The Latin American Report # 128

Panamanian Supreme Court throws out disputed mining agreement

This has been a busy Tuesday in the region. It started early in the morning with the brief announcement of the highest judicial authority in Panamá declaring the unconstitutionality of the controversial agreement between a local subsidiary of a Canadian mining company and the Government of Laurentino Cortizo, which has been the center of a tense socio-political struggle marked by sustained and massive protests of representative sectors of civil society. The agreement was denounced as detrimental to the best interests of the nation, both in the sense of not favoring it enough economically—the government would pocket US$375 million annually—and in the sense of damaging the ecosystem where the mine, the largest open-pit copper one in Central America, is located (citizens have also doubted the transparency in the process for approving the agreement). The people erupted in jubilation—below I share a video edited by the Spanish agency EFE that accounts for this—and unblocked some routes, in very flattering news for the business sector, which was reporting losses of US$1.7 billion due to the stagnation of the supply chain.

What has been the main problem today so far? The scarce information we have on the ruling itself, limited to a note published on the Panamanian Judicial Branch website, in which I even found grammatical errors. That is to say, on what arguments did the Supreme Court of Justice base its decision to declare the "unconstitutionality"? Had the Government certainly incurred in a concession contrary to the legal order, in which case they should even be prosecuted for defrauding their mandate before the people? Or is it that the ruling responds to the humongous social pressure, in a true demonstration that the sacred verdict of the sovereign is being complied with? It is vital to clear the informative thicket in this regard for a better analysis. First Quantum Minerals, the Canadian company in question, has invested some 10 billion dollars in the Panamanian business—responsible for 5% of the GDP there—, and is now considering going through an arbitration process to resolve the differences arising from the judicial decision. The government has committed to an "orderly and safe" closure of the mine.

Daniel Noboa's presidency starts with a controversy with the Vice-President

The decision of the "express" president to send his second in command—Verónica Abad—to Israel to be installed there as Ambassador for Peace, has been directly discussed by her in an interview granted to the renowned media Infobae. In the framework of the International Day for the Eradication of Violence against Women, Abad anchored herself to the corresponding narratives to say that it was an act of violence to "send her to die in the war", even though she is speaking metaphorically—I think—given the side of the conflict to which she has been "assigned". The disagreement between the two is evident to the surface, and in principle would be rooted in certain decisions of the vice-president, as she tried to drag towards a right-wing position a young politician, Noboa, who although coming from a conservative family tradition, has sold himself as a center offer, even somewhat shifted to the left. Abad had polemical meetings with the Spanish extreme right, establishing a foreign policy position that would not have been well received by the new head of Carondelet.

The estrangement between Noboa and his vice-president Verónica Abad has been the only blemish so far of his young mandate (source of the image).

She has also had statements on health and education policy or on women's rights that are far from the line that Noboa is defending, when he tries to distance himself from the radicalism that could be represented by the political force of Rafael Correa, and the conservatism alien to social rights defended by the outgoing former president Guillermo Lasso. Although it is debatable the cold manner with which the current president has treated his second, it can be observed that he seeks to maintain coherence with the principles he outlined in his campaign, so that these are not tarnished even in terms of communication. In yesterday's statements, the heir to a business empire spoke about the terrible state of an economy with 14 million unemployed. His minister for the area also said that the central treasury only has a little more than 180 million dollars, the fiscal deficit for the current year represents 5% of the GDP, while the sovereign debt amounts to 63 billion dollars.

The quick regional roundup

  • Brazil and Paraguay continue joint efforts to combat organized crime, and as of today are reportedly involved in "the largest police operation to eradicate illicit cannabis plantations on the planet". In just six operational sessions to be carried out in the powerful biome known as "Mata Atlantica", where indigenous communities live, both South American nations intend to seize as much marijuana as is seized worldwide annually—5,000 tons.

  • This November 30 would be the deadline given by Washington to Caracas to solve the problem of the disqualifications weighing on certain aspirants to compete in the presidential race, with the case of María Corina Machado, winner in principle of a disputed and judicialized opposition primaries, as the most prominent. This Reuters cable affirms that the Venezuelan Government would be considering relaxing its position, although it has flatly refused to do so in a public manner, defending that those who are currently disqualified have defrauded the Constitution. But the White House has promised that, if the demands of the opposition are not heeded, it will reactivate the sanctions regime it recently filed, as a sort of "incentive" to support the negotiations aimed at ensuring the call for elections in 2024.

  • Nearly 1,700 people have been killed in the last two years in a once peaceful region of Haiti—known for its agricultural potential—where the police presence is not very representative, and which on the contrary has suffered the landing of gangs that sacrifice national peace every day. "Fear reigns in Bajo Artibonito, where murders, sexual violence, robbery, destruction of property, and other abuses against the population are committed almost daily", reads a United Nations report released Tuesday.

  • Javier Milei held a meeting today in Washington with two powerful officials in Joe Biden's administration, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and the head of the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council. Milei has been very clear that he will be aligned on foreign policy with the U.S. and Western Europe, although he has diplomatically softened his statements on countries such as China and Brazil. Advisors to the liberal president also met in the U.S. capital with officials of the global lender, an entity with which the South American nation has an outstanding debt of 44 billion dollars that is a tremendous burden for its economic development.

And this is all for our report today. I have referenced the sources dynamically in the text, and remember you can learn how and where to follow the LATAM trail news by reading my work here. Have a nice day.

Edited with Canva.


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