Panama Campaign Update – Ngöbe People and Environmentalists Protest Proposed Mining Law

More than 1,000 Ngöbe people – men, women, and children – took to the streets in different parts of Panama this week to protest a proposed change in the country’s mining law.  Nine Ngöbe people were reported wounded and 22 jailed, including three children.  Environmental and human rights organizations and students carried out parallel protests against the mining law reform at the National Assembly.
 
If passed, the law would allow foreign governments to invest in mining projects. Panama’s president has been wooing the governments of China, South Korea, and Singapore, all of which are poised to get into the mining business in Panama, where copper reserves are among the highest in the world. The copper and significant gold deposits are within Ngöbe territories in western Panama.
 
The Ngöbe leadership has steadfastly opposed open-pit mining by multinational corporations on Ngöbe lands. But the Panama government is trying to get around the current leaders by staging new Ngöbe elections in March. By executive decree, the government effectively took over the Ngöbe people’s electoral process last year. In spite of Ngöbe protests and a Global Response letter-writing campaign, the president has refused to revoke the decree (see the Global Response alert HERE and write a letter today!).
 
Now Ngöbe leaders, who consider the government-sponsored elections a ploy to remove them from office, are calling for a massive demonstration in early March against the executive decree and against the reform of the mining law. They anticipate participation of 15,000 Ngöbe people from all parts of the country.