One killed and dozens injured during escalating Panama mining protests

An indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé teenager was killed and 40 people were injured in connection with a police crackdown on dissent over mining and hydroelectric developments in Panama, where Canadian mining companies have a large presence.

Since January 30, thousands of members of the Indian tribe Ngöbe-Buglé had blocked the Inter-American Highway at San Felix in Western Panama, demanding the government the approval of a legislation that would annul existing mining and hydroelectric concessions granted in their territory, reported Prensa.com.

Last night, Ngöbe-Buglé leaders agreed with the government to end the highway blockade that stranded Central American travelers over the weekend in return for the release of demonstrators detained when police used tear gas to clear the road.

The government also said that it would compensate the family of the teen who was killed in Sunday's clashes. The violence in San Felix, however, has already triggered widespread dissent from civil society groups and other indigenous nations throughout Panama. Marches, vigils and more blockades are taking place across the country, including in the capital city, where universities have also been closed.

The banana workers union in Bocas de Toro has declared an indefinite strike until the government complies with the Ngöbe-Buglé’s demands. 

In response to police violence, indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé protestors have burned down police stations in the towns of San Felix and Volcán.

In an interview with local newspaper La Estrella, President Ricardo Martinelli acknowledged the severity of the escalating demonstrations for Panama’s economic development. Canada’s Inmet Mining has a $5bn Cobre Panamá plan to mine copper in the Ngäbe Buglé region, a crucial venture for the country, only comparable to the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Inmet recently sold a 20 per cent stake in Cobre Panamá to Korean companies and is looking for more investors and partners. The hydroelectric projects are also vital, the government says, to maintaining Panama’s recent and steady economic growth.