Panama: indigenous groups block latest mining maneuver

A dispute between the government of right-wing Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli and the Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous group flared up again the week of Oct. 24 as the National Assembly began to debate changes to the Mining Code. Militant protests by the Ngöbe-Buglé and others last February and March forced the Assembly to rescind a law which opponents said would encourage open-pit mining for metals by foreign companies and endanger the environment.

An ad hoc commission of the Assembly and a coordinating committee of indigenous groups then negotiated a new bill incorporating indigenous demands for protection of their territory and the environment. But the bill that finally appeared before the Assembly in October, Law 394, retained objectionable features of the previous law, according to the indigenous groups, which blocked the Pan-American highway in protest.

“The government isn’t complying with the accords, which is a clear sign that we have to start up our actions again,” Ngöbe-Buglé activist Rogelio Montezuma said on Oct. 24 as the National Front in Defense of Economic and Social Rights (Frenadeso) and the Traditional General Ngöbe-Buglé Congress demonstrated outside the National Assembly. “We, the original peoples, are telling the national government we don’t want mining.” (Adital, Brazil, Oct. 28; Prensa Latina, Oct. 28)

As of Oct. 28, the government and the indigenous groups had come to an agreement about Law 394, according to Commerce and Industry Minister Ricardo Quijano, who said “the mining bill will not affect the [indigenous] territories” and won’t include the features the indigenous groups objected to. There were reports that the government would offer an additional bill including measures agreed to in the negotiations between the indigenous groups and the National Assembly’s ad hoc commission. (TVN Noticias, Panama, Oct. 28)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 30.

See our last posts on Panama and the mineral cartel.