Workers at closed mine ask Panama’s new government for help

Workers at closed mine ask Panama’s new government for help
Workers at closed mine ask Panama’s new government for help

By AFP

Panamanian unionists have asked new President José Raúl Mulino to create an economic recovery programme for the thousands of workers who were “abandoned” after the closure of a Canadian-owned mine.

The Cobre Panamá open-pit mine, located on the Caribbean coast, ceased operations after the Panamanian Supreme Court declared the concession contract “unconstitutional” on November 28, 2023, following five weeks of protests that semi-paralyzed the country, called by environmental groups that accused it of damaging the environment.

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“There was never a plan for the reintegration of thousands of workers into the workforce” for the thousands of workers laid off following the closure of the mine owned by Canadian company First Quantum Minerals, said the president of the mine workers’ union, Michael Camacho, at a press conference.

UNCERTAINTY

“After eight months of mine closure, thousands of workers [y] from producers in those communities [aledañas] “They have been left without their daily sustenance, condemned to hunger, despair and oblivion,” said the leader of the UGT trade union, Aniano Pinzón.

Camacho said that the farmers who sold food to the mine “were not told what was going to happen to you.” “We were deceived, abandoned” by the previous president Laurentino Cortizo, replaced by Mulino on July 1, he added.

Of the more than 7,000 employees at the mine, only about 1,400 are left to work in maintenance “and the more than 1,600 workers from the communities surrounding the mine have been left completely helpless,” says a letter sent to Mulino by the union members.

The letter calls for “the implementation of a plan for economic and social recovery in the districts affected by the closure of the mine,” which includes job retraining programs and support for entrepreneurship.

POLLUTION

The leaders also warned that thousands of tons of copper concentrate remained in the deposit and must be exported to prevent it from polluting the environment (its sale was banned after the closure).

“There are approximately 132,000 tons of copper concentrate at this site” and “they could cause gas emissions in the future,” said Facundo Acosta, spokesman for nearby communities.

“We are concerned because we live about a kilometer away,” he added.

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Mulino has proposed to the Canadian mining company a “calm” dialogue to avoid an arbitration in which Panama could be condemned to pay a million-dollar compensation. He has also mentioned a possible reopening of the mine and then an orderly closure.

Since 2019, the mine has produced some 300,000 tons of copper concentrate annually, representing 75% of exports and 5% of Panama’s GDP.

 
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