healthy environment and health, as well as its obligation to progressively achieve the full realization of these rights.

Although the Court has not yet made a decision, the argumentative and evidentiary weight turned to the case allows us to assume that the State will be condemned, being this one of many other cases that in local or international courts, make us see the repetition of similar cases that not only affect the right to a healthy environment but also cause direct effects for people, communities and society in general.

Therefore, what happened in Panama is very important because at least for the time being, it has been possible to prevent this type of exploitation from occurring with the aftermath of irreversible impacts that they cause.