Campaign Update – Panama: Ngöbe Introduce Bills to Protect Their Governance and Territories

After half a year of constant protests that were supported by Global Response campaigns, the Ngöbe people have proposed two bills to Panama’s National Assembly. One bill would revoke an executive decree that violates their right to freely choose their own political leadership. The other bill prohibits mining and dam construction that would negatively affect Ngöbe communities. 

In a resolution passed by the Ngöbe-Bugle General Congress on March 10, 2011, they call for cancellation of Executive Decree # 537, which imposes a government process for electing Ngöbe leaders. They also refuse to recognize the leaders who were chosen on October 24, 2010, and March 6-10, 2011, through the bogus government-manipulated process.  Please support this resolution by writing letters here.

During mass demonstrations and roadblocks in Panama earlier this month, the Ngöbe successfully pressured Panama’s president Ricardo Martinelli to repeal Law 8, which would have encouraged open-pit mining in the country. On March 4th, Martinelli promised to revoke the new law and accepted the Ngöbe people’s request to create a special law for the protection of mineral resources,  waterways, and environments within and around the Ngobe-Bugle Comarca (territory).  The new Ngöbe bill was introduced on March 18, 2011.

The new law would:

  • Prohibit the concession, exploration, exploitation, extraction, and transport of any minerals in the area by any company, public or private, national or international, that threatens the territorial, cultural, social, or economic integrity of the Indigenous Peoples of the republic of Panama, in accordance with the constitution.
  • Prohibit the alteration of the natural springs or rivers and the privatization of water resources in Ngöbe territories that would affect the natural order, species, and habitats or put at risk the Indigenous or non-Indigenous population.
  • Cancel all current concessions and suspend activity in all projects currently in operation.
  • Declare a moratorium on mining, exploration, and hydro-electrical concessions in the entire territory of Panama until December 31st, 2014.

A three-day session to form consensus over the new bill was planned for March 21-23 but was delayed by the absence of various representatives and a massive protest held outside the political offices by a pro-mining group, sponsored by the private companies.