Donoso mine standoff
The mine in Donoso, some 220 kilometers (135 miles) north of Panama City, produces some 300,000 tons of copper concentrate per year AFP

The Supreme Court of Panama ruled unanimously on Tuesday that the government's agreement with First Quantum Minerals, which allows the Canadian mining company to operate in Panama in the next 20 years, is unconstitutional.

Panama President Laurentino Cortizo announced on social media on the same day that the copper mine would be shut.

"As soon as formal communication of the ruling declaring Law 406 unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Justice is received, it will be immediately published in the Official Gazette and the transition process for the orderly and safe closure of the mine will begin," the president wrote on X, as per Google's translation from Spanish.

For the last couple of weeks, protesters have been demanding that the government cancel its agreement with First Quantum Minerals, which gave the company permission to mine copper in a biodiverse jungle. Protestors have noted that this operation will damage the forested coastal area and impact water supplies.

Following the court's decision, which reportedly involved a panel of nine members, a protester named Raisa Banfield spoke up. "This is what we had been waiting for," she said, as per AP News, adding that the "president has to suspend (mine) operations today."

First Quantum Minerals released a statement in response to the court's decision, saying that Cobre Panama, which it operates, "acknowledges the court's decision."

"The company wishes to express that it respects Panamanian laws and will review the content of the Ruling to understand the fundamentals of it," it said in the statement posted on Cobre Panama's profile on X, according to Google's translation from Spanish. "Since our inception, we have operated consistently with transparency and strict adherence to Panamanian legislation."

It further noted that the contract was approved with the objective of "promoting mutual economic benefits, guaranteeing the protection of the environment, supporting the conservation of biodiversity, promoting community development, comply with international regulations that govern mining activities and return the legal stability and durability necessary to this legitimate investment made in good faith in Panama."

As per the statement, the mining activities have contributed more than $50 million per week to the country's economy. It is reportedly equivalent to 5% of Panama's gross domestic product (GDP).

The statement also claimed that the company employed more than 7,000 people directly and 33,000 indirectly, contributing almost $20 million per week to local suppliers.

While some expressed support for the protesters prior to the release of the court's ruling, there were also some who criticized them. A Panamanian business association noted earlier this month that the road blockages resulting from the protest were causing an $80 million daily loss to local businesses.

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