The Canadian mining company, whose contract with the Panamanian government has sparked weeks of protests, said on Monday it has scaled back operations and may soon have to suspend operations due to a shutdown of its mine’s power plant.
Minera Panama, the local subsidiary of First Quantum Minerals, said in a statement that small boats blocked its port in Colon province, preventing supplies from reaching the copper mine.
“If the illegal actions continue to prevent supplies needed to operate the power plant, the company will reduce the remaining processing train this week and temporarily suspend production,” the statement said.
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Panama has been rocked by weeks of mass street protests and highway blockades as citizens worried about the environmental impact pressure the government to withdraw the contract. The protesters, a broad Panamanian coalition, fear the effects of the mine on nature and especially on the water supply.
The mine employs thousands and accounts for 3% of Panama’s gross domestic product.
In March, Panama’s legislature reached an agreement with First Quantum allowing Minera Panama to continue operating a massive open pit copper mine in central Panama for at least 20 more years. The mine was temporarily shut down last year when talks between the government and First Quantum broke down over the payments the government wanted.
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The contract, which received final approval on October 20, allows the subsidiary to continue operating the copper mine in a biodiverse jungle west of the capital for the next 20 years, with an option to extend for another 20 years if the mine remains productive.
Since the protests began, the government almost passed legislation to revoke the convention, but backed off in a late-night debate in the National Assembly on November 2.
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Protesters hope Panamanian courts will declare the convention unconstitutional.