Panamanian people score a great victory, struggle continues

Published Dec. 2 in Panamá, where the author is a professor of sociology and an anti-imperialist political leader. Translation: John Catalinotto

The ruling of unconstitutionality, issued by the Supreme Court of Justice of Panamá on Nov. 28, constituted the successful conclusion of a great popular victory against the abusive mining contract signed with First Quantum Minerals (FQM). 

Demonstration of the Indigenous peoples of Panamá against the transnational mining corporation based in Canada, First Quantum Minerals, Oct. 30, 2023.

This decision is the legal validation of what the Panamanian people had already taken to the streets to express: This contract was illegitimate because it constituted a theft of the Panamanian nation, concluded in a conspiracy between the Canadian transnational corporation and a corrupt government, with the complicity of the corporate media, the business associations and the traditional political parties. 

It is a victory of the people organized and resisting in the streets to defeat Law 406, not a win by the “Court.” 

Both the sense of the ruling, which declared the contract unconstitutional, and the unprecedented speed with which the magistrates acted, were products of the popular pressure that remained in the streets, maintaining the strongholds of struggle without abandoning the blockades. 

The organized people, led by the two alliances — Pueblo Unido por la Vida Digna [People United for a Dignified Life] and ANADEPO [National Alliance for the Rights of the Organized People] — remained firm and mobilized, producing the miracle of a positive and expeditious resolution by the highest court of justice. Do not forget that it took 20 years to get the previous ruling and five more years for it to be published. 

This is a victory of the Indigenous comrades of all the comarcas [equivalent of provinces, but for majority Indigenous regions], and especially of the Ngäbe-Buglé people, who held firm the closures in Tierras Altas, Horconcitos, San Félix, Tolé, Viguí, in Changuinola and various sites in Bocas del Toro. 

It is a triumph of the teachers’ unions that held the bastions of the David River, Santiago, Aguadulce and Penonomé. It is a conquest achieved thanks to the bastions of Pacora, Colón, Arraiján, Chorrera, Iglesia del Carmen and so many other places, supported by educators, construction workers, young people and residents.  

The organized university students and the neighbors of Viejo Veranillo who, together with the university workers, kept the bastion of the Transístmica [the road connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific] closed for a month, deserve a good part of the credit for this triumph. Of course, honors also go to the tens of thousands of young people and families who went with discipline to the Cinta Costera [Coastal Beltway] and to the Court to demand the repeal of Law 406. 

This victory owes a particular debt to the steadfastness of the residents and fisherpeople of Donoso, neighbors of the mine, who imposed the maritime closure of the mining port. We owe the judicial defeat of the FQM to the fortitude of the teachers and their unions, who kept up the fight despite threats from MEDUCA [Education Ministry]. This victory owes much to the leaders and members of SUNTRACS [union federation], whose steadfastness helped sustain the struggle, despite the defamatory campaigns of the media, unions and government officials. 

This victory owes a perennial debt to the families of the comrades fallen defending their strongholds: Agustín Morales, run over in Buena Vista Colón on Oct. 26; Tomás Milton Cedeño García, run over in San Lorenzo, on Nov. 1; and Abdiel Díaz and Iván Rodríguez, shot in Chame on Nov. 7 by a lawyer linked to mining interests. 

In short, this ruling does not mean that the Court has ceased to be an instrument of the sectors of political and economic power, which appoint the magistrates, to sustain the impunity and corruption prevailing in the country. No. The Court has not changed. It was the people with their struggle in the streets who forced them to declare the unconstitutionality of Law 406. 

Need for honest government

We need an honest government that defends the country against corporate threats. 

As we had previously warned, it did not matter whether Law 406 was repealed or declared unconstitutional because the company was going to sue anyway, which it has already done, so that a foreign court would defend its interests. It has also processed the dismissal of 7,000 workers before the Ministry of Labor. It is clear that neither the Canadian managers nor the international shareholders nor the Panamanian lawyers, politicians and communicators at FQM’s service care at all about what the Panamanian people or their courts think.  

FQM’s owners are only interested in continuing to plunder the country’s mineral resources in exchange for almost nothing. They want to continue stealing the copper and other Panamanian minerals with impunity because the corrupt authorities and sellouts of five governments, their Assemblies and judges have allowed them to do so. The owners of FQM are convinced that Panamá will continue to be governed by venal politicians and puppets whose strings they pull from [their legal counsel] Morgan & Morgan.  

This hope of FQM’s looters is based on the fact that almost all the electoral proposals for May 2024 are subservient to mining interests: José Gabriel Carrizo (lawyer for Petaquilla Gold), Rómulo Roux (partner of Morgan & Morgan); Ricardo Martinelli (who, in 2011, tried to reform the Mining Code at the cost of deaths and injuries); Martín Torrijos (one of the former Panamanian presidents who did nothing in the face of the contract); Ricardo Lombana (whose running mate Michael Chen endorsed the contract on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce of Colón); and Melitón Arrocha (who held ministerial positions in three pro-mining governments).  

Only two presidential candidates — Zulay Rodríguez and Maribel Gordón — opposed Law 406, and only the latter has been in the streets accompanying the struggle against the mining contract. 

Those who fought hard against environmental destruction and theft by FQM should think very carefully about who they are going to vote for in the 2024 elections because everything they have achieved through the struggle could be lost if the elected government consists of officials manipulated by mining interests and the powerful Morgan & Morgan law firm. Corrupt officials will not consistently defend the national interest against FQM. 

Fight against capitalist globalization

The struggle against extractivism is a struggle against capitalist globalization. 

It is not enough to elect an honest government.  We must elect one that also has an understanding that confronting FQM is a struggle against an extractivist economic model by which the transnational corporations of the big capitalist countries (G7) plunder the natural resources of the dependent or semi-colonial countries.  

To confront FQM is to confront an unjust international system made to legitimize the economic plunder and political domination of our countries. International laws, the courts that must settle these disputes, “free” trade agreements, institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), credit agencies (World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Inter-American Development Bank), risk rating agencies, etc., all work to sustain this economic model promoting plunder. 

We cannot be innocent and believe that the rights of a small nation like Panamá will be respected. We must be aware of the problems that sister nations have had when they have wanted to control their national resources and protect them from [the actions of] international capitalist predators: sanctions, coups d’état, sabotage, etc. 

That is why it is required that the vanguard of the Panamanian popular movement, generator of this victory that we celebrate, assumes as the next step the consolidation of an alternative that leads to a profound political change involving institutions, starting from a Constituent Assembly. 

It is necessary to work for a government that has the attitude, the arguments and the strategy to take the struggle against FQM and extractivism to a terrain that goes beyond national borders and that requires alliances with sister countries that face the same challenges as Panama. 

To definitively defeat the anti-national mining interests requires that the vanguard that captained this victory consciously assumes the construction of a project of transformations that is part of the struggle to prove “another world is possible,” different from one of capitalist globalization. 

 

Olmedo Beluche (guest author)

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Olmedo Beluche (guest author)
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