For more than a month, protests against Central America’s largest open-pit copper mine have held Panama in a state of siege. Roadblocks have caused gas and propane shortages. Many supermarket shelves have run bare. Restaurants and hotels have sat empty.
But on Tuesday, protesters in Panama got the news they were waiting for.
The country’s Supreme Court of Justice ruled that Panama’s new mining contract with the Canadian company First Quantum was unconstitutional.
Protesters danced in the streets in front of the Supreme Court. They waved the red, white and blue Panamanian flag and sang the national anthem.
The ruling, a big blow for investors and the country’s long-term credit rating, is, for the moment, a source of relief for Panama, which has been shaken by the country’s largest protest movement to plague the country in decades.
The news of the Supreme Court ruling came early on Tuesday – the day of the anniversary of Panama’s Independence from Spain.
“Today, we are celebrating two independences,” 58-year-old restaurant worker Nestor Gonzalez told media. “Independence from Spain and independence from the mine. And no one is going to forget it.”
People turned out to celebrate. The bistro where Gonzalez works, in the western province of Chiriqui, was packed with patrons by noon – something the restaurant had not seen since mid-October.
“We are so happy,” said Gonzalez, “because, we had been locked up in the province of Chiriqui for 35 days, without gas, without propane and with little food. I had to go look for firewood in the mountains because I had no propane to cook with. So thank God that the justices took a stand and issued this ruling.”