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Ngöbe say 'No'

Protests intensify across Panama in face of mining reforms

by Dana Holtby and Rosie Simms

Indigenous peoples, environmentalists, students and citizens alike have taken to the streets across Panama to demand the repeal of recently implemented changes to the 1963 National Mining Code.

The approved changes to the code, known as 'Law 8 of february 11th 2011', will grant access to Panamanian mining concessions by  foreign state-owned companies.  This change has come under substantial scrutiny as it would allow foreign states to control tracts of land for resource extraction, which runs contrary to sovereignty rights outlined in the state's constitution.

On Tuesday February 15th, 10 000 indigenous Ngöbé peoples marched to San Felix. Many had travelled several days to attend the protest from surrounding towns in the comarca.  2000 of the attendees set up a road block on the transamerican highway - the central transit route that runs the length of the country.

Further blockades were established in communities across the country. A march and vigil, attended by roughly 200 students and environmentalists, took place in Panama city in solidarity with the Ngöbé.

These marches are among a series of protests that have been occurring across the country since formal debate began on the mining code in late January. Just one week ago, protests of 2000 Ngöbé in San Felix were met with police violence. Tear gas and shells were fired into the otherwise peaceful crowd, resulting in the hospitalization of 18 people.

The Ngöbé see the reforms as a means to accelerate development of the Cerro Colorado  copper mine. Cerro Colorado is the 4th largest copper deposit in the world and lies within the heart of the Ngöbé's territory.  

The Martenelli government maintains that the  changes to the mining code have no relation to the development of this mine. However,  despite this claim, a statement from the South Korean Presidential house reveals that Martenelli has been in direct contact with  South Korea President  Lee Myung-bak to confirm the approval of the reforms. South Korea is known to have large investments pending in the Cerro Colorado mine.   

The Ngöbé continue to mobilize and are calling out for international support to put pressure on the Panamanian government to repeal the reforms to the Mining Code.

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