Friday, March 11, 2011

Protestors in Panama Clash with President Martinelli’s Vision for Improving Panamanian Quality of Life.

Central American Data: Panama Amendments to Mining Code Approved
Panama-Guide: All Foreigners Promoting Mining Ordered To Leave Indian Country
Panama-Guide: Panama Clashes: Guaymi Angry Over Copper Mining Law
Boquete Times: Panama Starts Subway Construction
Newsroom, Panama: Panama Cannot Respond to International Criticism of Mining Law-Minister
Newsroom, Panama: Panama Moving Forward on Offshore oil Investigation
Newsroom, Panama: Martinelli, Now a Twitterer, Inks Mining Code Law
Newsroom Panama: World Rail Builder Boss Checks in on Panama Metro Line

In Panama, construction on Central America’s first subway began earlier this month in Panama City’s historic Cinco de Mayo Plaza. The government contracted construction of the new subway, along with a contract to build a third canal lock to access the Panama Canal, to the Spanish company Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas (“FCC”) and Brazilian company Odebrechdt. Last week the Infrastructure Minister of Spain, José Blanco, and the Chairman and CEO of FCC, Baldomero Falcones, came to Panama to see the start of the construction on the new subway line. Panama’s General Secretary, Roberto Roy says completion of the subway is expected in 2014. At the opening day of the subway’s construction, President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli declared he wanted to be remembered “as the person who transformed Panama’s transportation system and improved the quality of life of Panamanians.”

However, in the same week, the National Assembly passed a controversial mining bill that threatens to destroy the quality of life for Panama’s indigenous Ngabe-Bugle people. Critics claim this new bill, section 277 to the Code of Mineral Resources, will allow foreign copper mining companies to dig in Panama’s Cerro Colorado district in an area that contains the Ngabe-Bugle reservation. Although President Martinelli signed a Presidential decree stating he has “no intention of promoting mining activities in the Indian lands” because it is against Constitutional law, indigenous people continued to protest. The protestors point to copper companies coming into the reservation area to conduct positive public relations, as an indication that their community is in danger of becoming a mining zone, regardless of Presidential assurances. They also argue that the President and National Assembly’s minimal consultation with environmental groups and indigenous people when drafting and passing the bill, indicate a lack of authentic concern for the well-being of the environment and the lives of indigenous people. In response, the Minister of Government, Roxanna Mendez, announced that all foreigners who are promoting mining in the area must leave within two weeks.

While President Martinelli and Roxanna Mendez took measures to assure the indigenous people of Cerro Colorado that their communities will not be usurped, Secretary of Energy Juan Manuel Urriola stated that protestors should not be “too hasty” to call the government irresponsible for seeking tenders for mining or offshore drilling because there are benefits for Panamanians as well. Some of the main provisions of Bill 277 allocate percentages of fees and royalties from mining to construction for infrastructure, social development programs in communities close to mining areas, social security and the national treasury. Like copper mining, offshore drilling will come with major stipulations, including granting the Panamanian government royalties and a percentage of oil production for Panamanian consumption. However protestors against mining and offshore drilling argue that excessive exploitation of natural resources will lead to a severely deteriorated environment. President Martinelli’s vision of improving the quality of life for Panamanians includes revamping infrastructure, increasing tax sources for social spending, and making Panama more attractive to foreign investors. However, it seems the Panamanian people have differing views on what projects will actually improve their quality of life.

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