FEBRUARY 1982 - VOLUME 3 - NUMBER 2
Panama Project Shelved
Reprieve for Indians
A controversial giant copper mining project in Panama - still in its planning stages - has recently been put on hold, temporarily sparing Panama some potentially troubling economic and environmental consequences, and granting a respite to the local Indians opposed to the mine.
The Cerro Colorado project, jointly owned by the Panamanian government and the British multinational, Rio Tin to Zinc, "is suspended because of the low price of copper, the failure of the government of Panama and [Rio Tinto Zinc] to reach agreement on all details, and other reasons," said R. B. Humbert, secretary of the Fluor Corporation, which had been doing consulting work on the mine.
President Torrijos' death in early August may have played a part in the project's suspension. Torrijos was a strong supporter of Cerro Colorado, which would cost $3.2 billion, more than the country's entire gross domestic product. After his death, the debate about the project reopened. Cerro Colorado "has been a matter of some political discussion, says the Panama specialist at the U.S. State Department. Panamanian officials were concerned, said the observer, because "it's a lot of money to throw into one hole" and because of "environmental problems" that typically accompany any copper mine.
For the Guaymi Indians, who have vigorously opposed the project (See MM, May, 1981), the delay may be a godsend. The 3,000 Guaymi, living in 30 communities in the area of the project, have claimed that the project would ruin their subsistence lands and disrupt their culture.