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Canadian Copper Mining Company Minera Panama and Its 2+ Decade Old Petaquilla Mining Operation


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The Chinese Jiangxi Copper Company buys shares in First Quantum

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Posted 03/03/2024

 

The Chinese transaction included the purchase of 25.9 million shares of First Quantum at a unit price of 11.10 Canadian dollars.  They are based in China and are the second largest shareholder of First Quantum Minerals Ltd.   The new acquisition of shares in the Canadian metals producer totals 287.5 million Canadian dollars (equivalent to 212 million US dollars).  This purchase takes on special relevance at a crucial time for First Quantum, as the company has been affected by the forced closure of its flagship copper mine in Panama. 

The closure was a consequence of a court ruling that declared the legal contract between the State and the company unconstitutional.  Faced with challenges resulting from the decommissioning of the Cobre Panamá mine, the Vancouver-based Canadian company has taken refinancing steps, including a successful share purchase offering that generated $1.55 billion last month.  The purpose is to strengthen First Quantum's financial position in this critical period. 

First Quantum will also ask Panama in an international arbitration for $20 billion as the mining company decided to launch a visitor and citizen participation program.  The company's main argument is that Panama ordered the closure of the Donoso copper mine after a ruling by the Supreme Court of Justice, which declared the legal contract between Minera Panamá and the Panamanian State unconstitutional.  First Quantum supposedly lost more than half of its market value after the contract law was declared unconstitutional on November 27.

https://www.newsroompanama.com/news/the-chinese-jiangxi-copper-company-buys-shares-in-first-quantum

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A $10 Billion Copper Mine Sits Idle in the Jungle

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Posted 16/04/2024

When the group of mining executives arrived at Panama’s regal Palacio de las Garzas, they were ushered past the ornate, wood-paneled ceremonial rooms and straight to the private office of the president.  The team from First Quantum Minerals Limited was greeted as old friends.  After all, they were building the country’s most important project since the Panama Canal had been opened a century earlier.  The Cobre Panama mine was set to be the centerpiece of Panama’s economy, generating between four and five percent of its gross domestic product.  First Quantum Minerals bet big on a copper mine in Panama.  

This was December 2016, well before the upswell of anti-mining protests that would one day, throw the country into chaos.  It all fell apart in October/November of 2023.  A $10 billion copper mine is now sitting idle in the jungle.  Will the elections of May 5 2024 turn things around?  That is to be seen how the new Government will begin earning money for the country.  Maybe you as a reader have some ideas on how to create new prosperity for an old country.  Bring back mining but in such a way that will appeal to the people of Panama?  This is your newspaper so send me your thoughts and I will review and print the most relevant ones.  PanamaNewsroom@gmail.com

https://www.newsroompanama.com/news/a-10-billion-copper-mine-sits-idle-in-the-jungle

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This is a huge issue here in Panama.  Mines are not yet dead.  It never goes well for those living adjacent.  Here, it involves the indigenous with a small voice.  In fact until the issue of the mine up in the central cordillera, the Ngobe had almost zero voice.  Out of that struggle to oust mining there came the very existence of the COMARCA .  Finally out of the struggle came land for them...ON TOP.  Under that land I do believe the government still has claim.  I recommend the book:

Conditions Not of Their Choosing by Chris Gjording published by the Smithsonian Inst. Pub.1991.

If you live in the Republic of Panama you will find this book quite informative. The retired American population living in Panama generally know very little about the plight of the native indigenous Ngobe Bugle of Panama. This book is the story of their battle for autonomy and some protection vs the invasion of international mining companies specifically in the central provinces.

It is still available on Amazon for $18.00   Excellent ref book if you plan to sink your anchor here in Boquete for a time !  The book gives a neat insider view of what it's like to be Ngobe and a tender appreciation for their struggle, on going.

Alison

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Panama Cobre Copper Mine by George Bauer - Comments Welcome

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Posted 23/04/2024

The Cobre Panama Copper Mine To be, or not to be? by George Bauer
 
The impact of the shuttering of First Quantum’s Cobre Panama copper mine is the “elephant in the room” of the build-up to Panama’s impending, May 5, presidential election. Likely, whoever wins will then be faced with an apparently irremediable fiscal challenge, with little money in the bank, huge loans to service, high interest rates, voters calling for hand-outs promised when he was on the campaign trail, high unemployment etc. If the mine remains closed, then Panama will also be hit with paying “fair compensation” to First Quantum, the cost of closing the mine and remediating the site in an environmentally friendly manner, with no more money from the mine for government, employees, suppliers, contractors et al, difficulty financing large, government and private, projects, increasing unemployment etc. If the mine is not reopened, this could impoverish Panamanians during the next
presidential term and for generations to come.
 
Though indigenous artisanal mining of gold and copper in Panama dates back almost two thousand years, it was not until just after the Spanish conquest, when Columbus found gold in Veraguas in 1503, that Panama had its first “gold rush”. Mining was then almost continuous, with recent mines including the Santa Rosa Gold mine, near Santiago (ceased production in 1999, planned to re-open recently, but now shut-down by the November 2023 Supreme Court decision), Petaquilla Gold near Penonome (producing from 2009 to 2014, now closed), and First Quantum Minerals’ (“FQM”) Cobre Panama copper mine, in Colon Province, near Coclesito.
 
Q. When do you know that a banana republic is going down the tubes?
A. When there are no bananas in the supermarket.
 
The International Energy Agency, in its influential 2020 Report, “Net Zero 2050”, commented that for this to be achieved, the World would need to produce five times as much copper each year by this date. It typically takes some sixteen years between discovery and first copper production from a new mine. Mankind looks most unlikely to meet this target for production of copper, and other minerals critical for “going green”. Cobre Panama should be a small, but significant, contributor to “saving the planet”.
 
Only fourteen nations, out of 156 listed, have a less equal distribution of wealth and income (i.e. higher “GINI coefficient”) than Panama. For this to be corrected so as to improve the prospects of the vast majority of the Panamanian people, Panama needs more high-valued-added jobs, at different levels, which, realistically, can only come from export-oriented, high initial investment, projects, for which Panama has neither the skills nor the money to invest. Cobre Panama, and other mining prospects, offer just such opportunities to Panama and its citizens.
 
During the first “Presidential, Debate”, in early March, for the election to be held on 5th May, it was said that Panama’s unemployment rate, at 7%, was far too high. Assuming all the 40,000 previously employed, directly and indirectly, by Minera Panama are now unemployed, unemployment would now only be only 5% were they still working. No meaningful options to replace these jobs were tabled in this, or subsequent, presidential debates.
 
The copper deposit produced by FQM was first identified in 1968 by a United Nations Development Programme field survey, with some holes drilled in 1969 to support an estimate of the reserves. The project then passed through various hands, ending up with FQM in 2013. Following mine construction, at a cost of some 10 billion US, including a new port on the Caribbean, and a new road across the isthmus, copper concentrate production started in 2019.

The Cobre Panama mine, in the mountains, in Colon province, near Coclesito, can best be accessed via a drive northwards, of little more than one hour, from Penonome, which is located on the InterAmerican Highway. It is the largest new open pit copper mine in the World, employing, in mid- 2023, some ten thousand directly, and thirty thousand indirectly. Daily sales were approximately $10 million US, circa half of which remained in Panama as salaries, taxes, local purchases of goods and services.  In 2022 the mine was responsible for circa 1% of the World’s copper production, 5% of Panama’s GDP, 75% of Panama’s exports of physicals, 2% of Panama’s employment, and 40% of FQM’s global revenue, with employment by Cobre Panama being an aspiration for many Panamanians.
 
Some of the income from the mine was used by employees to buy, or build, new homes, buy new cars etc, with local contractors buying, for example, fleets of buses to transport FQM employees. Major new housing developments, shopping malls etc were also started, mainly funded by bank loans, in expectation that the flow of cash from the mine would continue, with FQM’s contract specifying a 20 – 40 year mine life. Some of these projects now appear to be “on hold”.

Anti-mining protestors took to the streets in late-2023, with identifiable groups of protestors including members of the construction workers union SUNTRACS, teachers, indigenous groups and students, none of whom would appear to have been impacted by Minera Panama’s operations, or likely to be in the future, except via increased government expenditure, on such things as education, pensions, medical care etc. Following months of popular protests, during which the InterAmerican Highway and major roads in Panama City were closed, vegetables rotted in the backs of trucks as they could not be transported from the producers to the city, no bananas in the supermarket, schools and businesses closed, many losing their employment, at a daily estimated cost of $200 million to the economy, and Cobre Panama workers counter-demonstrating to “Save Our Jobs”, it appeared, in November as though there were two options open for Panama. First was for the economy to continue to be partially closed-down, and for Minera Panama to restart copper production as usual. The second was for the government to impose closure on the mine, and for the rest of the economy to revert to business as usual. The Supreme Court judgement in late-November closed the mine, on the grounds that the contract under which it was operating was “unconstitutional”. However, that the demonstrators, and ultimately the government, favored “business as usual”, to keep the shops full, the schools, roads and ports open etc, should not necessarily be taken as evidence that “the people have spoken” in favour of mine closure per se.
With so much apparently at stake, would it not have been better to renegotiate FQM’s contract so as to conform with the constitution than close the mine?

It should be noted that though FQM’s contract terms allow the government to cancel FQM’s contract, these terms call for “fair compensation” to be paid in this event. Should this go to international arbitration, it will be likely be considered that it was primarily the government’s role to ensure that the contract abided by the Panamanian constitution and other Panamanian laws, and that this would impact on
any judgement and award of compensation.

There are, however, number of different reasons given for the mine being closed, in addition to it being “unconstitutional”.

First, the objections to environmental damage caused by the mine. However, more jungle is trashed in Darien every year, legally and illegally, than the mine will need in total. In Darien, typically the jungle is trashed, and the big tree trunks hauled away. At Minera Panama, the jungle is cleared and a five hundred metre deep pit is planned, to be dug out over a period of perhaps ten years, to take the copper out, delivering much more value and income for the collateral environmental damage. FQM have a plan, approved by the government, for refilling these pits, using tailings from the process plant and material from later pits, in anticipation of restoring the site. FQM have already cleared enough jungle to allow the first pit to be worked out, allowing a further maybe ten years of copper production with no more significant environmental damage. Closing the mine now, to limit environmental damage, would not appear to be cost-efficient.

Second, there has been a long-ongoing, and public, negotiation between FQM and the Panamanian government, as to how much tax FQM should pay, perhaps exacerbated by a less than “sensitive” approach by FQM and lack of experience and knowledge on the government side as to how such things are customarily analyzed by international mining companies. This has left the public with the impression, rightly or wrongly, that FQM are not paying enough. Third, it is said that pollution from the mine has caused an increase in cancer in children in Cocle. However, there is no evidence to support this assertion, and with the mine on the other side of the
mountains from Cocle, in Colon Province, it is unlikely that any run-off from the mine would have reached Cocle anyway.

Fourth, it is said that pollution from the mine is entering Lake Gatun, on the Panama Canal, thus polluting Panama City’s water supply. However, the Panama Canal Commission has said publically that no run-off from the mine is reaching the watershed of the Canal, as there are several river valleys crossing the potential route.

Fifth, this same argument negates the claim that the mine is “stealing” the Canal’s water. Sixth, various communities are complaining that FQM has promised them roads, school, clinics etc which have not been built. But, in reality, FQM is not in the business of committing to such works, which have likely been promised by government using income from the mine, but not yet delivered. Seventh, it is said that the vast majority of workers at the mine are foreigners, not Panamanians, which would be illegal. This is untrue, and likely based on observations by someone who has never been to the mine site.

Eighth, it has been claimed that the run-off from the mine is killing the fish in the rivers. However, an under-water camera survey in early-2023 showed healthy fish swimming in the river just down-stream of where the waste water entered it.
And there is more………..

Though such assertions have been voiced loudly and publicly, when these are shown to ignore the evidence, these assertions are never retracted, and the evidence almost never made public – so these assertions are still all out there.

It is understood that several groups appointed by the government, including international mining consultants, have been to the mine but have failed to find any “smoking guns” with respect to the environment or other issues discussed above. However, a delegation from Chile reported that it would take some twelve months to develop an environmentally-acceptable plan to abandon the mine, and maybe ten years to implement it – things for which the government has neither the, circa $1 billion, funding nor expertise.

SUNTRACS, the trades union for Panama’s construction workers, the most active of workers’ formal representatives in Panama, customarily in the van of almost any significant industrial action, such as demonstrations, strikes, road closures etc, organized demonstrations and strikes that delayed construction of the mine in 2016. Subsequently SUNTRACS were unsuccessful in their bid to represent the workforce during the mine operations phase, with FQM and their employees setting up UTRAMIPA, to represent the mine workers only. SUNTRACS, whose members were minimally impacted by the mine operation, were the most visible and effective organizers of the demonstrations, road closures, port closures, rail closures etc in late-2023, and were prominent in negotiations with government. It has been suggested that SUNTRACS, having been previously spurned by FQM and their employees, may be pursuing a vendetta against them. As foreseen at the time, mine closure has negatively impacted construction projects in Panama, with a resulting reduction in demand for the construction workers that constitute the majority of SUNTRACS’ members. Industrial action by one trades union, to put forty thousand others, many members of another trades union, out of work is unusual, to say the least!
Many Panamanians report that the principal driver of mine closure is the anger felt by the Panamanian people against the politicians whose corruption, and theft from the public purse, is perceived as having recently increased to a new, unacceptable and unsustainable, level. Though killing the goose because some of the golden eggs are being stolen may not be a logical response to this, this may well be what the people want.

FQM made almost all of its employees redundant in December, and the mine is currently not producing. However, the mine remains, with almost one thousand workers on site, for “care and maintenance”, and to monitor for and prevent any leaks to the environment etc, at cost of some $20 million per month. FQM are funding this, in the hope that they may be able to start production again some time after the May 5 th election.

Should the mine remain closed, then Panama will lose some forty thousand good, mainly unionized and tax-paying, jobs and five million dollars coming into Panama every day. Fitch has already reduced Panama’s credit rating to “Speculative” (“Currently highly vulnerable to non-payment, default has not yet occurred, but is expected to be a virtual certainty”). This has increased Panama’s cost of borrowing, and will make it much more difficult, and costly, for the government to borrow money, and for the government and commercial companies to finance new projects in Panama.

Though FQM have made it clear that they hope the mine will re-open, with FQM in charge, they have also made it clear that they will be seeking “Fair Compensation” if it does not. In December it was reported, quoting a lawyer with knowledge of such things, that fair compensation: would be “at least $50 billion”, a sum for which the Canal tolls would barely pay the interest on the capital sum, and equivalent to some $50 thousand for each household in Panama. FQM is reported to be already seeking $20 billion compensation under the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement, with proceedings in Miami. It is understood that this may be only one of the claims to be made, with the total nearer to $50 billion. Whether $20 billion, or $50 billion, equivalent to almost two thirds of Panama’s annual GDP, it is unlikely that Panama can readily pay such a sum, leading the government into unknown territory, possibly
resulting in the USA retaking control of the Canal, to keep it operating efficiently.

Reuters reported on 18 th April that “Panama election unlikely to shift Outcome for First Quantum’s Copper Mine”, mainly because none of the eight presidential candidates for the 5 th May election would openly support reopening the mine, such support being perceived as a “third rail” for anyone seeking election. Reuters also quoted the leader of SUNTRACS as saying that “There was no scenario under which they would let the authorities seal a new deal with First Quantum”.

However, once the new president occupies his office and “opens the books’, the combination of little money in the bank, huge loans, much increased during the current administration, higher interest payments due to downgrading of Panama’s credit rating, the likelihood of huge “fair compensation” payments being awarded against Panama, the cost of abandoning the mine in an environmentally- acceptable manner, newly-unemployed mine workers and others dependent on the mine wanting jobs, and many groups expecting the delivery of the costly goodies promised to them while he was on the election trail, may present a most unattractive, and likely apparently irremediable, prospect. And, of course, especially in Panama, it is no fun being president with no money to hand. This might lead him to consider, how, for example, an (international mining) company could be awarded a, perhaps ten year, contract for abandoning the mine, but allowed to produce and sell only enough copper to pay its own costs, with no income for the government. After a few years, when the teachers, pensioners et al have had no pay increases, new construction projects have dried up etc, and unemployment is at a new “high”, then there would likely be popular support for reverting to full mine production, to provide the government with funds to cover these, and other, costs and to get the economy expanding again. 

If this does not happen, then the resulting dearth of new investment in Panama, and the associated shortage of high-quality, export-oriented, employment opportunities, may impoverish generations of Panamanians.
 
Panama Wednesday April 24 of 2024
George Bauer is the pen name of a retired mining engineer, resident in Panama for over twenty years.

https://www.newsroompanama.com/news/panama-cobre-copper-mine-by-george-bauer-comments-welcome

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Panama and Costa Rica are Dealing with Canadian Mine Closures

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Posted 27/06/2024

The cost of the closure of Canadian miner First Quantum's copper mine in Panama pictured above is estimated at around $800 million, says Panama’s Trade and Industry Minister Jorge Rivera.  An inter-ministry coalition, which is developing the mine's closure plan, is working on alternative measures to recoup funds so that the cost does not come out of the state's coffers. Panama's government ordered the shutdown in December after protests calling for more environmental protections erupted across the country and a court ruling deemed the contract to run the mine unconstitutional.

The Canadian mining company Infinito Gold has decided to drop a claim against Costa Rica for the failed Crucitas project in Cutris de San Carlos. The official website of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) states that, on June 14, 2024, “the parties filed a request for termination of the proceedings under the Arbitration Rules…” in ICSID Case No. ARB/14/5 – Infinito Gold Ltd. v. Costa Rica. This decision definitively ends a controversy that began in March 2024  when the Canadian mining company appealed to this instance after being stripped of the concession that authorized it to build and operate a gold mine.  The appeals court to which the complaint was presented at the international level has not yet accepted the petition and is expected to issue a ruling in about four weeks, as confirmed by President Rodrigo Chaves.  “When the ruling is firm, we will give the pertinent statements and clarify what the future of Crucitas will be,” he said.

The community of Crucitas has become a significant illegal mining district extending over dozens of square kilometers from where billions of colones have been plundered.  The only official estimate of illegally extracted gold dates back to January 30, 2020, when, in office DM-0154-2020, the Minister of Environment and Energy, Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, calculated that during 2017 and December 2018, 149,243 troy ounces of gold were illegally extracted, with a market value of $197,426,237 in just two years.  Edgardo Araya, environmental lawyer and former Frente Amplio law maker who brought down the mining project, pointed out that there are many doubts surrounding this decision, suggesting that something could be going on to reactivate the mine.  “Why has the government insisted so much that nothing can be done? Did they consider the existing legal prohibitions and our environmental regulations? Given what we’ve seen in this government, one could expect anything,” said Araya.  While the termination of Infinito Gold’s legal battle over the Crucitas project may mark the end of a lengthy controversy, the community of Crucitas is still waiting for solutions. Violence, insecurity, unemployment, poverty, drug trafficking, and environmental destruction are pressing issues that demand urgent attention.

https://www.newsroompanama.com/news/panama-and-costa-rica-are-dealing-with-canadian-mine-closures

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