Panama environmentalists

Panama society: wins for environmentalists and more

Read about some of the news shaping public opinion and everyday life in Panama, including some monumental wins for environmentalists and a game-changer app for the hearing impaired.

In a monumental move for environmentalists, Panama’s supreme court raised doubt about the future of the country’s biggest investment in history — the copper-gold producing Cobre Panamá project. The court declared unconstitutional a 1997 law that had approved a contract between the government and Canadian mining giant First Quantum Minerals’ US$6.3bn project.

Panama’s Environmental Advocacy Center (Centro de Incidencia Ambiental or CIAM) had filed the suit a decade ago, saying the company violated the constitution on environmental as well as on human rights grounds. The project includes a port, a 300MW power station and a transmission line, as well as a mine and copper processing plant. Set to launch production in 2019, the project would account for a whopping 4% of Panama’s GDP once running at full speed. First Quantum will definitely contest the ruling — and it has the Trade Ministry’s backing. What still remains to be seen is how the court interprets the concessions contract in light of the ruling. Undecided about where you’d fall on the environment vs. investment debate? The news is huge and has divided the country.

In other environmental news, volunteers hit the beaches up and down the country for a giant collective clean up and to raise awareness about what turns up in our oceans. They found some remarkable stuff: washing machines, refrigerators, car parts and who knows what else. And, of course, lots of plastic bags and bottles. Given UN estimates that, absent concerted global efforts to curb plastic waste, the world’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050, Panama’s groundbreaking law passed in January banning the use of plastic bags by businesses is very, very welcome.

In other feel-good news (or at least to show you how proud we are to be living in Panama!), a free educational app is out to teach all 1,409 signs in Panamanian sign language. Ensenias is a labor of love developed by a university professor to help the country’s over 15,000 hearing impaired — of whom only 6,000 know how to actually sign — learn to communicate with each other. And for the rest of us to break down those barriers and learn it too.

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