Rainforest in Panama Threatened by Mining

Miriam Esquitín, a member of the Canada Brigades team, recently spent time exploring new opportunities for Global Environmental Brigades (GEB) in Panama. GEB works with community members to promote environmental sustainable development by focusing on socio-economic challenges linked to resource depletion. Projects typically include reforestation, rainforest preservation, energy-efficient design, eco-tourism and organic agriculture extension.

Miriam visited a remote area located in Panama’s rainforest that is threatened by open-pit copper and gold mining. The mining companies involved are Panamanian company Minera Petaquilla as well as Canadian Vancouver-based Petaquilla Minerals and Toronto-based Inmet Mining. The extraction of these natural resources is damaging the rainforest ecosystem and causing problems for neighbouring communities who have reported extensive deforestation, sedimentation and pollution in rivers downstream in an area known as Petaquilla Mountain in the Donoso district of the north-central province of Colón. The building of a small dam would resolve severe water shortages and aid solid waste management.

The controversy of this mining concession, which consists of 13,600 hectare in the heart of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC), began in 1997 when a special law giving mining companies specific conditions and exemptions from Panamanian law was granted. Since this time ten leading Panamanian environmental groups appealed to the then President Martin Torrijos for a moratorium on open pit mining. Communities and environmental human rights groups formed the Panamanian Network Against Mining and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) passed a resolution asking Central American governments to cancel all mineral explorations and open pit metal mining activities, including Petaquilla. In 2008, the Panamanian government announced it was fining Petaquilla Minerals for violating the law and environmental damages and ceased operations until an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was approved, which took less an a week with conditional requirements. The World Bank has provided substantial support to preserving MBC, an area of massive biodiversity and stunning beauty stretching from Mexico to the Darién in Panama. The Petaquilla area is the only forested link between the Darién and the rest of the MBC. San Juanito was recently granted support from the MBC for reforestation. More information can be found on the MiningWatch Canada (MWC) website at http://www.miningwatch.ca/en/petaquilla-panamanian-rainforest-communities-threatened-mining.

Currently, GEB projects are being planned in local and rural Panamanian communities and successful Brigades have been implemented in the Darien province of Panama. College and university students interested in becoming a volunteer are encouraged to form a GEB club to plan week long trips to Panama to develop strategic environmental solutions by participating in environmental projects. Diverse brigades groups from varying backgrounds are welcome. To obtain information about how to start a GEB please contact michelle@globalbrigades.org.

Melissa

2 thoughts on “Rainforest in Panama Threatened by Mining

  1. I just wanted to thank you very much for this ensightful article. I have already bookmarked your site, when I have more free time I am going to have to do some further research. Well back to my dreaming of Panama or back to the books – I wonder which one is going to win out. 🙂

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