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25 February 2024

Panama mining protest shuts down highway


Indigenous Panamanians protesting a proposed mining law have shut down a section of the Pan-American highway for a second day, demanding that a mining ban in their homeland remain in place.

"The situation is going to remain as it is until the government gives us a solution to the mining problem," Rogelio Montezuma, a spokesman for an activist group representing the Ngobe-Bugle people, told AFP.

Hundreds of protesters have blocked the highway, which links Panama to Costa Rica, and held other demonstrations since Monday in order to protest a proposed law to liberalize the country's mining sector.

President Ricardo Martinelli's conservative administration was forced to repeal an earlier version of the mining code nearly a year ago amid violent protests that also saw demonstrators shut down the key highway.

A parliamentary commission has spent months negotiating a revised law with indigenous leaders, who fear that mining will destroy pristine forests and force their people to relocate.

But the protesters have said the revised law does not include an explicit ban on mining in the indigenous areas, which Martinelli was forced to issue during the earlier protests.

Martinelli and his supporters in the National Assembly argue that mining could be Panama's second largest source of income after fees from its world-famous canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

To date, 10 mining companies have submitted 25 bids to explore for gold and other minerals in the indigenous areas.