The Panamanian people are in the streets demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the rapid approval of a mining contract on October 20, 2023. The outcry demands the government to take into account the people’s opposition to the clearly unconstitutional law authorizing the contract with Minera Panama (Canadian company First Quantum Minerals). Several mining projects are being approved and this one, the largest in Central America, is facing resistance.
Panama’s National Bishops Conference (CEP) expressed the sentiment in these words: “The consumerist and extractivist model that causes serious damage to human life and the environment, while it generates a lot of money, does not contribute to fundamental human development, of policies that ensure the protection and conservation of our most valuable resources. Putting economic well-being above life is a big mistake.”
Many movements and organizations, as well as the Sisters and Associates of Mercy, have been present in the streets in recent days, asking for a response from President Laurentino Cortizo. The country has come to a complete standstill because Panamanians know that Panama is better without mining and for this reason they have raised their voices as part of and as those responsible for creation. In the protests there is a large participation of young people who can no longer tolerate the policies of our government that threaten their future and the country, and lawfully express in the streets their total opposition to the mining project, and in return have met with violent repression and criminalization.
We do not deny the chaos that is being experienced nor the damage caused by people infiltrating the demonstrations and destroying commercial premises and state offices. But the solution is not police repression of protesters in violation of the Escazú Agreements that ensure the protection of human rights defenders in environmental matters and their participation in decisions that affect their lives and environments.
Pope Francis calls social and environmental activists poets, because they have the capacity and the courage to create hope where only rejection and exclusion appear. “In the name of God, I ask the great extractive industries — mining, oil, forestry, real estate, agribusiness — to stop destroying forests, wetlands and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas, to stop poisoning food and people,” he said (October 16, 2021).
As the Prophetic Voice Commission, we join the outcry of those who struggle for a more just, dignified, peaceful and democratic life in Panama.
The purpose of the Prophetic Voice Commission, which represents sisters and associates of the Caribbean, Central and South America Geographical Region, is to encourage a focus on social justice and other Mercy Critical Concerns, including by issuing statements on situations that often pose a painful and challenging situation for sisters, associates and other partners in the countries where we live and carry out our ministries.