Hundreds of indigenous Panamanians protested Monday in different regions of the country, demanding that a ban on mining in their territories be included in a current bill in Congress.
“We don’t want mining in our territory,” said Rogelio Montezuma, a spokesman for the Coordinator for the Defense and Rights of Ngöbe-Buglé.
During the peaceful demonstration protesters blocked roads in Chiriquí, Veraguas and Bocas del Toro, demanding that an article protecting indigenous territories be reinstated in a current mining bill that would regulate the industry.
For months, a legislative commission has been negotiating the bill with representatives of indigenous groups. Last year, President Ricardo Martinelli backtracked on reforms to the country’s mining codes in order to draw investment in the sector, a move that sparked violent protests from indigenous groups.
The commission agreed with negotiators from indigenous communities on nine articles of the new bill, but according to Montezuma, one of those articles was removed at the last minute, sparking the most recent protests.
The article that was removed would ban Panamanian and foreign companies from mining and building hydroelectric damns in indigenous territories.
“[Lawmakers] have deceived us,” Montezuma said. “The government has tried to circumvent an agreement, and if we accept, any other government could grant concessions in Cerro Colorado,” he said, referring to a large copper deposit in the Ngöbe-Buglé region that has an estimated 17 million tons of copper.
There are currently 25 applications from 10 companies looking for gold and other minerals in the region.