Leonardo DiCaprio backs Panamanians’ protests against First Quantum’s operation

Leonardo DiCaprio. (Image by the United Nations Information Centres, Flickr.)

Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio has joined the demands of Panamanian activists asking for the shutdown of First Quantum Mineral’s Cobre Panamá copper mine. 

Since mid-October, thousands of people have been protesting in different parts of the country against the recent approval of Cobre Panamá’s mining concession. They say they are worried about the potential environmental impacts of the giant operation and demand that the Laurentino Cortizo government repeals Law 406, which governs the concession and grants First Quantum the right to mine copper for 20 years, with the option of an additional 20 years. It also guarantees a minimum annual income of $375 million to the government.

In a social media post, DiCaprio shared a video titled “Panama Te Quiero Verde, Shut down the mega-mine,” which was produced by US-based NGO Re:Wild. 

The actor also praised the people of Panama for coming together to defend nature and asking the country’s Supreme Court to declare the mining project unconstitutional.

“This area – the protected rainforest Bosque Donoso -, lying in the heart of the largest biological corridor in Mesoamerica, is a lifeline for many migratory species. It is critical to the livelihoods and cultures of local and Indigenous communities and is home to wildlife that includes macaws, tapirs, monkeys and jaguars,” the superstar wrote. “This activity would have a destructive impact on the surrounding ecosystems, species, and people. A global spotlight can help Panamanians win a critical victory for biodiversity and can pave the way for a more sustainable future.”

DiCaprio ended his post by asking his followers to sign a petition to halt the mining project operated by Minera Panamá, First Quantum’s subsidiary in the Central American country. 

The actor’s plea comes just a week before the country’s Supreme Court is set to install a permanent session to issue a final ruling on two unconstitutional appeals against the miner’s new contract, which was renewed on October 20 after months of tense negotiations.

Last December, the Panamanian government ordered First Quantum to halt operations at Cobre Panamá amid disagreements during contract negotiations, which later broke down. Talks eventually resumed and the parties reached an agreement in March. The company estimated that the two-month suspension caused up to $8 million in losses per day.

When the new contract was made official on October 20, 2023, protests erupted, some of them violent. According to the country’s National Council of Private Enterprise, vandalism linked to the rallies has caused $1.7 billion in losses to local businesses. 

Meanwhile, unions and Indigenous groups maintain road blockades arguing that the contract should be repealed by Parliament and not by a Supreme Court ruling.

Blockades have even moved off land, as last Friday a ship with supplies for First Quantum’s unit in Panama was unable to dock as local boats blocked off access to the Punta Rincon port.

“The illegal actions carried out by small vessels in the port of Punta Rincon have affected the delivery of supplies that are required by Minera Panama, including for energy generation,” the company said in a media statement.

Cobre Panamá started commercial production in 2019, is First Quantum’s top money-maker and accounts for about 1.5% of global copper output. At full capacity, it can process 85 million tonnes of ore annually and produce more than 300,000 tonnes of copper each year. Gold, silver, and molybdenum are also recovered. 

Currently, the complex includes two open pit mines, a processing plant, two 150MW power stations and a port.

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