Protests continued for a third day in Panama on Wednesday against the recent approval of the mining concession for the Cobre Panama copper mine.
Since Monday, protests against the contract have led to clashes between protesters and the police and the closure of major roads across the country. The protesters are concerned about potential environmental damage from operations at the mine owned by First Quantum.
After protests erupted on Friday and persisted throughout the weekend, demonstrators once more took to the streets in Panama City and several other provinces this week. They waved placards with messages like “Protect our natural resources” and “Stop destroying our lands.”
Due to concerns about potential riots, the government canceled school for the day on Monday and several metro stations were closed. The police reported the arrest of 25 individuals.
“I will not tolerate vandalism or calls for anarchy, nor the commission of any crime. These acts will be prosecuted,” President Laurentino Cortizo said in a televised address.
The Panamanian government last December ordered First Quantum to halt operations at Cobre Panama amid disagreements during contract negotiations, which later broke down. Talks eventually resumed and the parties reached an agreement in March. The company had estimated that suspensions at the mine, which lasted for more than two months, caused up to $8 million in losses per day.
The new contract guarantees a minimum annual income of $375 million to the government and will be effective for 20 years. An option to renew is included.
The Cobre Panama mine began commercial production in 2019. At full capacity it can process 85 million tonnes of ore annually and produce more than 300,000 tonnes (661.4 million lb.) of copper each year. Gold, silver, and molybdenum are also recovered. Currently, the complex includes two open pit mines, a processing plant, two 150MW power stations and a port.
On Tuesday, First Quantum reported $325 million in net earnings attributable to shareholders for the third quarter, up from $113 million a year earlier. Sales revenues totalled $2.0 billion, up from $1.7 billion.
Despite the turmoil at its largest operation and a weak copper price, First Quantum’s stock has held up and is trading higher in 2023 so far. The company is now worth $14.4 billion in New York and has outperformed its peers, some of which like Antofagasta, Freeport McMoRan and Glencore have suffered double digit losses on a percentage basis year-to-date.