Panama Supreme Court declares mining contract illegal

In the November/December 2023 additions to The Violence of Development website, Martin Mowforth reported on protests and blockades in Panama that brought the country to a standstill. Here he reports again on developments in this ‘people versus the government’ conflict.

By Martin Mowforth

February 2024

Key words: mining protests; road blocks; First Quantum Minerals; Minera Panama (formerly Minera Petaquilla.


On 28 November 2023, the Supreme Court of Panama declared that a renewal contract that allowed a Canadian mining company (First Quantum Minerals) to continue operating Central America’s largest open pit copper mine was “unconstitutional”.

For over a month before the Supreme Court judgement, the renewal of the contract had given rise to massive protests that spread throughout the country causing blockages on major highways that impeded the passage of national and international trade. According to the EFE News Agency, the blockages had caused losses in the order of millions of dollars and shortages of various goods in cities. Newspaper articles frequently talked of the country being brought to a standstill, as the previous entry into this section of The Violence of Development website records.

Groups taking part in the protests included Indigenous peoples, trade unionists, schoolteachers, students, and environmentalists.

The concession rights for the Cobre Panama project were obtained in 1997 under Law 9 by Minera Petaquilla, now known as Minera Panama SA, according to First Quantum. Minera Panama is a majority owned subsidiary of First Quantum. The court indicated in its decision that Panama’s National Assembly accepted a contract that didn’t follow the correct legal process and therefore contravened the constitution.

Environmentalist Raisa Banfield declared the judgement as “a victory for popular democracy”, and Ombudsman Eduardo Leblanc asserted that “democracy worked”. He also noted that after dividing the country, it was now necessary “to move towards recovery and reconciliation”.

Following the judgement, protestors began to remove the blockades on major highways.

First Quantum Minerals has notified the government of Panama that it intends to present arbitration claims, under a free trade agreement between Panama and Canada. Once again, then, claims made by transnational corporations to arbitration courts such as the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) demonstrate their inherent injustice through their attempts to prevent countries and communities making decisions and taking action against the despoliation of their environments and societies.


  • AFP, 28 November 2023, ‘Panama Court Nixes Major Mining Deal’.
  • Ariadne Eljuri, 29 November 2023, ‘Panama Supreme Court Declares Mining Contract Illegal’, Orinoco Tribune.
  • The reader is also referred to the numerous sources cited in the previous article in this section of the website.