Panama Country Trip Overview

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Office of the Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Counsellor

September 6 – 12, 2016

Ottawa, Canada


The Government of Canada’s Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor is a key implementing component of the Canadian Government’s policy initiative on responsible business conduct, with a focus on Canadian extractive companies investing and working outside of Canada. The Counsellor works with different stakeholder groups, especially the companies to:

  • explain Government of Canada expectations regarding responsible business conduct,
  • promote company alignment with endorsed international standards and norms, that should be reflected in their corporate policies, and in their on the ground procedures, practices and relationships with host governments and local communities.

As part of the Office’s outreach and advisory programmes, the Counsellor visits countries where Canadian oil, gas and mining companies are operating, particularly those countries with high levels of Canadian investment and activity, or where the political, social and environmental risks are particularly high. Such visits involve outreach to all key stakeholder groups in the country with the aim of understanding their issues, concerns and challenges relating to oil, gas and mineral exploration and extractive operations. During a country trip, the Counsellor visits at least two Canadian owned or managed projects in order to get a first-hand sense of how the companies are addressing social and environmental challenges and building relationships with project affected communities and local government authorities. The Counsellor’s trip is facilitated and often invited by the Canadian Embassy or High Commission in the country of interest.

Country visits are not just about explaining and promoting, but also about understanding, and learning, from all individuals and groups with whom the Counsellor interacts, including Canadian Embassy staff. Sometimes public and private events are organized around the Counsellor’s visit. More important are the frank exchanges with parties directly involved with or affected by Canadian extractive activities, and the opportunities created to hear and take into account their concerns and aspirations, and to support local stakeholder and company efforts to responsibly address social and environmental issues and ensure an equitable sharing of benefits.

Country trips allow the Counsellor to develop a deeper and more nuanced understanding of national and local context, issues and challenges, and establish a foundation for effective ongoing advisory support and for constructive intervention in situations if or when requested or required.

The Panama Trip


Canada’s Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor, Jeffrey Davidson, visited Panama from September 5 to September 13, 2016, accompanied by the Office’s Research Officer. The visit was planned as the third of a series of trips to countries in Central America where Canadian companies are active and where mineral resource development is controversial.

The contemporary history of mining in Panama, from the 1960s to the present, has been a checkered one including some major ups and downs, and its share of positive and negative outcomes. Sector development has been affected by a series of questionable policies, decisions and practices carried out by both Panamanian and external actors throughout this period. Canadian corporate investments and activities in mineral exploration and development have been part of this history, but by no means account for all of it.

In order to understand why certain issues and concerns are central to any discussion of a mining future for Panama and why extractive activities remain so controversial, a fuller appreciation of what happened in the past is required. This history, given the nature and extent of Canadian companies’ involvements, also has implications for home country Canada and the importance it should attach to ensuring alignment of its new progressive trade and investment support policies with its evolving responsible business conduct strategy.

While a short overview of the country’s mining past is presented in the following paragraphs, the reader will find a more extended discussion of some of its important aspects in the main body of the report, and is referred to Appendix 2 for a detailed description of each of the projects which make up this past.

Capital intensive industrial mining only began in Panama in the 1990s, with one commercial open pit gold mine brought into production in 1994;Footnote 1 and an older gold mineFootnote 2 dating from the late 1800s rehabilitated and re-opened. Earlier exploration projects in Chiriqui (Cerro Colorado and Cerro Chorcha) and Colon (Cerro Petaquilla), suspended for almost 20 years, were rejuvenated.Footnote 3 The identification in the 1990s of gold bearing mineralization at Cerro Quema on the Azuero Peninsula of Santos provinceFootnote 4 also led to new exploration activities. Canadian companies played important roles in most of these projects.Footnote 5

However, by the end of the 1990s, the two operating mines had been closed.Footnote 6 Exploration activities at Cerro Colorado, Cerro Chorcha and Cerro Petaquilla, had once again been put on hold, as well as exploration efforts at Cerro Quema - effectively placing all “active” exploration projects into a care and maintenance mode.Footnote 7

During the last 15 years, concession contracts for the exploration and possible exploitation of Cerro Colorado and Cerro Chorcha were either suspended or not renewed and the Government passed legislation to prohibit exploration or mining activities within the Ngäbe Buglé comarca.Footnote 8 As for the Petaquilla property, a new concession development plan was laid out in 2005, dividing the project’s implementation into gold and copper phases. The first phase would involve the development and operation of a commercial gold mine (El Molejon). The development and operation of a large-scale open pit copper mine (Cobre Panama) would follow later. The Molejon gold mine started producing in 2009/2010, but was abruptly shut down in 2014. Cobre Panama is now under construction and is expected to be in production in 2018.

A number of attempts were made to reactivate mining or revitalize exploration at other sites. Efforts to re-open the Santa Rosa mine fell apart. Initiatives to develop other gold properties have not been successful.Footnote 9 Cerro Quema despite multiple changes in ownership and management remains active, but is still in an advanced exploration stage. Its latest owner, another Canadian junior company, Orla Mining, is now undertaking additional drilling, reviewing the results of previous geophysical survey work and completing the detailed mapping of the property.

Recognizing the challenges posed by past history, the current Government has chosen to be forward-looking. It is working to redress the negative impacts of past problematic situationsFootnote 10, while making it clear that any new projects, especially the currently active ones, must be able to demonstrate the viability of large-scale “industrial” mining within the Panamanian context. This would have to be reflected in the companies’ willingness and capacity to contribute positively to the national and regional economies, and their ability to carry out their projects in ways that are regarded by Panamanian citizens as socially and environmentally sensitive and responsible. Only then might the Government be in a position to make a strong case for its citizens to support a greater role for the extractive sector in the country’s future development.

The Counsellor’s visit occurred at the invitation of the Canadian Ambassador. The visit was timely given the involvement of Canadian companies in the country’s two currently active projects and the Government’s desire to establish the mining sector as another development platform for the country. Given the short duration of the visit (one week), the trip was organized to expose the Counsellor to a range of perspectives on possibilities for responsible mineral resource development in Panama. This allowed the Counsellor:

  • to familiarize himself with some of the potential risks and opportunities that would come with the expansion of an extractive sector
  • to gain insights into the current status of the two active Canadian projects, especially with regard to their approaches and commitments to meeting the country’s and Canada’s corporate social responsibility expectations, and
  • to be better positioned to discuss with the Embassy possible contributions that it could make to support company, community and host government efforts to “get mining right”

With Whom did the Counsellor Meet and What Places Did He Visit?

The Counsellor met with central and municipal government authorities, civil society representatives, clergy, special interest third parties, business community representatives, and Canadian company managers and staff. Meetings were held in Panama City, in local municipal offices and at the project sites visited. Throughout the trip, the Canadian Ambassador, the Embassy’s Senior Trade Commissioner and Political Analyst and the Counsellor’s Research Officer attended the majority of meetings, events and mine site visits which provided the information basis of this report.

Through face-to-face meetings with stakeholders and pre-and post-trip research, the Counsellor was able to gain a broad, albeit limited understanding of stakeholder concerns and aspirations surrounding natural resource development in Panama.

Please see Appendix 1 for a list of the organizations the Counsellor met with in Panama.

How Did the Counsellor Organize and Prepare for the Visit?

In preparation for the trip, the Counsellor and his staff reviewed publicly available academic, NGO and media reports addressing current and historical challenges relating to mining in Panama. The Counsellor’s office also communicated with Embassy staff, Canadian academics and mining company managers in advance of the visit. These interactions helped to identify issues that could be further investigated or explored when meeting with various stakeholders in country. All of the meetings and both site visits were set up in advance of the trip and arranged by the Embassy.

Report Coverage and its Main Limitations

The observations, concerns, and conclusions shared in this report reflect what the Counsellor saw, heard and learned regarding the current issues surrounding mineral resource development in Panama. It includes information compiled during and after the visit to Panama, as well as historical and contextual information helpful for clarifying key issues that Panama’s nascent mining industry currently faces.

The report was enriched by insights and information provided by the parties with whom the Counsellor met both in and outside of Panama, including Canadian Embassy staff in Panama. Of the parties that were contacted by the Embassy, all graciously agreed to meet and openly shared their ideas and concerns regarding mining in Panama today and its future.

The extent and scope of stakeholder meetings have differed in each of the countries visited by the Counsellor. In Panama, the number of civil society and community organizations with an extractive industry focus is quite limited.Footnote 11 Many national organizations direct their attention to other types of industrial and infrastructure developments, as well as indigenous peoples’ concerns, including, for example, the expansion of the Panama Canal, and the development of new hydroelectric and dam projects, like Barro Blanco.Footnote 12 As well, there are a number of non-indigenous community based organizations which emerged and raised concerns with specific exploration and mining projects.Footnote 13 Of these, the Counsellor was only able to meet with the national environmental NGO, Centro de Incidencia Ambiental – Panama (CIAM).

In contrast, the Counsellor had multiple interactions with high-level government officials and civil servants. These conversations tended to concentrate on the challenges the government faces in developing and strengthening its own capacity to promote, administer and regulate extractive activities and operations, effectively and responsibly. The mine site visits to Cobre Panama and Cerro Quema focused on certain social and environmental aspects of the two projects, such as community investment during exploration, water flow management, population resettlement, i.e. mainly preparatory activities in advance of and during construction. Time and locational constraints allowed for only limited interactions with neighbouring communities, although the Counsellor was able to meet with mayors and local government representatives of project affected municipalities. In other words, only a few civil society and community voices were heard.

As a neutral third party, the Counsellor tries to take a critical approach to the evaluation of primary and secondary information including what he sees on the ground. Due to the limited scope of the visit and time spent in country, this Trip Report cannot provide an exhaustive understanding of the contexts in which extractive activity has occurred or currently occurs. Nor can it claim to provide a comprehensive review of issues and challenges that the country currently faces or may face in the future regarding mineral exploration and mine development. Because some of the information collected is sensitive or was provided on a confidential basis, the Counsellor has been careful in how certain facts are referenced or opinions ascribed. The report content reflects these limitations.

Issues and Observations


A variety of issues and concerns were raised during the country visit and in the documentation reviewed. Some of the more salient ones are noted below:


  • Human and ecosystem health risks related to use and disposal of hazardous chemicals in mineral processing, especially with respect to gold bearing ores, and the potential for contamination of water sources
  • Environmental and biodiversity risks posed to Panama’s section of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and other protected forest areas
  • Commitments and capacity on the part of companies and government to close mining operations or rehabilitate abandoned mine sites in an environmentally responsible way, especially in the case of open pit metal mines, given past experiences at Santa Rosa and El Molejon

Legal, Regulatory and Institutional

  • Government’s capacity and/or will to act expeditiously on applications for exploration or exploitation licenses or environmental permits submitted by private entrepreneurs/companies
  • Questions from both ends of the political spectrum regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the existing fiscal and regulatory regimes and development policies; consultation processes and the need to balance economic development and sustainable development goals at national and local levels
  • Existing application and permitting processes that do not provide sufficient time or space for informed consultation and review of proposed exploration or development projects by potentially affected people and communities
  • Shortage of trained and experienced Panamanians to staff and operate government units with oversight and regulatory responsibilities for extractive activities
  • Institutional capacity at national and local levels not yet in place to assure effective oversight and enforcement of regulations
  • Weak or absent administrative capacity at the municipal level in mining districts to assure responsible investment or use of mining generated revenues distributed to municipal authorities

Indigenous Peoples

  • Control and management of renewable and non-renewable natural resources within indigenous traditional territories
  • Migration to and settlement of indigenous peoples in rural areas outside of traditional indigenous territories
  • Commitments to consultation and/or consent policies and practices between indigenous peoples and Government of Panama that have yet to be fully formalized, including to ILO Convention 169
  • Historic legacies and impacts of encroachment and alienation of indigenous traditional lands by “outsiders”
  • Impacts of resettlement programmes relating to mining and hydro-electric projects on communities residing both on and off of comarcas, especially with respect to their livelihoods and cultures

Community Related

  • Impacts of exploration and extraction activities on agricultural livelihoods
  • Distribution of limited employment opportunities between communities within zone of direct influence of a project
  • Responsible management and investment of project generated revenues for municipalities and indigenous community government
  • Given the national skilled labour shortage, potential for high-jacking of skilled labour by higher paying sectors like mining and power generation
  • Persistence of unauthorized artisanal mining activity within concession areas, that may be related to money laundering of drug traffic money
  • Changing patterns of corporate social investment in certain locales favouring some communities at possible expense of others

Most of these issues and concerns are not unique to Panama, but of particular significance for the sector’s development have been indigenous peoples’ issues and concerns relating to exploration and extractive activities. This is discussed in further detail in the section on Indigenous Peoples and Mining below (pp. 20).

The Counsellor’s Observations

The following observations reflect what the Counsellor is able to say about the current situation of the sector, and Canadian companies’ involvement in its development.

  1. There is a sense of guarded or cautious optimism regarding possibilities for the growth and development of the country’s still nascent metal mining industry on the part of Panama’s government and business community in spite of its difficult past.
  2. Virtually no new exploration or exploitation concessions for metal mining have been approved by Panama’s Ministry of Commerce and Industries during the past five years.
  3. Of the three companies that possessed exploitation permits at the time of the Counsellor’s visit, only First Quantum Minerals had all of the permitting in place required to move towards production.
  4. The deferral of decisions on the other two properties regarding concession renewals or issuing of environmental permits may reflect Government reticence to commit to project’s which have yet to demonstrate potential financial viability and may also be influenced by the past experiences with these properties.Footnote 14
  5. Panama has few technical and academic programs to prepare young Panamanians to work in the mining industry. This has already had an impact on the ability of existing projects to hire local professionals and meet local hiring requirements, but it also limits the government’s ability to properly regulate the existing industry (both metallic and non-metallic sectors).
  6. As part of Panama’s national public service decentralization program, all municipalities will have to learn how to manage new revenue streams, maintain and improve public services, and plan their own community investments in efficient and responsible ways. This challenge of good governance and fiscal management will be amplified in the case of any municipality which benefits from the additional revenue flows generated by exploration and mining projects.Footnote 15
  7. In the case of the two active Canadian projects, their presence and impacts are most immediately and directly experienced by municipalities (districts) which are adjacent to the companies’ concession areas, but which are not the municipalities in which the projects are physically located. This means that the communities nearest to the projects and most directly affected by them are not the principal beneficiaries of the project taxes and revenue flows allocated by government to go directly to the districts in which the projects are physically located. This has created problematic situations involving have and have-not municipal districts and villages for both projects. In the case of Cerro Quema, the two districts are Tonosi (the beneficiary) and Macaracas districtsFootnote 16; and in the case of Cobre Panama, the two districts are Donoso (the beneficiary) and La Pintada.Footnote 17 These situations have contributed to inequitable benefit sharing arrangements between the projects and the most directly affected districts and communities, and has led to some resentment between communities and between the companies and communities.
  8. Government authorities recognize the existence of gaps in knowledge and regulation that constrain the Government’s capacity to promote and oversee a successful and responsible mining industry. They were eager to learn from countries with more extensive experience in the mineral resource development, including other Latin American and OECD countries, including Canada.
  9. There does not appear to be a major national problem with unregulated artisanal mining of gold or industrial minerals in Panama, unlike in some other Latin American countries. Whatever problems and challenges may exist appear to be limited and restricted to certain areas of the country, including the Darien and in one area of the Petaquilla concession.Footnote 18
  10. There has been and continues to be inaccurate and/or misinformation about the nature and extent of sector activity, about past and current events, and about the actors themselves that circulates both nationally and internationally. This may be inadvertent, not necessarily purposeful, but serves to conflate facts with fiction and can contribute to misunderstandings and tensions between government, companies, and communities.Footnote 19
  11. The philanthropic model of community investment associated with the only operating mine of the recent past (2010-2014), El Molejon, and its operator, Petaquilla Gold, did not reflect best current practice, but elements of this approach and certain of its programmes have been carried over to other projects.Footnote 20
  12. The successful resolution of the conflict surrounding the implementation of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric project through dialogue and negotiation created a precedent for the value of direct and inclusive consultation between the government and indigenous groups,Footnote 21 especially when it comes to new project initiatives that will impact indigenous communities, whether living within established comarcas or outside of them.
  13. The current Government, as with previous governments, is concerned with the country’s continuing dependence on the canal trade and commercial banking. It sees mineral resource development as one of a number of possibilities for diversifying the country’s economy.Footnote 22

Historical Context and Additional Discussions

A summary of the development of the sector is provided in the sections below. Additional detail and references are provided in the footnotes and in a more detailed discussion of each of the exploration and mining projects attached as Appendix 2.

The Limited History of Mining in Panama – to the end of the 1960s

The first external recognition of the presence of gold within the country occurred during Columbus’ fourth expedition to Hispaniola and the Caribbean coast of Panama (1502-1503). Initial indications of the potential presence of gold were the fabricated gold ornaments worn by some of the indigenous people encountered along the Caribbean coast. The expedition’s search for local sources of gold concentrated on the Rio Veragua where Columbus’ crew found indigenous people mining alluvial deposits of gold along the river’s banks.

The Caribbean littoral from Veragua to the Gulf of Uraba ultimately came to be referred to as Castilla del OroFootnote 23. The gold deposits found and worked were near surface, mainly placer alluvial and alluvial deposits, but also some quartz vein deposits. There was some early colonial mining activity in the late 1500s (the Escobal deposit), followed much later by a brief period of intensive exploitation between 1665 and 1727, mainly in the Darien near Santa Cruz de Cana (the Espiritu Santo mine). It is estimated that the Spanish colonists extracted close to one million ounces of gold during this last period.Footnote 24

Gold most commonly occurs in Panama in gold-bearing fluvial gravels, which historically had been, and in some places continue to be, worked by indigenous peoples.Footnote 25 The main locations of placer gold deposits are in the Darien and along the Belen, Coclé and other rivers in northern Veraguas. While Panama was never a significant primary source of precious minerals during the colonial period, it served as the principal conduit for moving mineral wealth from the Pacific coast of Spanish America to Spain.Footnote 26

After the withdrawal of Spain from the region in 1819, the isthmus’ trading route shifted focus dramatically. By the mid-1800s, Panama became a major transit point and travel route for migrant labour coming from the east coast of the United States on its way to the gold fields of California (especially from 1848 – 1856).Footnote 27 It was during this period that major infrastructure development occurred within the transit zone, including the construction of the Panama Railway.Footnote 28 Ironically, despite the mass transit of “want-to-be” gold miners and mining financiers through the isthmus, there was no apparent interest in looking for gold mining opportunities in Panama; not in the east, i.e. in the eastern province of Panama nor in the western province of Veraguas, both of which were known to contain mineable deposits of gold.

Rehabilitation of old mines for commercial scale development took place in the early 1900s. Both foreign and domestic ventures were involved, but efforts were erratic. For example the Remance underground gold mine in Veraguas was re-opened in the 1920s by a British owned company; then closed during the Depression; and re-activated by a Peruvian owned company in the 1930s. Copper occurrences were known to exist in certain areas; for example the area around Cerro Colorado in Chiriqui province. Foreign geologists visited Cerro Colorado in 1932 and the mid-1950s, and found evidence of copper mineralization. However, commercial interest in this and other mineral bearing areas only commenced in earnest in the late 1960s after the Government of Panama:

  1. Established a modern legal and fiscal regime for mineral resource developmentFootnote 29
  2. Initiated serious metallic mineral exploration programmes and surveys in tandem with the United Nations Special FundFootnote 30
  3. Established the Mineral Resources Department within the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to oversee and promote mineral exploration and developmentFootnote 31
  4. Began marketing its most important mineral discoveries internationally in an effort to attract foreign private investors to participate in their exploration and potential development.

The Emergence of Serious Foreign Exploration and Development Interest (late 1960s to early 1980s)

The UN program referred to above, included stream sediment sampling, geological mapping and follow-up studies of targeted areas, and was carried out from 1967-1969. It succeeded in identifying or verifying the presence of important copper-molybdenum occurrences in Colon province.Footnote 32 It also identified copper anomalies in the southern part of the Azuero Peninsula at Cerro Quema. In a second phase of studies from 1970-1972, the UN program targeted areas in Bocas del Toro, San Blas and Darien. Additional anomalies were identified, of both gold and copper, with a major copper porphyry find along the Rio Pito in San Blas. Most of the deposits investigated were found in remote areas of the Comarca San Blas of the Kuna indigenous people. The San Blas comarca was legally established in 1953.Footnote 33 Kuna traditional and formal authorities were unwilling to consent to additional exploration activity or mine development within the comarca.Footnote 34

During this period, the Government took two approaches to allocating exploration licenses. One was bi-lateral in nature, granting exploration licenses for concessions to smaller domestic enterprises or foreign based companies in accord with the application process outlined in the 1963 Code of Mineral Resources. Domestic entrepreneurs typically partnered with foreign companies to help finance and coordinate exploration activities. This is what happened with the Cerro Colorado property.Footnote 35

The alternate approach was to invite offers or bids for selected properties, typically through an auction process. This approach was taken for Cerro Petaquilla in 1969, but the terms offered were considered to be fiscally “harsh” by most foreign companies.Footnote 36 Nonetheless, agreement was finally reached with a consortium of Japanese companies in the early 1970s.Footnote 37 This allowed exploration and evaluation of the Petaquilla property to begin in 1973.Footnote 38

While companies expressed interest in other properties, the two key projects initiated during this period were:

  • Cerro Colorado in Chiriqui province within the traditional territories of the Ngäbe and Buglé indigenous peoples, and
  • Cerro Petaquilla in Colon province, located outside the zones recognized as areas of traditional indigenous occupation, but within or on the edge of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.

Canadian companies with direct or indirect interests were involved in the exploration and evaluation of the Cerro Colorado property,Footnote 39 as well as in the initial exploration of the nearby Cerro Chorcha property.Footnote 40 Canadian interests were not initially involved in the exploration of Cerro Petaquilla.Footnote 41

During the 1970s, the Government attempted to get both Cerro Colorado and Cerro Petaquilla exploration projects onto a development pathway. Neither the Government nor the companies involved were able to move forward on either project. A number of complicating factors were likely involved, including Government inexperience, geopolitical and legal ambiguities and confusion, unresolved issues surrounding the status of indigenous communities and lands, and the companies’ difficulties in navigating and understanding the local environment, its issues and challenges, as well as the emergence of a resistance and opposition movement around Cerro Colorado.

Throughout this period, “Panama had no importance internationally in the primary minerals industry”Footnote 42. In the past, the country had been a small-scale producer of gold and manganese, but in the 1960s and 1970s, activity was limited to the production of salt, construction materials (limestone, siltstone, clay, stone aggregate) and the fabrication of intermediate aluminum and steel products using imported scrap and other mineral inputs.Footnote 43 The mineral sector’s contribution to the Gross National Product (GNP) was negligible. This remained the case throughout the 1980s and 1990s, even though private exploration activity resumed at the invitation of and with the support of the Government.Footnote 44

Mid-1980s to mid-2000s

Exploration activity slowed down in the latter half of the 1980s, although a few domestic private companies were evaluating possibilities for re-opening historic gold mines in Darien and Veraguas provinces.Footnote 45 Between 1990 and 1994 there were 45 active exploration concessions. However the majority of exploration interests and development activities continued to focus on the search for viable industrial (construction) mineral deposits.

The evaluation of two gold properties in Veraguas and the Azuero peninsula yielded positive results – one (Santa RosaFootnote 46) became a producing mine; the other (Cerro QuemaFootnote 47), an active exploration project. Canadian companies were involved in the exploration and evaluation of both properties, and in mine construction and operation in the case of Santa Rosa (see footnotes 36 and 37 above). Declining gold prices negatively affected the economic viability of the Santa Rosa mine, contributing to its closure. Cerro Quema remained an exploration project. Its ownership changed in 2000 and a Canadian company, RNC Gold,Footnote 48 took over management of Cerro Quema’s exploration and evaluation from 2001-2005.

This period also saw a series of major changes in the management control of the major copper projects, i.e. Cerro Colorado and Cerro Petaquilla. Canadian companies became involved in the Cerro Petaquilla projectFootnote 49 and continued to be involved in Cerro Colorado.Footnote 50 However, both properties remained stuck in an exploration mode.

More needs to be said about the Petaquilla project. In 1997, the National Assembly approved a first of its kind concession agreement, Contract Law #9, on February 28, 1997. Ley #9 came to be referred to as Ley Petaquilla.Footnote 51 This contract defined the roles and responsibilities of the various parties, development timelines and any special provisions or exemptions. Ley Petaquilla remains the legal framework for the property’s development to this day.

In the case of Cerro Colorado, the property reverted to CODEMIN, the state owned holding company, in 2004.Footnote 52

The collapse of the gold price (1997-2002) and the cyclical declines in copper prices and markets in the early 1980s and late 1990s to early 2000s were major factors in the suspension of exploration and evaluation efforts. Depressed market conditions directly contributed to the deferral of development decisions for both Cerro Petaquilla and Cerro Quema.

Developments from 2006 to the present

This period saw the further consolidation of ownershipFootnote 53 of the Petaquilla copper project by the Canadian company, Inmet Metal, which was acquired by First Quantum Minerals in 2013. Cerro Quema also went through a number of additional management changes with a final consolidation of ownership interests by the Canadian junior, Pershimco Resources in 2010. Pershimco was acquired by another Canadian company, Orla Mining in 2016. Advanced exploration and evaluation continued at both properties, but construction of the Petaquilla copper mine (renamed Cobre Panama) actually began in 2012 under Inmet management. Construction was temporarily halted during the ownership transition to First Quantum, and then resumed in 2014. Cerro Quema remained in advanced exploration.

The hiving off of the Petaquilla property’s gold deposits and their assignment to another Canadian enterprise, Petaquilla Minerals Ltd, occurred in 2004/2005 following the drafting and government approval of a revised project development plan. The plan laid out a two phase development scenario, starting with the Molejon gold deposit, and later the Petaquilla copper deposits. This also resulted in the reallocation of ownership and development responsibilities for the gold and copper deposits within the Petaquilla concession area.Footnote 54 A new company, Petaquilla Gold SA, owned by Petaquilla Minerals Ltd, focused solely on the evaluation and development of the Molejon gold deposit, and exploration of other gold occurrences within the concession area.

The Molejon mine was constructed and brought into production in 2010.Footnote 55 The mine was abruptly closed by its owner in 2014Footnote 56. During these 4 years, El Molejon was the only operating metal mine in Panama. It changed the nature and scope of the extractive sector, from its historic focus on industrial minerals. Gold became the country’s primary export commodity in 2010, but fell to third place by 2012.

In parallel, the Government, during the Presidency of Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), put in place a variety of measures to promote new exploration and development activity. Some of the measures were highly controversial,Footnote 57 and resulted in public protest and legal contestation. Efforts to develop Cerro Chorcha and Cerro ColoradoFootnote 58, both located wholly or partly within the Ngäbe Buglé comarca, which was formalized as a comarca in 1997, came to an end when mining within the comarca was officially banned by the Government in 2011 with the passage of Ley No. 11.Footnote 59 Despite these developments, the external view of a mining future for Panama was still positive.Footnote 60

Nevertheless, as of July 2017, there were only three properties with active exploitation contracts or concession agreements, two of which are held by Canadian companies (Cerro Quema and Cobre Panama)Footnote 61.

Properties Explored or Developed by Companies with a Canada Connection

Canadian companies have had an on and off involvement with the development of Panama’s mining sector during the past 50 years. Most of the Canada based or connected companies have been junior exploration and mining companies. Some of the projects in which they have participated have been highly controversial, impacting indigenous lands and having major implications for indigenous peoples’ rights. These included Cerro Colorado and Cerro Chorcha, located with the Ngäbe Buglé traditional lands (later their formally recognized comarca), as well as exploration concessions approved within the San Blas (Kuna Yala) comarca of the Kuna people. Other projects outside of the comarcas have raised environmental concerns given their proximity to the Mesoamerican Biological CorridorFootnote 62, national parksFootnote 63, forest reserves,Footnote 64 or watersheds already under environmental stress. Furthermore, some exploration and extraction concessions have been acquired, transferred and explored at various times under questionable circumstances or conditions that have involved or affected Canadian interests.Footnote 65

An extended history of investments involving Canadian companies financed the collection and evaluation of geological and technical data in various parts of the country, building up the country’s knowledge of its mineral resource endowment. However, these exploration activities also resulted in the disruption of people’s lives living within or adjacent to these project areas. For all of the investment of time and resources, and the disruptions that have occurred to people’s lives, there has been little to show in terms of concrete development of viable producing mines. There were two short- lived gold mines, Santa Rosa (1994-1998) and El Molejon (2010-2014). There is the ongoing exploration project at Cerro Quema and the almost completed construction of a large-scale open pit copper mine (Cobre Panama).

Below is a list of the projects and the companies that have had a Canadian connection in one form or another.

Cerro ColoradoCanadian Javelin (1971-1975)
Canadian Development Corporation (1975-1980)
Tiomin Resources (1996-2001)
Aur Resources (1998-2004)
Cerro ChorchaArlo Resources Ltd (1997-1999)
Bellhaven Ventures/Bellhaven Copper and Gold (2005-2009)
Santa RosaGreenstone Resources (1990-2000)
Seabridge Resources (1999-2000)
Erin Ventures Inc (2009-2011)
Golden Phoenix (2011-2012)
Cerro QuemaCampbell Resources Inc (1996-2001)
RNC Gold/Yamana Gold (2002-2006)
Glencairn Gold/Central Sun Mining/(B2 Gold (2006-2009)
Bellhaven Copper and Gold (2007-2010)
Pershimco Resources (2010-2016)
Orla Mining (2016-present)
Cerro Petaquilla – Cobre PanamaAdrian Resources Ltd/Petaquilla Minerals Ltd (1991-2006)
Petaquilla Copper Ltd (2006-2008)
Metal Mining Inc/(Inmet Mining (1991-2013)
Teck Resources/Teck Cominco (1991-2008)
First Quantum Minerals (2013-present)
Cerro Petaquilla – El MolejonPetaquilla Minerals Ltd (2005-2015)
Diamante Minerals Inc (2016-)
Rio Pito (Comarca de San Blas)Western Keltic Mines Inc. (1994-?
Other – Viento FrioRayrock Resources (1999-2001)
Bellhaven Copper and Gold (2006-2014)
Western Troy Capital Resources (2006-2007)
Oakmont Capital Corp/Oakmont Minerals Corp (2013-2014)

The State of the Country’s Mining Code and its Regulatory Institutions

Panama is a democratic republic with an elected executive and legislature. The country is divided into ten administrative provinces, each with a governor appointed by the President, and five indigenous autonomous regions (legally recognized comarcas).

Mineral resources are the property of the state, no matter where they are located.Footnote 66 Their disposition is governed by the mineral code and supporting regulations of the government of Panama. Panama’s Code of Mineral Resources (CMR)Footnote 67, was approved and launched in 1963. It is the foundation of the country’s legal and regulatory framework for mineral resource development to this day, although it has been periodically amended to clarify, improve procedures and processes or to revise or replace certain provisions, as priorities have changed or experience has required.

In 1970, the Code allowed for the establishment of the Directorate General of Mineral Resources (DGMR) housed within the Ministry of Commerce and Industries (MICI). This was implemented by one of a series of laws and executive branch decrees, which introduced modest amendments to the Code in 1964Footnote 68, 1969, 1970, 1973Footnote 69, 1984 and 1985. A more significant revision of the law’s fiscal regime was enacted in 1988 (Law #3 of 28 January 1988).Footnote 70

In 1996, the government introduced environmental safeguard measures (Law no 32, 9 February 1996) relating to natural resource extraction.Footnote 71 In 1998, the legal foundation for the creation of the National Environment Agency (ANAM) was laid out. ANAM became responsible for oversight and management of environmental issues associated with resource development, and environmental permitting of industrial projects.

More recent efforts at mining law reform became a major issue during the presidency of Ricardo Martinelli. In February 2011, the National Assembly approved amendments to the mining law (Law #8) that would open the door to foreign state investment and ownership of mineral exploration and extractive projects in the country. This was meant to enable financing and equity interests in the country’s extractive sector by foreign government entities. This effort seems to have been a response to South Korea’s interest in investing in the Cobre Panama project in Colon, but was also interpreted by indigenous and environmental groups as an attempt on the part of the Government to enable new investments in Cerro Colorado. In the face of serious popular opposition, the Government repealed Law 8 a month later.

In 2012, two additional laws were passed.

  1. Law 11 prohibited new exploration concessions on the Ngäbe-Buglé, comarca and cancelled existing concessions/contracts.Footnote 72
  2. Law 13Footnote 73 established new rates for royalties on mining production, concession payments and other mining-specific taxes, as well as how the public income would be allocated amongst government departments.Footnote 74 The new tax regime included surface use and construction phase taxes payable to the municipal government in which a project is located.

The provisions relating to municipal benefits has had unintended consequences. For the past decade, the Government of Panama has been investing in building municipal governance capacity and is now involved in an active decentralization process. Nonetheless, many municipal authorities still have limited capacity to plan and implement public service projects or manage their financing; neither are financial accountability mechanisms yet in place. This was recognized as an inherent weakness of the disbursement concept, i.e. the sharing of mining related taxes with municipal governments hosting such projects; and a potential major governance risk.Footnote 75

At the beginning of the Varella presidency (2014), there was some discussion of a potential moratorium on metallic mineral exploration in the country. This became a “de-facto” moratorium on new projects, which has not been turned into law.Footnote 76 In March 2015, the National Assembly created the Ministry of the Environment (MiAmbiente) via Ley 8.Footnote 77 This legislation modified the earlier Ley 41 of 1998 which had created The National Environmental Agency (ANAM), integrating Agency staff and its functions into the new Ministry of the Environment.

Indigenous Peoples and Mining in PanamaFootnote 78

Most of the Indigenous traditional territories of Panama contain significant concentrations of natural resources including timber, riverine water systems (valued for their hydropower generating potential), and metals (mainly copper and gold). The country’s past and potential for future extractive sector development cannot be fully understood without reference to indigenous peoples’ status, land holdings, community interests and concerns.

Panama’s latest census (2010) identified 12.3% of the country’s population as indigenous, around 460,000 people. Panama’s indigenous population is comprised of the following goups: Kuna, Embera, Wounaan, Ngäbe, Buglé, Bokota, Naso and Bribri. The largest of the groups is the Ngäbe (260,000) followed by the Kuna (80,500). Less than half of the country’s indigenous population live on officially recognized reserve lands, the comarcas. As of today, there are five official comarcas. Three of the comarcas established in 1938, 1996 and 2000Footnote 79 belong to Kuna people and are located within the San Blas. The Embera and Wounaan peoples’ comarca is located in the Darien (1983), The Ngäbe and Buglé comarca was established in 1997 in parts of Bocas del Toro, Chiriqui and Veraguas provinces. Together the five comarcas account for 22% of the country’s land area (i.e. 1.7 million hectares), although additional land areas, claimed under the 2008 collective land titling actFootnote 80, have yet to be resolved. If resolved in favour of the indigenous peoples, these areas would potentially increase indigenous land holdings by another 800,00 hectares.Footnote 81

The creation of the comarcas came with distinct semi-autonomous decision-making authority and new political structures. This included some authority over the use and management of natural resources, but the extent of indigenous peoples’ control over non-renewable resources located within their comarcas was limited by the Government retention of ownership rights to the sub-soil resources within the comarcas.

Ironically, it was Omar Torrijos (1968-1981) who made a national commitment to the county’s indigenous peoples to complete the task of creating “comarcas” to protect and preserve indigenous lands and culture. Until then only the San Blas (Kuna Yala) comarca of 1938 had been established. Despite this commitment, no new camarcas were actually created during his tenure.

Colonel Torrijos was intent on promoting an economic development paradigm for Panama based on the commercial development of the country’s natural resources, the most attractive of which were located within traditional indigenous areas.Footnote 82 During Torrijos’ tenure, the Government opened the door to mineral exploration and development in Chiriqui province. Foreign investment in the exploration of the copper deposits at Cerro Colorado and Cerro Chorcha began in earnest, but it was Cerro Colorado with its large proven reserves that garnered the government’s attention. This project was seen as a potential major vehicle for reducing the country’s almost total economic reliance on canal related activities and a project in which the State would eventually hold a majority ownership interest.Footnote 83

Both Cerro Colorado and Cerro Chorcha are located within the land areas occupied by the NgäbeFootnote 84 and Buglé peoples. The resource development vision promulgated by the Government did not reflect the concerns and world views of the affected Ngäbe or Buglé communities nor take into account their own use of natural resources and what they needed to sustain their ways of life. The initial reaction of Ngäbe people to early exploration activities was mixed, and in a certain way the actual impacts of Cerro Colorado and its associated hydro-electric project, were “small in comparison with what could have been expected had the projects gone forward.”Footnote 85 As of 1980, no communities had lost “more than a small percentage of their lands;” no relocation of communities or households had occurred; noise from the few penetration roads “was not excessive”; and the exploration workforce kept to itself. Whatever effects were experienced, were “localized”, except for the drilling work on the mountain itself, which resulted in runoff of sediments into the San Felix River below.

The issue was not that the mining project destroyed the land base or otherwise directly threatened the physical existence of the Guaymi people. Rather, the overall impact lay in the fact that the mining project simply did not fit [into the Guaymi world]. It was completely foreign, it operated on completely foreign mindsets, it served completely foreign goals. It was an intrusion whose impact made day-to-day life more complicated and, generally, rendered the Guaymies powerless and incompetent in their own territory. …The mining project introduced into the Guaymi area a foreign world, a “latino” world. (Gjording, 1991, pp. 154-155)

Guaymi community sustainability was already complicated and threatened by pre-existing land shortages, declining agricultural productivityFootnote 86 and out-migration of local people to find work or establish an agricultural livelihood and lifestyle elsewhere outside of the “comarca”. The intrusion of “uninvited” outsiders undertaking activities without obtaining community consent, the use of technologies that were alien to the Guaymi along with the government’s unwillingness or inability to involve the Guaymi in decisions that would affect their lives or deliver on the formalization of their land and cultural rights; all of these conditions, “not of their choosing” served to heighten Guaymi “unease” and uncertainty regarding their own future. Unaddressed or ignored, these worries and frustrationsFootnote 87 became the basis for discontent. In February 1980, at a meeting of communities concerned with road construction through the small community of Cerro Puerco, a group of 250 indigenous people issued a consensual statement of concern and resolve. The Cerro Puerco Resolution, while it denounced the road construction project went much deeper. It pushed back against the implementation of Cerro Colorado and of all other projects proposed within the comarca, “without prior consultation with the Guaymi people”, and rejected the mining project indefinitely given what appeared to be its lack of benefits for the Guaymi.Footnote 88

What happened ostensibly around the Cerro Colorado exploration project and the Teribe-Changinola hydroelectric dam project in the late 1970s and early 1980s, established the basis for future resistance and opposition to political actions and economic development initiatives, which were seen to be against the political or cultural interests of the communities that would be affected by them. It allowed for the development of cross-indigenous community decision-making institutions (the Congresos) and leadership arrangements and for the acceptance of assistance and support from select groups of “outsiders”, including the Catholic Church in Panama, as well as research and support organizations based within and outside of the country. Of particular importance were the Centro de Estudios y Accion Social (CEASPA) in Panama, and Latin American Working Group (LAWG) in Toronto, Canada. In a certain way, what happened here also demonstrated the value of the “solidarity” work of out of country groups in providing important intelligence for local resistance efforts, as well as international exposure and voice for isolated communities’ concerns.Footnote 89

Finally, the Government of Ernesto Pérez Balladares approved the formal establishment of the Ngabe-Bugle comarca in 1997 (Ley 10). While the Government continued to encourage efforts to develop Cerro Colorado (see above and Appendix 2), Cerro Colorado never became a mine for reasons relating to poor project economics but as importantly, to the political opposition of the Ngäbe and Buglé peoples and other groups. However, during the Presidency of Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014), government efforts to support resource development with new amendments to the mining code, especially the passage of Ley 8 in February 2011, raised new concerns for indigenous people, especially the Ngäbe and Buglé. Major protests ensued, leading to the government’s retraction and cancellation of the legislation (2011 Ley 12). As part of the understanding reached with the Ngäbe and Buglé in February, the National Assembly was to produce a bill to protect natural resources within the Ngäbe-Buglé comarca and within off comarca communities (Bill 415). However, when the bill was finalized in January 2012 for presentation to the National Assembly, the article relating to resource protection had been removed.Footnote 90 The Ngäbe-Buglé responded with protests and blockades along the Pan-American Highway. In a police action, two protesters died and around 40 people were wounded. This led to a Church facilitated agreement (the San Lorenzo Agreement) which brought government and indigenous leaders back to the negotiating table. Agreement was finally reached, including the abolition of Ley 41 of 1975, which had created the state mining corporation, Corporacion de Desarrollo Minero Cerro Colorado or CODEMIN, charged with the rights and authorities needed for the development of Cerro Colorado. Bill 415 was revised and finalized in March 2012 as Ley 11.

Two proposed hydroelectric projects within the comarca were cancelled as part of Ley 11. The Barro Blanco project already in construction and outside of the comarca but impacting Ngäbe-Buglé communities was not cancelled by Ley 11. Another concern that Ngäbe-Buglé had, was that the dam construction was part of an integrated development plan which would involve the renewal of efforts to construct a mine at Cerro Colorado irrespective of the prohibitions embedded in Ley 11.Footnote 91 This was not the intent of the Barro Blanco project, but in such historically contested environments, mistrust persists and misconceptions can easily arise or be perpetuated. The Ngäbe-Buglé and others took to the streets again. The new government of Juan Carlos Varela temporarily halted work on the project in 2015, and entered into negotiations with the affected communities. Agreement was finally reached in 2016. This would allow for the completion of the project and its operation.

The Varela government also passed Law 37 in August 2016,Footnote 92 which established a framework for indigenous peoples’ free, prior and informed consent, although the drafting of the bill itself did not involve the full participation of indigenous peoples. Although previous Panamanian governments verbally committed to signing off on the ILO Convention 169, Panama has yet to do so.Footnote 93

The Mine Site Visits

The two mining properties in Panama most likely to enter into production in the near future are Cerro Quema (primarily a gold deposit) in Los Santos province and Cobre Panama (primarily a copper deposit) in Colon province. At the time of the trip, the Cobre Panama project was owned by First Quantum Minerals (FQM)Footnote 94, and has continued to be owned and operated by FQM. The Cerro Quema property was owned by Pershimco ResourcesFootnote 95, but the company has since merged with Orla Mining, which is now the owner-operator of the project. The Cobre Panama project will be a large open pit copper mine. Cerro Quema should it move into development and production will also be an open pit mine, but will be smaller, at least in its first years of production. A complete list of approved mining concessions associated with these projects can be found on the government of Panama’s mineral resource website.Footnote 96

The Counsellor was able to visit both project sites with the objectives of:

  • getting a firsthand view of the project areas
  • providing opportunities for the Counsellor and accompanying Embassy staff to talk directly with the projects’ management teams, and engage if possible with other individuals or groups with direct interests in the projects
Project NameProject StatusOwner at the Time of Visit
Cobre PanamaUnder constructionFirst Quantum Minerals
Cerro QuemaAdvanced explorationPershimco Resources

Cerro Quema Site Visit – Pershimco Resources (currently Orla Mining)

The project is located in southwestern Panama on the Azuero Peninsula in Los Santos province. Roughly 95% of the Cerro Quema concession is located in the municipality of Tonosi. About 5% of the Cerro Quema concession is located in Macaracas.Footnote 97 The closest town site to the project site is the provincial administrative centre, Chitré, approximately 45 km to the northeast (75 km by paved road).

Based on the technical studies completed thus far, the proposed mine would include two open pit operations (at the La Pava and Quema/Quemita/Mesita deposits). These sites are about 2-3 kms from each other. The mineralized material removed from the pits would be transported to a specially prepared pad and subjected to a conventional heap leaching process.Footnote 98 A follow-up Carbon-in-Leach / Adsorption-Desorption-Recovery (CIL/ADR) plant would recover the gold from solution and produce doré bars. The leach pad, plant, waste disposal areas and sediment containment ponds are likely to be located between the two pits.

However, the local terrain is rugged and irregular, with elevations ranging from 200-850 m.a.s.l., and sharp relief. Apart from the main access road and exploration drill roads, the area surrounding the project site can only be accessed by footpaths. Much of the area has been deforestedFootnote 99 and converted into grassy areas and pastureland. Some areas within the concession have been reforested through periodic efforts from 1997 on. There is no evidence of previous permanent settlement within the concession area.

The project’s previous management (Pershimco) defined an area of immediate influence with includes five rural settlementsFootnote 100 (4 in Tonosi district, and 1 in Macaracas district), but two are not currently used or occupied.Footnote 101 Together (as of the 2013 census), the combined population was just over 500 people; many of whose families migrated into the area in the 1940s and 1950s. The broader zone of influence includes the districts of Macaracas, Tonosi, Los Santos and Las Tablas (around 70,000 people as of the 2010 census). The project draws most of its workforce from the surrounding communities, the majority of whom are close enough to be able to commute to work on a daily basis. Most use transportation provided by the company.

Organized exploration of the deposit started in the late 1980s and continued in an off-and-on manner over the following 20 years until 2010 when the property was acquired by Pershimco. Of all of the exploration projects in Panama during the past 50 years Cerro Quema has experienced the most frequent ownership/management changes.

The Cerro Quema mine site was the object of significant protests in the early 2000s when the company of the day began building roads into the area to enable exploration. The exploration roads were not built to proper environmental standards which resulted in sediment erosion and contamination of a river downhill from the exploration areas. The muddying of waters angered some groups of local farmers who staged protests in opposition to the mine’s development. These farmers organized under the name FRESACOMIFootnote 102. Legal contestation of the company’s concession and environmental permits has recently been raised by legal counsel for FRESCOMI with the Government of Panama and the Canadian Embassy.

Environment - Since Pershimco had acquired the property the roads were resurfaced and redesigned to prevent soil erosion and sedimentation of water sources. In 2015 the company spent $1.2 million on environmental initiatives at the early-stage development property which includes: a local fire brigadeFootnote 103, a local environmental committee to monitor and upkeep mine developments, a reforestation project in Macaracas, and three water testing unitsFootnote 104. Importantly, as employees work on environmental projects, such as building sediment dams, the company explains why these constructions are important for maintaining local ecosystems in order to improve understandings of mine operations. At the time of the visit, Pershimco was awaiting the approval of its ESIA.

Social - Upon acquiring the mine, Pershimco’s CSR manager met with FRESACOMI and other local actors in order to listen to and understand their legitimate concerns with the property’s prior management. Some of these individuals now work at the mine, such as on the environmental committee. As the company moved forward, it also held a public forum in Tonosí to inform the public on: the mine’s technical aspects, the prospective ESIA, and the company’s commitment to social development and environmental upkeep in areas such as water and air contamination, smell and noise contamination, soil protection, residue control and cultural historical commitments.

Some of the company’s social investment projects include: support for cattle farmers, an oyster farm initiative, collaboration with a nearby technical school to train welders, the donation of hospital beds to a local clinic, a daily hot meal program in 18 schools, the installation of 8 weather stations to allow local farmers to better predict weather in the area, and a $300 monthly donation to the juntas directivas of 22 nearby communitiesFootnote 105.

Labour - At the time of the visit, about 150 people were employed by the company on site, nearly all of whom were from the region. The company expected this number to increase to about 500 employees during the development stage and level off around 225 employees during production. Since nearly all workers are from the local region, there are very few dormitories on site. Workers are picked up and dropped off daily by transportation provided by the company. At the time of the visit, the company had not signed any labour agreements with municipalities or communities. One local mayor the Counsellor met with believed that the company was not employing sufficient numbers of local people.

Since the merger, the Counsellor has been in conversations with Orla Mining and understands that the existing social and environmental commitments made by Pershimco will be continued and upheld. At the time of this report’s release, the majority of Cerro Quema’s site managers and CSR personnel remained the same as when the property was owned by Pershimco Resources.

More recently some concern has been raised regarding the legal status of the project licenses.Footnote 106 The three original contracts covering the company’s three mineral concessions expired in February and March of 2017. The company has applied for 10 year extensions to each of the contracts, which have yet to be formally renewed by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. While the Ministry of Environment has completed its technical review of the company’s ESIA, submitted before the Counsellor’s visit in 2016, it has yet to approve it; although the Ministry had issued permits for water use and drilling of three areas during 2017. It seems that the status of the concessions has yet to be finally and formally renewed.

Cobre Panama Site Visit – First Quantum Minerals

The Cobre Panama project concession areas are located in the state of Colon and municipality of Donoso. Nevertheless, in terms of proximity to an urbanized area, residents of the La Pintada municipality are located much closer to the concession than residents of Donoso. Considering the municipal tax benefits resulting from the mine concession, this is a significant factor which was discussed above. The property’s copper deposit is located in a remote jungle area, near the Caribbean coast and is accessible by rural public and private roads, helicopter, or via the company’s seaport. Due to the remoteness of the property, First Quantum built a $54 million port for mine inputs and outputs, as well as a coal-generated power plant which will use imported coal from nearby Colombia.

The concession’s history is more completely described in Appendix 2. The property, now owned and managed by First Quantum, is considered one of the world’s largest untapped copper deposits. While under Inmet ownership Cobre Panama had the Protected Area status lifted from the concession by Panama’s Supreme Court and the property received its ESIA in 2012.Footnote 107 Since the merger First Quantum has changed some of the management team and found ways of reducing construction costs, yet the stipulations and agreements in the ESIA submitted by Inmet and approved by ANA (now MiAmbiente) are being respected and carried out by First Quantum.

Environment – Given the location of the mine and its support facilities, the project comes with an array of environmental challenges relating to floral and faunal biodiversity. The company has built a 15 kilometer road between the mine and the port. The road has trapezes installed overhead and tunnels built underneath for the safe crossing of pumas, deer, monkeys and other animals. Before development occurred First Quantum used live traps to relocate some animals and transplanted specified plants as defined by a biologist. The company has been working with Donoso to protect the surrounding 15,000 hectares from clearcutting and burning, some of which the Counsellor witnessed. First Quantum has also partnered with the Ministry of Environment in an attempt to increase the number of park rangers in the surrounding areas, as well as with the Smithsonian Institute on environmental projects and reporting. In regards to water quality, the company has taught various local communities how to test water through a third party.Footnote 108

Social – The company has had to resettle a number of Ngabe settlements located within the planned operating area of the mine and its support facilities. These included two settlements which were relocated; Chicheme (now called Nuevo Chicheme or Nuevo Esparanza) and PetaquillaFootnote 109 (now called Nuevo Eden). The resettlement action plan was put together and implemented by a Canadian consulting firm specializing in resettlement in accord with the relevant International Finance Corporation performance standards. The new settlements were also designed by the consultant in collaboration with community members. However the final construction of the settlements and the relocation process was carried out by First Quantum with community members.Footnote 110

While there have been some post construction issues relating to lighting and access to potable water, the communities seem to be viable and functional. Title to the land and the residents still resides with the company, although the company affirmed its intent to transfer ownership to the residents. Both communities also have primary schools and teacher lodging. The teacher housing has allowed both communities to accommodate full-time teachers paid for by the government – something the communities did not have previously. New sanitary facilities employing an organic sewage system were built for each structure, although many locals built their own traditional latrines which they seem to prefer to use. Each of the resettled communities meets with company representatives once per month to discuss issues and have a continuing dialogue.

The company claims to have witnessed heavy amounts of in-migration to the concession since it began developing the property, with some groups reportedly demanding a $1 million payment from the company in exchange for the land they had settled. The Congress of the Ngäbe-Bugle Comarca wrote a letter to the company stating that the migration was illegal and asked the company to help control the entry of the newcomers upriver from the mine and nearby the concession. Unauthorized river bed gold mining and illegal drug trafficking is known to occur. This appears to be controlled by people who are not native to the region. In response, the company has set up check posts with private security guards in an effort to control the entry and exit of people from one of the rivers which flows into the concession.Footnote 111 People native to the area have registered their details with security so they can pass without hindrance.

The company’s CSR projects reach 57 communities, including all 22 communities that are located along the access route. The projects are administered by Participatory Community Committees (CPCs) which consist of: a health committee, a committee of parents of students, a water committee and a junta communal. All of the committees are headed by a community leader which changes on a rotational basis. In education the company provides daily lunches to 96 schools (with garden and chicken raising aspects for sustainability), offers scholarships to high performers (78 students were awarded university scholarships in 2015), aids other students in technical areas such as construction and plumbing and has a literacy program which aims to achieve 100% literacy across all of its communities of interest. The water committee mainly oversees the independent water testing outlined in footnote 106. The health committee decides on which health programs will be implemented, which thus far have included vaccination campaigns and the provision of health products in coordination with the Ministry of Health. Other projects the company has moved forward with include: building a bridge for a community so its children could access school on the other side of a river, creating an association of producers so the company can begin to purchase its produce locally, a soccer program for children during summer vacation, the building a basketball court in coordination with a municipality and building a clinic for expectant and new mothers in a nearby town that is equipped with a garden and a ‘sew & repair’ facility so mothers can mend clothes and other goods for the company and earn an income while remaining close to medical care. Finally, the company hopes that the power plant and port it has constructed will allow the area to continue to develop after mine closure.

The nearest major commercial centre, La Pintada, on the main road to Panama City, was favoured by Petaquilla Minerals (Petaquilla Gold), operator of El Molejon gold mine, in terms of physical and social infrastructure improvement. While the town still benefits from First Quantum’s presence, most of the company’s social investment has focussed on communities closer to the project area.

Labour - During the mine development phase, which the company is currently advancing, First Quantum plans to reach a maximum of about 7,000 employees in Panama. Due to Panama’s limited mining history and the lack of technically trained and experienced Panamanians in mining, First Quantum has had to apply for special permission from the Ministry of Labour to hire a foreign workforce of up to 25%. At the time of the visit, 36% of workers were from the Coclé province where the mine is located (with 1,200 of these workers originating from communities in the mine’s zone of influence), at least 39% were from other Panamanian provinces, and a maximum of 25% of workers were foreigners.

The company has partnered with a nearby Chief of Police and with the Ministry of Public Security to participate in the barrios seguros program. The company has hired 20 ex-gang members through this program who are currently working on the mining property. Company representatives expressed great success with the program and are looking into the possibility of hiring more workers through barrios seguros.

When the mine enters production First Quantum expects to employ around 3,000 people. During the production phase, the company anticipates that the percentage of foreign workers will drop to 10%, with Panamanian workers making up 90% of the workforce. Due to the property’s geography, workers sleep at an on-site camp which is equipped with air conditioning, a gym and other amenities.

Final Thoughts

Panama’s experience with mineral exploration, and commercial mine development and operation has gone through a number of phases during the past 50 years. Progress in developing a “modern” and responsible mining industry has been erratic. Exploration and extractive activities have been clouded historically by a complex web of questionable practices and relationships, involving both private sector and government players, some of which continue to haunt the sector to this day. The development of the sector has been and continues to also be complicated by a set of sensitive social, political and environmental circumstances and conditions relating to the rights of indigenous peoples and the existence of fragile ecosystems, especially in areas of high potential or known mineral resource endowment. Today, there are only two seriously active projects in the country, both with Canadian connections – Cerro Quema and Cobre Panama.

The sector’s checkered past along with continuing social and environmental sensitivities pose serious challenges to the current government’s interest in promoting responsible mineral resource development as part of its national economic diversification vision and strategy. At the same time, the Government is aware of its own institutional capacity weaknesses, including the shortage of trained and experienced Panamanians to promote and oversee the expansion of the sector, and is actively seeking outside assistance and support for the expansion of the sector. Last year, for example the Government hosted “mining” missions from Australia and Sweden that focused on institutional capacity building and investment opportunities respectively.Footnote 113 It is not known whether any follow-up or new investment interests have ensued.

Another challenge for the government is that the country has reached a level of economic development, which precludes or makes it very difficult to qualify for direct assistance or support from traditional bilateral and multilateral development agencies that are still involved in mining sector capacity building or development activities.Footnote 114 This would include agencies such as the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and a number of OECD bilateral development and geo-science agencies.

As a potential cooperating donor country, Canada has a very limited development assistance program in Panama and does not provide any direct support for extractive sector development. Some might argue that the existing Canada-Panama free trade agreement with its investment protection clauses opens the door to high risk Canadian investment in extractive activities. Unlike in some of its Central American neighbor countries, no extractive companies have taken Panama to court for investment dispute arbitration under the terms of this agreement.Footnote 115 The Canadian Embassy has provided support for local area government capacity building workshops, focusing on municipal authorities from mining affected or potential areas.Footnote 116

The possibilities for realizing any sort of in-country consensus for the “growing” of an extractive sector, especially with regard to metallic minerals, may be further complicated by the allegations of insider trading, fraud and corruption surrounding the activities of the former President Ricardo Martinelli relating to his involvement with Petaquilla Minerals, the company’s CEO Richard Fifer, and the former President’s own pro-mining agenda.Footnote 117

There is also a legacy of questionable past policies and practices of both Government and private actors relating to exploration and extraction activities which have yet to be forgotten or forgiven. This will also hinder the government’s ability to progress an economic diversification strategy which includes the extractive sector.

Past controversies and experiences have implications for the business conduct that home countries should expect of their companies entering or already operating in Panama. The ways in which Canadian companies have been involved in Panama’s difficult mining narrative raise a number of important policy questions for Canada.

  • The role of Canadian crown corporations in supporting the development of large-scale projects that are socially or environmentally controversial or may have potential negative impacts or implications especially for indigenous peoples. This became a question in the 1990s with the now defunct Canadian Development Corporation’s ownership interest in the US company, Texasgulf Inc (manager of the Cerro Colorado project).
  • The use of Canadian venture capital stock exchanges (Vancouver and Toronto), by nominally “Canadian” companies, to raise exploration and development funds for a range of projects in Panama. In this case, there were a number of junior companies flying the Canadian flagFootnote 118 whose management was under the control of Panamanian, US, or Australian citizens, with limited Canadian participation.Footnote 119 These companies kept small recording offices in Vancouver or Toronto, raised money through the exchanges, and invested in a multitude of exploration projects, that never led to extraction; that managed to disrupt and upset local communities’ lives and economies, and that served to enrich a number of individual investors and senior managers. The construction of the two operating gold mines (Santa Rosa and El Molejon) was undertaken by junior “Canadian” companies and financed using capital raised in the Canadian market; both mines were shut down and abandoned after four years of production leaving behind environmental liabilities, unpaid debts to local workers and businesses, and bad memories of mines that principally benefited a select group of individuals and/or financial or political interests. None of these companies currently exist, but their activities have served to tarnish the Canadian brand.

Export Development Canada now has in place social and environmental safeguard policies and investment criteria that reduce the risk of investing in questionable projects.Footnote 120 The Toronto Stock Exchange does not impose Canadian ownership or management requirements for listing on the exchange, nor do companies have to be registered as Canadian companies to be listed on the exchange. How then does Canada hold companies accountable that are listed on the exchange, self-identify as Canadian companies, or are deemed by others to be Canadian for actions or activities outside of Canada that we deem to be irresponsible or fraudulent?Footnote 121 The challenge for Canada will be to put in place procedures and protocols that will ensure that Canadian companies entering Panama for the first time are fully informed and oriented as to Canadian government expectations and understanding of responsible business conduct, and the consequences that may be invoked should a company not work responsibly.

In the meantime, the Canadian Embassy given its limited resources can if possible continue to support capacity building initiatives, whether it is sponsoring or co-sponsoring workshops for local area government staff, or facilitating educational inter-changes between universities and technical colleges, or even government research and regulatory agencies in Canada and Panama, or providing local support for Canadian students and professors working with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).Footnote 122

It seems that the growth and development of an extractive sector in Panama will depend on the co-incidence of a number of factors and conditions, including

  • The Government’s ability to strengthen its own internal capacity to oversee and regulate the sector,
  • A willingness on the part of all actors to consult and work together in inclusive and participatory ways that will take into account and balance the needs and aspirations of the State, of its citizenry, of local communities that will potentially be impacted by new extractive activities, and of potential domestic and foreign investors and developers
  • Positive social, environmental and economic performance of active and ongoing exploration and mining projects, among other things.

For the Canadian companies currently active in the country (First Quantum Minerals and Orla Mining), the onus of demonstrating responsible performance falls on the companies themselves, irrespective of their projects’ economics. First Quantum with Cobre Panama and now Orla with Cerro Quema will have to work constructively with whatever social and environmental investment and management commitments they have inherited from the previous project owners. As their projects move closer to production or development respectively, each of the companies will need to remain attentive and responsive to the evolving and changing expectations and aspirations of the surrounding communities, of local area and central governments, and of Panama civil society as a whole. This may mean recalibrating and changing the way they work with stakeholders as the projects progress, and require enough flexibility and resilience to be able to adjust their own operating practices and procedures, as needed, even if such changes are not necessarily “of their own choosing”.

The Counsellor would like to thank all of the companies, public offices and civil society organizations that he met with for their time and willingness to share their perspectives on the issues and challenges of ensuring a responsible and beneficial mining industry for Panama and its citizens.

Appendix 1

List of Relevant Events and Meetings
Organization Name/EventDate
Participation at embassy-led Workshop on Municipal Financial Management of Mining RoyaltiesSeptember 6, 2016
Municipality of MacaracasSeptember 6, 2016
Municipality of TonosíSeptember 6, 2016
Cerro Quema Mine Site VisitSeptember 6, 2016
Municipality of La PintadaSeptember 7, 2016
Ministry of GovernmentSeptember 8, 2016
Ministry of Commerce and IndustriesSeptember 8, 2016
Centro de Incidencia Ambiental de Panamá (CIAM)September 8, 2016
Ministry of Labour and Workforce DevelopmentSeptember 9, 2016
Camara Minera de Panamá (CAMIPA)September 9, 2016
Ministry of EnvironmentSeptember 9, 2016
Defensor del Pueblo (National Ombudsman)September 9, 2016
Cobre Panama Mine Site VisitSeptember 12, 2016

Appendix 2

Project Cases StudiesFootnote 123

Cerro Colorado

In 1971 Canadian Javelin, a junior exploration company, acquired full control of the Cerro Colorado concession.Footnote 124 By late 1973, Canadian Javelin had discovered that the deposit was “too big and too complicated” to manage alone, and formed a consortium including other Canadian, Japanese and British interests to be able to finance the evaluation and development of the project. In 1974, Canadian Javelin entered into negotiations with the Government to secure a “mining” concession.Footnote 125 The company was unable to negotiate terms acceptable to both itself and the Government; negotiations ended and the exploration agreement expired in early 1975.

The Government then decided to try to develop Cerro Colorado on its own, intent on securing sovereign control over the project.Footnote 126 It created the Panama Copper Commission to oversee the project’s development, which was shortly thereafter converted into a parastatal company called the Corporacion de Desarrollo Minero Cerro Colorado (CODEMIN). As with Canadian Javelin, the Government quickly came to realize that it did not have the technical and management skills or the financial resources to implement the project on its own.

In July 1975, the Government signed two contracts with Texasgulf Inc., a US based companyFootnote 127. The first was an Association Agreement which established the ownership structure of a new operating company, with 80% of the equity held by the Government and 20% by Texasgulf. The second was an Administration Agreement, basically a management contract which established the terms of reference and fees payable to the company for its management services.Footnote 128 The upfront funds initially paid by Texasgulf also allowed the Government to compensate Canadian Javelin for its investments in the early exploration of Cerro Colorado.Footnote 129 The project’s feasibility study was completed by May 1978. However, copper prices proved to be too low and development costs too high. A review of alternative development scenarios was unable to identify a viable development option. In early 1980, Texasgulf formally recommended to the Government that work on the project be suspended in view of the project’s unfavorable economics.Footnote 130

The Government, not to be deterred, entered into discussions with another international mining company, UK based Rio Tinto Zinc (RTZ), hoping to push the development of Cerro Colorado forward. CODEMIN and RTZ were able to reach an agreement that was based on selective high-grading of the deposit, and a 51:49 equity split (still favoring the Government). However by the end of 1981, the project was mothballed.Footnote 131 A year later RTZ decided to shelve the project feasibility study process.

After a 10 year hiatus in activity, Rio Tinto Zinc turned back its 49% equity interest in Cerro Colorado to the Government of Panama in 1993. In early 1996 a Canadian mid-tier mining company, Tiomin Resources, through its wholly owned Panamanian subsidiary, PanaCobre S.A., entered into a mining concession agreement with CODEMIN to extract, process, transport and market copper from Cerro Colorado. PanaCobre completed a feasibility study as required in 1998 and then applied to delay the development of the project, pending improvement of copper prices and market demand. PanaCobre also lacked the funds to proceed with the development of the project. At the end of the year, Tiomin negotiated an arrangement with Aur Resources, another Canadian company, including an option for Aur to acquire full ownership of PanaCobre in exchange for advanced cash payments. This option was exercised by Aur Resources in February of 2001, ending Tiomin’s involvement with the project.

The project itself remained on care and maintenance during 1999 and 2000 until such time as it was taken over by Aur Resources in 2001. While additional studies were undertaken, PanaCobre’s concession was due for termination or extension in early 2003. Nothing was confirmed, and all rights reverted back to the Government in 2004.

Cerro Petaquilla

The 1973 agreement with the Japanese consortium was a four year exploration contract. Exploration drilling on the property commenced shortly thereafter, leading to the development of preliminary reserve estimates, metallurgical test work, and the completion of a first feasibility study. By the terms of the contract, Panama Mineral Resources Development Company was obliged to enter into negotiations for a mining contract with the Government no later than 1978. In 1980, the project was abandoned due to difficulties in reaching an acceptable development agreement.

Over 10 years later, in August of 1991, an exploration concession for the Petaqilla property was granted by the Government to a Panamanian private company, Georecursos S.A.Footnote 132 Earlier that year, Minnova Panama S.A. owned by Falconbridge Copper had reached an agreement with Georecursos that would allow Minnova to acquire an 80% interest in the Petaquilla property. Teck Resources had also entered into a financing arrangement for the Petaquilla project with Adrian Resources Ltd, a Canadian junior, that had a management interest in Georecoursos. This arrangement would allow Teck to pick up half of Adrian’s (or its subsidiaries) ownership interestsFootnote 133. In 1992- 1993, Minnova Panama was acquired by Metall Mining (Canada).Footnote 134 At the same time, a merger of management and ownership interests occurred involving Minamerica, Georecursos, and Adrian Resources (Canada) and its Panamanian subsidiary, Adrian S.A.Footnote 135

From 1992-1996, active sampling, drilling and other test work were carried out on the property. Apart from the various copper bearing zones on the property, a distinct epithermal gold deposit was identified at Quebrada Molejonese which would later be separately developed as El Molejon gold mine. Moreover, preliminary and updated pre-feasibility studies were completed, as well as a production scoping study that laid out a probable mining and processing scenario.

In 1997, three important developments occurred:

  1. The parties to the projectFootnote 136 negotiated and entered into a “definitive shareholders agreement” (referred to as the “Petaquilla Shareholders Agreement”) on 21 February 1997,Footnote 137 which consolidated all ownership and option interests into a new company Minera Petaquilla S.A. This company became the jointly owned operating company for the project.
  2. A project specific legal contract defining the roles and responsibilities of the parties with the respect to the exploration and exploitation of the Petaquilla property, referred to as the Ley Petaquilla was approved by the National Legislative Assembly on 27 February 1997.Footnote 138
  3. A bankable final feasibility study was also completed and submitted to the Government in early 1998. In May of 1998, Teck, as the principal responsible for organizing the project’s financing, decided to defer a development decision for a year given the current market over-supply and depressed copper prices.Footnote 139

Further work on the property remained on hold from 2000 to 2005. In late 2004, the project partners reached an agreement-in-principle to draft a new multi-phase development plan that would meet Government requirements for a 2005 project start-up. The agreement and plan would allow Adrian Resources LtdFootnote 140, renamed as Petaquilla Minerals Ltd. , and its new subsidiary, Petaquilla Gold SA, to assume 100% ownership of Molejon and all other properties with significant gold mineralization.Footnote 141

Minera Petaquilla SA would retain control and responsibility for developing the copper depositsFootnote 142. The revised Development Mine Plan was approved by the government in September 2004. By mid-2005, all was finalized and Petaquilla Gold S.A. turned its attention to evaluating development options for Molejon.

El Molejon

Petaquilla Gold SA as indicated above assumed total ownership and management control of all distinct gold deposits within the Petaquilla concession in 2005. By 2010, the company had managed to complete all permitting and construction, and brought the mine into production. El Molejon, the country’s only significant operating mine, with its exports of gold selling quickly. The company heavily invested in local job creation, improvements and to local social and physical infrastructure in the communities neighboring the mine, especially La Pintada. However, the operation within the course of just 4 years turned into a major financial, environmental and social disaster. The mine was shut down under questionable circumstances in 2014.Footnote 143 When the company shut the gates, it left over 600 local people without work and pay. The mine site was abandoned; facilities were not properly de-commissioned or the disturbed areas reclaimed. In the end, Panama’s Ministry of Environment had to assume responsibility for coordinating and financing, remediation and rehabilitation of the site, which is still ongoing. The abandonment of both the workforce and the local environment by the operating company amplified the concerns of Panamanians regarding the future role of mining in Panama’s development future.

Cobre Panama

In 2008, Inmet acquired 100% ownership of the project and renamed the operating company, Minera Panama SA. A year later, Inmet concluded an option agreement with Korea Panama Mining Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of LS-Nikko Copper Inc (Korea), to acquire a 20% interest in the project.

Cerro Chorcha

Cerro Chorcha had been dormant since the departure of Asarco in 1972. In 1998, Cyprus Minera Panama SA acquired the rights to the propertyFootnote 144 and initiated a new exploration program. However, the exploration concession contract expired in 1999. It was not renewed and was cancelled officially in 2004. Cuprum Resources, a Panamanian company applied for a new exploration concession a month later, which came into effect in early 2006.Footnote 145 In the interim period Cuprum signed a community investment agreement with representatives of one of the neighboring indigenous (Ngobe Bugle) communities (Quebrada Tula). Cuprum also entered into an option agreement with a Panama based Canadian junior, Bellhaven Ventures Inc, (Oct 2005), which would allow Bellhaven to acquire all of its shares, subject to Cuprum’s delivery of a valid mineral exploration contract.Footnote 146

Exploration activities resumed at Cerro Chorcha in 2006. At the same time, Cuprum Resources SA, the title holder, became a wholly owned subsidiary of BellhavenFootnote 147. Bellhaven partnered with Empire Minerals Corporation (US)Footnote 148 to secure financing for continuing evaluation of the property.Footnote 149 In April 2009, Empire Minerals under its new name, Dominion Minerals, acquired full ownership of Cuprum Resources. However Dominion Minerals was unable to undertake any further exploration work on the property. In December 2009, the Supreme Court of Panama suspended exploration or mining activity in all of the areas of Cuprum’s 2006 exploration contract that fell within the Ngobe Bugle comarca. The Court decision was based on the company and government’s lack of consultation with the indigenous people, the project’s potential for environmental damage, and the company’s lack of an approved Environmental Impact Assessment. The exploration concession which expired in April 2010 was not renewed by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce which instead, under Article 31 of the Mining Code, issued a Mineral Reserve Resolution declaring the Cerro Chorcha property to be part of a “mineral reserve area” in which mining would be prohibited. In 2016, Dominion Minerals registered a request for arbitration with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (April 15, 2016), claiming damages against the Government of Panama in the amount of $268 million US. The tribunal to review the case was constituted in July 2017.

Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa became a property of renewed interest when Freeport of Panama SAFootnote 150 was granted an exploration concession in 1986. The company carried out an extensive drilling program between 1986 and 1989.Footnote 151 In 1990, the company sold off its Panama holdings, including Santa Rosa. Santa Rosa was purchased by Boliden International Mining AB (Sweden) and Greenstone Resources Ltd (Canada), as a joint venture partnership.Footnote 152 The partners expanded Freeport’s drilling program. In early 1993, Greenstone became the sole owner of the Santa Rosa project.Footnote 153 A feasibility study was completed later that year. Construction of an open pit mine and heap leaching operation began in February 1994 and production commenced in 1995. For a number of reasons, Santa Rosa turned out to be a relatively short-lived project with mine production ceasing in February 1999. Later that year the project went into care and maintenance and was permanently shut down when Greenstone Resources declared bankruptcy. The property was turned over to Seabridge Resources Inc.(Canada) in November 1999. In early 2000, Seabridge announced that it had decided not to take over the property or assume its liabilities.Footnote 154

From the start, the mine experienced a number of critical technical, economic challenges – all of which conspired against the ability of the company to maintain the operation.Footnote 155 Gold and silver recoveries were lower than hoped for. Excessive rainfalls complicated management of leachate storage and diluted cyanide concentrations and leachate effectiveness. Finally the international gold price declined dramatically in 1997 to $268 US per troy ounce from an average of $369 US per troy ounce in 1996 and failed to recover until 2002.Footnote 156 Between reduced recoveries and lower than break-even gold prices, the mine was no longer economically viable. The departure of Greenstone under such circumstances meant that many of its liabilities and obligations were never addressed or resolved including the salaries owed to its former local employees.

After Greenstone effectively abandoned the project in 2000, Santa Rosa remained dormant for another decade. In 2007, the Government’s judicial administrator in charge of liquidating the mine’s assets awarded much of the concession to a company formed by former mine workers, Minera Canazas, in lieu of lost wages. In late 2009, a Canadian company, Erin Ventures Inc. entered into an agreement with Minera Canazas to acquire majority control of the Santa Rosa assets. Erin agreed to return the land back to the town of Canazas after mining and remediation were completed.Footnote 157 This arrangement fell apart when unbeknownst to Erin, titles to the land were found to have already been transferred to another company, which was also applying for the concessions allocated to Minera Canazas.

Instead of Mineral Canazas, a Panamanian company, Silver Global SA was granted the concession contracts in mid-2010.Footnote 158 Silver Global signed a letter of intent (July 2011) with another Canadian company, Golden Phoenix, to advance the project. Within a year, Golden Phoenix pulled out of the deal, due to what it regarded as major irregularities in the arrangement.

Silver Global became Veragold Corporation, and in November 2013 the Government approved a new contract (Ley no. 92) for an extraction concession on Santa Rosa. Although VeragoldFootnote 159 apparently undertook additional test work and contracted for a new feasibility study in 2014, it appears that nothing has come of this, and the mine remains closed.Footnote 160

Cerro Quema

Although the UN exploration program had identified copper occurrences of interest at Cerro Quema, the property only attracted attention in the late 1980s, when a Panamanian companyFootnote 161 found evidence of significant gold mineralization in the area. The company was granted a mineral exploration concession in 1989Footnote 162, and entered into a 20/80 joint venture agreement with Cyprus Exploration and Development Corporation (part of Cyprus Amax Mining Company (US))Footnote 163. Cyprus carried out an extensive drilling program from 1990-1994 through a subsidiary, Minera Cerro Quema SAFootnote 164, but gave up on the property in 1995.Footnote 165 In 1996, Campbell Resources Inc, a Canadian company, acquired all of the shares of Minera Cerro Quema SA. Minera Cerro Quema was granted extraction contracts for gold and silver in early 2007.Footnote 166 Campbell completed a feasibility study that year which affirmed that Cerro Quema would be an economically viable project at an assumed gold price of $400 per troy ounce. Campbell’s management team actually gave their approval for the mine’s development in early 1997, but later that year had to defer the investment decision in light of the decline of gold prices to under $300 US. The project was put into care and maintenance: it remained there until December 2001 when Campbell sold its interests in Cerro Quema to an offshore investment company, Carena Equities Corporation.

Shortly thereafter, RNC Gold, another Canadian junior, entered into an agreement with Carena to re-evaluate the property. RNC undertook additional field work, updated the feasibility study and reserve estimates and eventually (2005) acquired a 60% interest in the project. The project did not move to construction. In late 2005, RNC and Yamana merged, and everything was put on hold.

In mid-2006, Yamana sold its 60% interestFootnote 167 in Cerro Quema to another Canadian company, Glencairn Gold (later renamed Central Sun Mining). While Glencairn had an interest in evaluating development possibilities,Footnote 168 no further work was planned for 2007. By the end of 2007, another company, Bellhaven Copper and GoldFootnote 169 entered into option agreements with both Glencairn and Carena Equities Corporation that would ultimately allow Bellhaven to consolidate all ownership interests in Minera Cerro Quema SA. This happened by mid-2009.Footnote 170. Towards the end of the year, Bellhaven initiated discussions with other parties to access the financial resources needed to build a mine and bring it into production. The led to an extended negotiation in 2010 with the Canadian junior, Pershimco Resources Inc.. In order to consummate the deal Pershimco had to acquire and consolidate all outstanding interests and obligations of Minera Cerro Quema.Footnote 171

Pershimco went on to implement a fairly robust exploration program, confirming that Cerro Quema might be more than a gold mine, and that potentially mineable copper porphyry underlies the gold cap. The company also initiated various community donation and engagement projects (as was discussed in greater detail in the site visit section). After the Counsellor’s visit in September 2016, Orla Mining and Pershimco merged. Orla Mining is now the owner and operator of Minera Cerro Quema SA. In March 2017 Orla applied for a 10 year extension to the extraction contracts issued in 1997 to Minera Cerro Quema SA. The project remains, as noted above, in advanced exploration mode.


Footnote 1

Santa Rosa mine in Veraguas Province was developed and operated by Greenstone Resources

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Footnote 2

In Veraguas Province, the Remance mine was operated by a Panamanian private company, Transworld Exploration.

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Footnote 3

For more detail see Appendix 2.

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Footnote 4

Originally identified as an interesting copper occurrence during the UN exploration programme of the late 1960s-early 1970s

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Footnote 5

See Appendix 2 for a more detailed description of their activities.

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Footnote 6

Both Santa Rosa and Remance

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Footnote 7

This was related in part to deteriorating market conditions for copper and gold.

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Footnote 8

A “comarca” is an administrative region for a specific indigenous population.

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Footnote 9

Such as Los Hatillos (Veraguas), Pitaloza (Veraguas) and Viento Frio (Colon) – all held and managed by Bellhaven Copper and Gold listed on the TSX, but operating out of Panama City.

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Footnote 10

For example, the environmental clean-up of El Molejon mine site.

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Footnote 11

The main national environmental NGO addressing extractive sector issues is CIAM. See

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Footnote 12

Indigenous peoples’ associations and political organizations promote and defend indigenous peoples’ rights at national, regional and local levels, ranging from land rights, economic development, consultation and consent, as well as project specific concerns that are not limited to a particular economic or industrial sector. See the discussion on Mining and Indigenous Peoples below.

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Footnote 13

These include groups concerned specifically with Cerro Quema, and the Remance and Santa Rosa mines. Some are still active. For more information about these groups and their concerns and efforts, refer to Marco A. Gandasequi, Jr, no date, “La Mineria y Los Movimientos de Resistencia Popular en Panama“, 8 p. and Jesus Alemancia,, “El Extractivismo en Panama,” especially section 2, pp. 161-163, in Mauricio Alvares et. al., 2015, El Extractivism En America Central: Un balance del desarrollo de los industrias extractivas y sus principals impactos en los paises centroamericanos, Fundacion Friedrich Ebert, Panama.

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Footnote 14

See Appendix 2 for more detail on these properties.

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Footnote 15

This has proved already to be problematic for the municipal government of Donoso, which received significant sums of money from construction taxes paid by the Cobre Panama project during the past few years. In 2011, the press suggested that Donoso would go from being the 5th poorest municipality in the country to one of the most prosperous. ( When the monies began to flow in, the District government was not able or nor was it properly prepared to manage or use the new revenues s wisely. (Note: based on information shared by government officials and others during the visit).

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Footnote 16

The Cerro Quema project is located between the two districts, but legally sits in Tonosi. Both districts are in Los Santos province.

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Footnote 17

The situation at Cobre Panama is more complicated. The project is located in Donoso district (Colon province), but the district seat is Miguel de la Borda near the Caribbean coast (not accessible by road) but the closest established community is the “mining” town of Coclesito on the border of Colon province and Cocle province. Coclesito provided the majority of local labor to El Molejon gold mine and now to Cobre Panama. The neighboring district is La Pintada, through which the main road from Panama City and the provincial capital of Penomene run to the project site via Coclesito. The Cobre Panama construction tax was paid to the Donoso district office in Miguel de la Borda.

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Footnote 18

Some of these may be managed by mafias and related to the drug trade. These apparently are semi-mechanized operations, involving underwater suction extraction and resulting in environmental damage of the river. Other mines may be indigenous artisanal operations. However the Counsellor was unable to visit any of these sites and can neither confirm nor contradict various claims or allegations relating to these activities and how the Government may attempt to manage or control them.

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Footnote 19

This has been as simple as referring to companies as “Canadian” which have no Canadian connection, but may also involve the “reporting” of false information. For example in 2011 one commentator referred to “Canada’s sadly famous Rio Tinto Zinc” working with Panama’s state mining corporation (CODEMIN) and “plundering the country of a huge amount of gold…”. The commentary was entitled “Open Mining “Hell” in Panama”. RTZ was at the time of its involvement with CODEMIN at Cerro Colorado in the 1980s, a British company with Australian connections through its merger with Consolidated Zinc in 1962, and then a British-Australian company after its amalgamation with CRA (Australia) in 1995. It had no known Canadian connections when it was involved at Cerro Colorado. Nor were CODEMIN or RTZ involved in the extraction of gold ores at Cerro Colorado or elsewhere.

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Footnote 20

Petaquilla Gold’s community investment program was initiated during the advanced exploration and development periods (2005 – 2009) and continued during the mine’s operation.

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Footnote 21

Barro Blanco is a large hydroelectric project that was built on the edge of a comarca which initially received strong opposition from local indigenous groups.

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Footnote 22

This may be seen by some as a continuation of previous Governments’ efforts to develop and expand the extractive sector; none of which were particularly successful. Whether the current Government efforts will yield more positive results, remains to be seen.

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Footnote 23

The territory was named as such by Ferdinand II of Aragon in 1513/1514 based on the reports of Columbus and Balboa.

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Footnote 24

Often employing indigenous or African slave labour; these vein deposits were later reworked by British interests (1887-1907), who recovered another million ounces. (rf. Nelson, Carl E., 1995, “Porphyry Copper Deposits of Southern Central America,” Arizona Geological Society Digest, v. 20, p. 553-565)

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Footnote 25

Especially Ngäbe and Embera peoples. The Remance deposit was first mined by indigenous peoples in the 19th century.

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Footnote 26

It is estimated that 60% of the gold sent from the colonies to Spain between 1531 and 1660 was transported via the trans-Isthmus portage routes.

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Footnote 27

For a detailed description of the migration and its impact on Panama’s political development, refer to Aims McGuinness, 2008, Path of Empire: Panama and the California Gold Rush, Cornell University Press, 249 p.

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Footnote 28

It extended from Colon on the Atlantic side to Balboa near Panama City on the Pacific side, a distance of approximately 75 km, and still operates today alongside the Panama Canal. Even before the gold rush, the political confusion and conflicts which were part of the regional New Granada and Gran Colombia developments (post 1819 independence from Spain), complicated political dynamics playing out in Panama as well as the area’s strategic importance as a transit zone. In 1846 the United States negotiated (imposed) the Bidlack Malorino Treaty, which provided the US with a guaranteed right of way through the isthmus as well as the right of military intervention to ensure the political neutrality of the isthmus, but retained the political connection of Panama to Colombia. The Treaty remained in force until 1903, when the US formally recognized Panama as a separate independent republic (no longer attached to Colombia) on November 13, and when the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was signed on Nov 18, which enabled the construction of the canal and conferred a right of sovereignty in perpetuity over the canal zone to the US.

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Footnote 29

In 1963, the Government approved and gazetted Decree Law No. 23, Panama’s new Code of Mineral Resources.

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Footnote 30

In late 1965, the Government reached an agreement with the United Nations Special Fund to carry out a minerals survey of different parts of the country. These studies were carried out in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in the Azuero peninsula, but more significantly in the province of Colon and along the San Blas coast up to the Colombian border. (Refer Carman, John, 1979, Obstacles to Mineral Development,Pergamon, NY, ch 5 on UN mineral exploration activities from 1960 to1976; as well as the US Bureau of Mines Minerals Yearbook reports on Panama from the 1960s to the 1970s)

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Footnote 31

Created by Decree #404 in December 1970.

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Footnote 32

Three of particular interest are: Petaqulla, Botija and Rio Medio.

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Footnote 33

It is now referred to as the Kuna Yala comarca.

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Footnote 34

No further exploration activity occurred until a small Canadian company, Western Keltic Mines Inc, secured exploration concessions within the comarca in the mid-1990s. Although the company attempted to reach agreements with traditional leaders (Northern Miner), nothing ever came of these efforts.

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Footnote 35

In Bocas del Toro and Chiriqui provinces, for example, Asarco Exploration Canada was granted a concession to explore the Cerro Chorcha deposit (1969-1972). Pavonia S.A., a privately held Panamanian company applied for and was granted the right to evaluate the Cerro Colorado property. A Canadian junior company, Canadian Javelin, entered into an agreement with Pavonia SA to start serious exploration work on Cerro Colorado in 1970, with an option to acquire ownership shares in Pavonia SA. Kennecott Panama (US) was also awarded exploration concessions in Bocas del Toro.

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Footnote 36

Six companies showed interest, but there were no immediate takers.

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Footnote 37

The Japanese consortium’s main partners included Mitsui Mining and Smelting, Dowa Mining Co., Mitsubishi Metal Corporation and Nittetsu Mining Co.

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Footnote 38

The operating company was called Panama Mineral Resources Development Company, with the Japanese consortium holding a 60% interest and the Government the remaining 40%.

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Footnote 39

See Appendix 2 for more details on Cerro Colorado.

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Footnote 40

Arlo Resources Ltd.

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Footnote 41

It was initially explored by the consortium of Japanese companies.

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Footnote 42

Although this statement was made in 1963 (see Sumner M. Anderson, “The Mineral Industry of Panama,” US Bureau of Mines Minerals Yearbook 1963, p. 117), it held true throughout this period and even to the present.

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Footnote 43

This reality is described in the annual reports of the US Bureau of Mines on the Mineral Industry of Panama throughout the 1960s to the 1990s.

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Footnote 44

The Government’s promotion of sector development coincided with the assumption of presidential powers by Colonel Omar Torrijos. From the 1968 coup d’etat until his death in a plane crash in 1981, Torrijos was the de facto head of state. One of the four focus areas of his government’s efforts to strengthen the national economy was to promote diversification of the country’s economic base via large-scale development projects. However, the Torrijos government was committed to asserting “Panamanian control” over any new mineral resource development in the country. This was to be achieved through joint venture arrangements, in which the government would have a majority equity interest. The development of Cerro Colorado was valued for its potential to diversify the economy, improve the country’s balance of trade and create jobs in the formal sector (see Chris Gjording’s book referenced in FN below), but it also provided the government with the opportunity to establish its ownership and control rights, especially with regard to large project developments. During this period, the Government also continued to refine and improve elements of the Code of Mineral Resources with a series of amendments (1964, 1969, 1970, 1973, 1974, 1984, 1985),

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Footnote 45

The Espiritu Santo mine at Cana and the Remance mine, respectively.

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Footnote 46

Freeport Panama carried out exploration drilling on the Santa Rosa property from 1986 to 1989. Freeport sold its exploration contract to Boliden International of Sweden and the Canadian junior, Greenstone Resources in 1990. Greenstone Resources was able to bring this property into production and operated the Santa Rosa mine from 1994-1999.

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Footnote 47

Cyprus Exploration and its subsidiary, Minera Cerro Quema SA, initiated work on the Cerro Quema property (1990-1994). Although the company decided not to move the project forward to development, the property was picked up by Campbell Resources (also a Canadian company) in 1996.

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Footnote 48

There is an interesting indirect link between Greenstone Resources and RNC Gold that may have contributed to RNC’s interest in getting involved in Panama through Cerro Quema. When Greenstone went into bankruptcy in 1999/2000 (see Appendix 2), the chief operating officer of Greenstone became the CEO of RNC Gold.

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Footnote 49

These included Adrian Resources Ltd, Minnova Panama, Metall Mining (which was later called Inmet), and Teck Resources.

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Footnote 50

These included Tiomin Resources and later Aur Resources.

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Footnote 51; also see the Adrian Resources Ltd press release of February 3, 1997 available on SEDAR.

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Footnote 52

CODEMIN, the government’s para-statal mining corporation, was set up in 1975, to manage the government’s interest in the Cerro Colorado project, after the junior company, Canadian Javelin, was unable to meet the terms of its concession agreement with the government.

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Footnote 53

This occurred in two parts – (1) by buying out the shares of Petaquilla Copper Ltd (Vancouver), a company created by Petaquilla Minerals Ltd in 2006 to which Petaquilla Minerals Ltd transferred title to Georecursos International SA along with its ownership interest in the Ley Petaquilla concession and (2) by acquiring Teck Cominco’s 26% interest in the Petaquilla copper project, which Teck had secured in March 2008 in accord with the terms of Teck’s original financing agreement with Adrian Resources in 1991, reaffirmed in the Shareholder Partnership Agreement of 1997.

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Footnote 54

This is discussed more fully in Appendix 2, but it involved Adrian Resources (renamed Petaquilla Minerals Ltd) assuming ownership and control of the gold deposits through a new national subsidiary, Petaquilla Gold SA, while the copper deposits remained under the control of Minera Panama SA .

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Footnote 55

The Ministry of Industry and Commerce formally authorized the start-up of production in November 2009.

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Footnote 56

This mine turned out to be a controversial business venture in its own right, and when it shut down without notice, employees and the Government were left holding the “bag”.

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Footnote 57

This not only includes legislative measures, but also allegations of influence peddling and corruption in mineral concession transactions and of manipulation and trading of mining company stocks.

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Footnote 58

In the case of Cerro Colorado, while some conversations with companies may have taken place during this period, with the passage of Ley #11, mining was prohibited within the Ngäbe Buglé comarca. This established a formal ban on exploration or development. See Legal Framework section below.

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Footnote 59

This is further discussed in the sections below on mining law and on mining and indigenous peoples.

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Footnote 60

See Stewart Redwood, “Growing market: Panama is emerging as a strong mining player”, Mining Journal, December 20/27, 2013, pp. 25, 27. And Anthony Vaccaro, “More big things to come from little Panama,” The Northern Miner, vol 100 no. 5, March 17-23, 2014

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Footnote 61

The third relating to Santa Rosa is held by a US based company in Utah.

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Footnote 62

The Corridor is an international conservation project which extends from Mexico/Belize to Colombia running through Panama along the Caribbean littoral.

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Footnote 63

Santa Fe and Omar Torrijos parks in Colon.

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Footnote 64

Donoso multiple use forest reserve within the MBC.

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Footnote 65

Some of these situations are alluded to in the more detailed discussion of Appendix 2, particularly around the potential reactivation of the Santa Rosa mine during the Martinelli years. This included the issue and approval of the country’s second example of contract law in 2013 to a privately held Panamanian company, Vera Gold Corporation SA (Contract Law # 92 of 7 November 2013). Vera Gold is a privately held Panamanian company whose chief executive lives and works out of Utah.

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Footnote 66

Article 257 of the country’s constitution

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Footnote 67

The law was crafted based on studies financed by the US International Cooperation Administration and completed in 1958. A copy of the law can be found on the webpages of the Dirrection Nacional de Recursos Minerales at

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Footnote 68

Archiving of geological information

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Footnote 69

Covering non-metallic mineral resources

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Footnote 70

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Footnote 71

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Footnote 72

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Footnote 73

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Footnote 74

Royalties in Panama now range from 4% - 8% of production, depending on the classification of the resource and concession.

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Footnote 75

Interview notes with different parties. The Canadian Embassy and Pershimco Mining co-sponsored a series of workshops focussed on building municipal government fiscal and project management capabilities held in 2015 and 2016. The Counsellor was able to attend the introduction to one of the workshops held in Tonosi for mining municipalities.

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Footnote 76

No new exploration or exploitation contracts appear to have been approved in the past five years according to data on the website of the Ministerio de Comercio e Industrias:

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Footnote 77

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Footnote 78

The following discussion draws principally on information contained in (1) Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya: Addendum – the status of indigenous peoples’ rights in Panama, (A/HRC/27/52/Add. 1), 3 July 2014, 20 p., (2) The Indigenous World (2016 and 2017), Panama chapters, published by the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, (3) Osvaldo Jordan, (2014), ““I Entered During the Day and Came Out During the Night” : Power, Environment, and Indigenous Peoples in a Globalizing Panama,” Tennessee Journal of Law and Policy, vol 4, issue 2, article 10, 39 p., (4) Julie Velasquez Runk, (2012), “Indigenous Land and Environmental Conflicts in Panama: Neoliberal Multiculturism, Changing Legislation and Human Rights,” Journal of Latin American Geography, vol 11, no 2, pp. 21-47; and with respect to the Guaymi (Ngäbe and Buglé): (5) the published work of Dr. Chris Gjording (1981, 1982, 1991 - see FN 73 below for the full references), (6) Rogelio Cansari and Quentin Guasset, (2013), “Along the Road: The Ngäbe-Buglé Struggle to Protect Environmental Resources in Panama,” International Indigenous Policy Journal, vol 4, issue 3, article 5, 15 p., (7) Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, Mining Watch Canada and Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert, (2013), “Supporting Communication to the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples – submitted on behalf of the Congreso General Ngäbe Buglé y Campesino,” 15 p.

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Footnote 79

San Blas (Kuna Yala) established in 1938; Madugandi in 1996 and Wargandi in 2000

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Footnote 80

Ley 72

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Footnote 81

In such a case, recognized indigenous lands would contain 75% of the country’s forested areas.

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Footnote 82

This was confirmed partly by the work sponsored by the United Nations in the late 60s and early 70s.

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Footnote 83

80% to be held and managed by State’s new Corporacion de Desarollo Minero Cerro Colorado (CODEMIN), established in 1975 by Ley 41 (

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Footnote 84

Ngäbe and Buglé people were previously referred to as Guaymi.

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Footnote 85

The initial impacts of the Cerro Colorado copper project and the Teribe-Changinola hydroelectric dam project on the Ngäbe /Guaymi indigenous people are described by the late Dr. Chris Gjording, in a series of three publications: (1) “The Cerro Colorado Copper Project and the Guaymi Indians of Panama,” Cultural Survival Occasional Paper 3, March 1981, 50 p., (2) “The Social Impacts of a Multinational Corporation on the Guaymi of Panama,” in Charles Geisler, Rayna green, et. al. (eds), Indian SIA: The Social Impact Assessment of Rapid Resource Development on Native Peoples, University of Michigan Natural Resources Sociology Research Lab Monograph No. 3, 1982, pp. 371-411, and (3) Conditions Not of Their Choosing: The Guaymi Indians and Mining Multinationals in Panama, (1991) Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 409 p. The quoted information that follows is drawn from Dr. Gjording’s work (1) and (3) referred to above.

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Footnote 86

Swidden agriculture (also referred to as shifting or slash and burn agriculture) is mainly practiced in tropical zones. It is based on rotation of fields, some being worked while others lay fallow, in order to restore soil fertility and maintain agricultural productivity. With increasing population, or land alienation, the land areas available to farmers may diminish; leading to a shortening of fallow periods and a decline in soil fertility and plant yields.

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Footnote 87

Ngabe anxieties and uncertainties also expressed themselves in the emergence of the Mama Chi “revitalization” movement in the 1960s within the Ngabe community. This movement and experience seemed also to support and strengthen Ngabe resolve when it came to protesting both government inaction and outsider intrusions.

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Footnote 88

See Appendix I, p. 49 in Chris Gjording’s “The Cerro Colorado Copper Project and the Guaymi Indians of Panama,” Cultural Survival Occasional Paper 3, March 1981. Opinion: had the Government delivered on its promise to demarcate and formalize an Ngabe-Bugle comarca, the Ngabe might have been then willing to negotiate the terms for the development of a mining project

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Footnote 89

L AWG was able to investigate the Canadian connections, e.g. between Texasgulf and the Canadian Development Corporation, and provide access to other international social justice groups and the Bertrand Russell Tribunal. The papers and documentation collected and produced by LAWG regarding Cerro Colorado and connections to Export Development Corporation of Canada are archived at York University within the CERLAC library (

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Footnote 90

The initial draft of Bill 415 included a provision (Article 5) cancelling all valid exploration and exploitation concessions, as well as the construction of hydroelectric projects within the comarca and in Ngäbe-Buglé communities outside the comarca.

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Footnote 91

International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs (2016), The Indigenous World 2016, p 116.

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Footnote 92

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Footnote 93

The ratification of the ILO Convention by Panama remains a “priority issue” for the country’s indigenous peoples. See for example, Panama Today, “Indigenous request government to ratify ILO Convention,” August 10, 2017 (

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Footnote 94

Through its subsidiary, Minera Panama.

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Footnote 95

Through its subsidiary, Minera Cerro Quema

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Footnote 96

Please visit:

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Footnote 97

The municipality which a mining concession is located in is very important in Panama because of the variety of tax benefits that municipalities receive, as explained below.

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Footnote 98

This would involve the stacking of crushed ore onto a specially prepared pad; the leachate would be a dilute cyanide solution.

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Footnote 99

It seems that most of this occurred prior to the start of organized exploration activities.

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Footnote 100

Rio Quema, La Llana, Quebrada Quema, Boca de Quema and Rio Abajo.

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Footnote 101

Not clear when they were abandoned.

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Footnote 102

FRESACOMI - Frente Santeño Contra la Minería

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Footnote 103

This was created as some forest fires had broken out in the area during the dry season due to slash-and-burn agricultural practices in the areas that are suitable for farming on the concession.

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Footnote 104

One from the company, one from an independent unit, and one from Panama’s Ministry of Environment.

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Footnote 105

These donations are monitored by the central government and the company receives a monthly report on how these donations are spent. Eleven of the communities are in Tonosi, and eleven are in Macaracas. Communities were constantly approaching the company for donations to build or fix small projects in their communities at which point the company decided to allocate a regulated amount of donations to each nearby community, rather than giving on a case-by-case basis.

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Footnote 106

The issue of expired licenses and continuing exploration activities was recently brought to the attention of the Counsellor by the local community based organization, FRESCOMI.

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Footnote 107

The ESIA includes 371 commitments which are reviewed quarterly by CODESA.

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Footnote 108

The company taught 12 communities how to take water samples which can be brought to a private courier in a nearby town, where a pre-paid account had been sent up, in order to send the samples to an independent lab. The results from the lab are also monitored by the University of Chiriqui.

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Footnote 109

At the time of the visit four families, totaling about sixty people, from the Petaquilla community had not agreed to resettlement as the other eight families from their community did. The CSR Counsellor’s Office received notification from the company that a successful resettlement agreement was reached with the remaining families in January 2017 in collaboration with each of the families, the local clergy and the Ministry of Government.

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Footnote 110

When First Quantum took over the property, it also took over management of the resettlement process.

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Footnote 111

The company claims that these private security forces have been trained extensively using the Voluntary Principles on Business and Human Rights framework.

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Footnote 112

Normally, Panamanian law stipulates that a maximum of 15% of a company’s workforce can be foreign.

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Footnote 113

Since the Counsellor’s visit, the Government has hosted visits of Australian and Swedish delegations. The Australian mission of October 2016, sponsored by Austrade and Australia Unlimited, was designed to highlight Australian approaches to building institutional capacity to allow for a responsible and sustainable mining sector (see The Swedish trade delegation visit (June 2017), sponsored by Business Sweden, was more of a knowledge exchange and investment promotion initiative (see

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Footnote 114

Apart from the UN Special Fund exploration programmes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Interamerican Development Bank also provided technical assistance to the government.

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Footnote 115

This may in part be due to the fact that Panama has resolved disputes, e.g. Canadian Javelin, internally and provided what both parties accepted as reasonable compensation.

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Footnote 116

As noted above in FN 75,the Counsellor had the opportunity to attend one such session held in Tonosi, and found the . participants appreciative of the opportunity to learn and hoping for more training.

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Footnote 117

See the following media stories for more information: (1) Newsroom Panama, 2015, “Martinelli facing $2.3 billion demand over Petaquilla,” and 2016, “The tainted history of the “father of Panama Mining;” 2017, “Judge visits Canada in Martinelli shares probe.”(2) Eric Jackson, 2016) “Environment Minister files criminal charges against Petaquilla

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Footnote 118

These companies are listed in the Table of Canadian connected companies

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Footnote 119

A good example of this is Petaquilla Minerals Limited, which owned Petaquilla Gold S.A. and retained for a time interests in Minera Panama. Of its 7 Managing Directors in 2008, only one was Canadian, its Chief Financial Officer; three were residents and citizens of Australia and three were residents and citizens of Panama, including the company’s President and CEO, Richard Fifer.

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Footnote 120


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Footnote 121

One of the problems with existing and proposed accountability mechanisms is that they hold business to account after the fact, and may only be preventative in an indirect way, as a disincentive for bad behavior.

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Footnote 122

Such as the interdisciplinary and interinstitutional graduate program developed by McGill University and STRI.

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Footnote 123

Appendix 2 draws heavily for its information on a number of sources, including the US Bureau of Mines Panama country reports, company disclosures via press releases, technical and financial reports available in the SEDAR depository of company documents and the geological studies of Carl Nelson.

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Footnote 124

With its acquisition of the concession holder, a Panamanian company Pavonia S.A.

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Footnote 125

Exploration agreements under the 1963 Code of Mineral Resources did not convey a secured right to exploit; only a preferential right to apply for a mining concession should the property prove to be feasible extraction.

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Footnote 126

One of the government’s major focus areas was to strengthen the national economy by diversifying the country’s economic base via large-scale development projects. However, the Torrijos government was also committed to asserting “Panamanian control” over any new mineral resource development in the country. This was to be achieved through joint venture arrangements, in which the government would have a majority equity interest. The development of Cerro Colorado was valued for its potential to diversify the economy, improve the country’s balance of trade and create jobs in the formal sector (see Gjording), but it also provided the government with the opportunity to establish its ownership and control rights, especially with regard to large project developments. This approach was not new to the industry, with governments in Chile and Zambia attempting to assert greater management control over their privately held copper mines, ultimately resulting in their nationalization.

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Footnote 127

This appears not to have been an open, competitive process. It has been suggested that the Government’s decision to select Texasgulf as its partner may have turned on the fact that the Canadian Development Corporation held a 30% equity interest in Texasgulf, and was willing to facilitate a major project financing package through Canada’s Export Development Corporation (refer Marvin Mikesell)

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Footnote 128

Texasgulf would be responsible for coordinating the evaluation studies, the mine’s design, its construction and operation, and the marketing of all saleable product. After a 15 year period, the Government would have the option to take full ownership and management control of the company.

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Footnote 129

Canadian Javelin was awarded much less than what it had argued for.

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Footnote 130

The company had a limited period of time to reach a construction agreement with its partner, CODEMIN. The nature of the discussions were more complicated than simple economics, but not worth expanding on in this document.

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Footnote 131

Apart from the depressed copper market, this seemed also to be related to government’s resisting a company request to make certain adjustments to the labor laws which would reduce the costs of certain obligations.

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Footnote 132

Georecursos S.A. was a Panamanian company, owned by an offshore company, Almond, and registered in the British Virgin Islands. Almond itself was wholly owned by a Panamanian corporation, Minamerica Corporation whose principals included Richard Fifer, Julio Benedetti and Juan Pardini among others.

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Footnote 133

The ownership options and structures set up and exercised to 1997 as well as the exploration program are described in greater detail in Adrian Resources Ltd. 257 page Form 20-F Annual Report to the US Securities and Exchange Commission for the fiscal year ending January 31, 1997.

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Footnote 134

Metall Mining became Inmet Mining in 1995.

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Footnote 135

Ultimately shares were divided 48% to Minnova Panama S.A., 32% to Adrian S.A,, and 20% to Georecursos (by then wholly owned by Adrian).

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Footnote 136

At this point in time, Georecursos S.A., Inmet, Teck and Adrian Resources Ltd, and Minera Petaquilla S.A.

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Footnote 137

In this agreement, all ownership interests were turned over to Minera Petaquilla S.A, which seems to have been created to serve this purpose. While Teck at this point had no ownership interest in Minera Petaquilla, it did have the right to acquire 50% of Adrian’s ownership interest or 26% ownership upon meeting certain conditions, as per the terms of a financing agreement signed in April 1991 (see the SEC Annual Report referred to above).

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Footnote 138

Apparently a draft of this contract had been completed in December 1995, but was amended and finally authorized in January 1997.

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Footnote 139

About 20% lower that the long-term price used in the feasibility study for the project’s financial evaluation of the project (see Adrian Resources Ltd News Release of May 14, 1998).

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Footnote 140

Adrian Resources Ltd, officially changed its name in December 2004 to Petaquilla Minerals Ltd (PTQ on the TSX) and its management team, including the appointment of the controversial Richard Fifer, as its President and CEO.

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Footnote 141

Subject to the Government’s acceptance of the multi-phase mine development plan and pay out of a graduated net smelter return (1-5%) depending on the price of gold at the time of production to Teck and Minnova

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Footnote 142

Petaquilla Minerals Ltd, the former Adrian Resources LTd would continue to hold a 52% interest in Minera Petaqilla SA.

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Footnote 143

The CEO of Petaquilla Gold SA, and Petaquilla Minerals Ltd, Richard Fifer left for Colombia after the collapse. When he returned to Panama in February 2016, he was detained and held for trial for fraudulent acts. Petaquilla Minerals (Canada) and Petaquilla Gold (Panama) face multiple civil lawsuits where he is now on trial.

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Footnote 144

The Panamanian subsidiary of Cyprus Metals Exploration Corporation (Cyprus-Amax Minerals (US)) as part of an exploration and option agreement to purchase the Chorcha exploration concession from Arlo Resources Ltd, a Canadian junior company, based in Vancouver. The concession itself was held by a Panamanian subsidiary, Geo-Minas SA.

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Footnote 145

The exploration concession only provided a right to explore, and a right of first refusal or preferential option to apply for an exploitation concession should the property warrant further development.

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Footnote 146

The granting of the mineral exploration concession was gazetted on April 4, 2006.

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Footnote 147

Bellhaven Ventures changed its name to Bellhaven Copper and Gold Inc, and changed out its senior management team in October/November 2006, after it finalized the agreement to acquire Cuprum in October.

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Footnote 148

Empire Minerals became Dominion Minerals in early 2008.

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Footnote 149

Empire also acquired 65% ownership of Cuprum Resources. A Canadian drilling company, Cabo Drilling, was contracted to initiate a deep drilling program in 2007.

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Footnote 150

An indirect subsidiary of the US company Freeport McMoran.

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Footnote 151

Approximately 25,000 meters.

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Footnote 152

The split was Boliden at 51% and Greenstone at 49%,with Boliden as the project operator.

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Footnote 153

Greenstone bought out Boliden’s interest.

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Footnote 154

Greenstone agreed to sell all shares of Minera Santa Rosa SA to Seabridge in return for Seabridge assuming all of its liabilities (Greenstone News Release dated November 18, 1999; see also Seabridge Resources Inc. News Release of March 28, 2000, “Seabridge Terminates Santa Rosa Acquisition”.

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Footnote 155

Refer to R.R. Fernandez, et. Al., 1997, “Managing the Santa Rosa Open-Pit, Heap-Leach Gold Project”, Journal of the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society (JOM), vol. 49, issue 4 (April), pp. 15-17.

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Footnote 156

This collapse of the gold prices affected more than Santa Rosa. “Development” decisions involving other gold projects in Panama were negatively affected, e.g. Cerro Quema.

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Footnote 157

See Erin Ventures News release of October 26, 2009.

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Footnote 158

Erin Ventures has suggested that these transactions were not above board. When it was clear that Minera Canazas would not gain title to the land or exploration contracts, Erin pulled out of Panama.

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Footnote 159

Vera Gold appears to be held by a private US company Lake Mountain Mining based in Salt Lake City, Utah which possibly coordinated the feasibility and design studies with consulting firms in the US.

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Footnote 160

The local principals of Silver Global and Veragold have come under some legal scrutiny for questionable practices.

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Footnote 161

Compania de Exploracion Mineral SA (CEMSA).

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Footnote 162

November 1989, officially gazetted in February 1990.

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Footnote 163

The same company that was engaged in the renewed exploration of Cerro Chorcha.

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Footnote 164

In 1994, CEMSA’s 20% interest was converted into a 3.5% net smelter return should the project go into production. This was later reduced to 2% in 1996.

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Footnote 165

The property was optioned by Cyprus to an affiliated entity, Amax Gold, which chose not to move forward with the project.

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Footnote 166

CEMSA’s exploration concession was officially transferred to Minera Cerro Quema SA in October 1996, then converted into extraction concessions in February 1997.

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Footnote 167

Acquired in the merger with Greenstone.

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Footnote 168

The Canadian consulting firm, AMEC, completed a project review for Glenncairn in November 2006.

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Footnote 169

The CEO of Bellhaven and Carena (which still held 40% of the shares) were the same person.

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Footnote 170

In 2007-2009, a number of things happened. Bellhaven affected the transfer of Carena Equities’ 40% interest to itself. It exercised its option to acquire Glencairn’s 60% interest, completed in mid-2009, and bought back a number of outstanding net smelter return obligations held by CEMSA SA and Campbell Resources through its subsidiary Meston Resources. By mid-2009, Minera Cerro Quema SA became a wholly owned subsidiary of Bellhaven, although Bellhaven still had certain re-payment obligations to Carena and B2 Gold. An interesting side story relates to Glencairn, which went through a number of significant changes during this period. Glencairn changed its name in November 2007 to Central Sun Mining Inc. Central Sun Mining was itself integrated into B2Gold, another Canadian company, in early 2009. Bellhaven in fact had to complete the acquisition of Glencairn’s 60% interest with the B2 Gold in 2009. During this period, Bellhaven undertook additional field studies and test work; constructed an office and base camp; continued work on environmental baseline studies, and began to evaluate financing options for the development of the mine. (see Bellhaven News Releases, especially of December 19, 2007 and May 1, 2008)

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Footnote 171

This required reaching a comprehensive with all of the parties, including B2Gold, Carena Equities, Bellhaven Copper and Gold, and Julio Benedetti (CEO of both Bellhaven and Carena), among others.

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