Protests Are Shaking Up Adult Panama

Many countries have sought to control Panama because of its unique and highly desired location and concentration of natural resources. More than one day is celebrated as Independence Day from countries such as Colombia and Spain. Still, nothing changed Panama more than on December 31, 1999, when the United States government turned over the keys to the Panama Canal.


That date is often referred to as Panama’s actual birthday as an independent country, and it has proven accurate. Panama has gone from a toddler unsure how to walk with new responsibilities to today as a twenty-something telling the world we are a partner in this global economy, not a possession. With conviction and passion, Panama is healthy and adult enough to decide what kind of country it wants to be.

Thousands of demonstrators gather along the main thoroughfare of Panama City and the Cinta Costera, disrupting traffic and bringing attention to the ramifications of the current copper mine contract. While there has been violence, the crowd usually marches to tunes by Panama’s activist and Grammy winner, Ruben Blades. (Courtesy Getty Images)

With major highways, world-class healthcare, water and sanitation plants, a subway and comprehensive public transportation, social safety nets, gleaming skyscrapers, and the fastest-growing economy in Central America and much of Latin America, Panama is on the global stage and ready to play.


Protests Have Shaken The Country

The sprawling Cobre Copper Mine in Panama sits along the Caribbean coast and is responsible for almost 6% of Panama’s GDP. The current contract gives Canadian mines potential rights for up to 40 years.

But as in all developed countries, Panama continues to question internally, and for the past four weeks, protests have shaken the country. Roads have been closed, and businesses have been interrupted. Thousands of Panamanians have taken to the streets from David to Panama City and beyond to call foul over a mining contract with the Canadian-based company First Quantum. The mine has operated in Panama for almost ten years, creating 9,387 direct jobs and up to 31,000 additional indirect jobs. Their annual payments to the government for the copper mine account for around 6% of Panama’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).


What??? Why isn’t all that good for Panama? Of course, jobs and a growing GDP are tremendous. Still, the demonstrators say while their protest is about a mining contract (“because Panama is worth more without mining”), it is also about allowing transparency in government and, at last, shaking off the idea that Panama is corrupt.


A Sweetheart Deal Not Fully Disclosed

Fresh vegetables grown in central Panama’s “bread basket” cannot make it into Panama City due to strikes and road closures, so grocery stores have bare shelves and a lack of many produce items. It is also causing hardships for the local farmers.

Protestors say the mining company had a sweetheart deal with the government, whose officials may have benefitted directly or indirectly. The initial contract was not fully disclosed, and just now, the older, wiser Panama has the confidence to challenge the status quo. According to environmental activist and former vice mayor of Panama City, Raisa Banfield: “For the first time, the arguments were making it to national television. When many people listened to the environmental impact, climate, economic, judicial, and technical arguments, they woke up.”


No one hates the road closures, business interruptions, and general uncertainty any more than I do. I am chagrined to admit I have screamed into the abyss and beaten the steering wheel of my car more than a few times. Grocery stores have empty shelves, mainly produce that would have easily come in from the middle of the country, grown locally but today cannot get through the barricades. Restaurants are rearranging menus, and just this morning, my brunch was without tasty potatoes.


But not having potatoes or broccoli on my plate is nothing compared to how vital this time is for Panama. Both sides have points, and when it comes down to it, the protest is not just about a contract. Other essential considerations include deciding whether Panama wants to be a country that preserves or develops its national resources and at what cost. The issue of governmental corruption and the necessity for transparency is also a significant consideration.


Lower Property Values?

Many of my clients and friends have called to inquire about the ramifications of the strike. While serious, I have considered it a positive direction for Panama and around essential topics. Are property values going to take a hit? Is it safe to invest in Panama? Did anyone worry about the United States’ property values or stability when the United Auto Workers went on strike? And, is it much different for me to be inconvenienced in traffic than North Americans not having late-night television shows because of the Screen Writers Guild strike? In one word, NO.


Panama is still an incredible place to live, retire and invest. We are open for business despite these temporary interruptions. I’d love to chat with you. Call, text, or email me. I can keep you posted on property ownership opportunities and Panama’s latest chapter.