PANAMA CITY (AP) — Panama’s President, Laurentino Cortizo, signed into law an indefinite moratorium on new mining concessions Friday. The law also prohibits renewing existing concessions.
Panama’s National Assembly approved the bill Thursday. An article was removed, however, that would have revoked a controversial mining contract that sparked nationwide protests over the past two weeks.
The new law will still allow Minera Panama to operate an open-pit copper mine in the state of Colon for 20 years, with a possible extension for another 20 years.
Environmentalists argue the mine threatens to destroy more of the dense jungle surrounding it and imperils local drinking water.
Minera Panama is a local subsidiary of Canadian mining company First Quantum.
Some lawyers welcomed the decision, warning that revoking that contract could have left the government open to multi-million-dollar legal liabilities.
However, experts said those could be avoided if the country’s Supreme Court rules the original contract was unconstitutional in any one of eight such cases brought against the deal so far.
Another bill also awaits debate, which would put the contract to a popular referendum.
Cortizo initially gave his final approval to the contract on Oct. 20.
Protests continued across the country Friday, drawing supporters from Indigenous groups and unions across the education, construction and medical sectors.
In 2017, El Salvador’s congress passed a total ban on the mining of metals in the country, becoming one of the first countries to enact such a broad ban. Proponents said the measure was needed to protect the water supply.