On Tuesday, Panama’s Supreme Court ruled that First Quantum Minerals’ contract to operate the Cobre Panama copper mine is unconstitutional, after weeks of protests against the country’s only mining operation.

Protests initially broke out last month when the Panamanian Government awarded Minera Panama, a local subsidiary of First Quantum, a contract giving it the right to mine copper in the region for 20 years. Activists demanded that Panama be free of mining to rescue its ecosystem.

After operations were forcibly suspended at the mine last week, as protestors blocked off key power supplies, Panama’s supreme court entered legal deliberations on Friday. A verdict delivered via a live stream was watched by around 24,000 people on Tuesday morning.

Maria Eugenia Lopez, the court’s president, said: “We have decided to unanimously declare unconstitutional the entire law 406 of October 20 2023.”

According to Reuters, First Quantum acknowledged the ruling and confirmed its “unwavering commitment to regulatory compliance in all aspects of our operations within the country”.

The Cobre Panama mine produced around 1.5% of global copper supply in 2022 and was responsible for around 40% of First Quantum’s revenue.

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By GlobalData

On Sunday, while the legal process was still under way, First Quantum sent Panamanian authorities a notification of intent to start arbitration proceedings. It claimed the move was “a formality required by international treaties, with the purpose of opening a dialogue of at least 90 days between the parties”.

In 2017, a previous First Quantum contract was ruled illegal, but operations continued while the parties negotiated a new deal. Protestors received support from US actor Leonardo Di Caprio, who  criticising the mine on social media.