"Please Explain How Mining and Hydroelectric Projects Help Panamanians"

Monday, February 27 2012 @ 03:35 PM UTC

Contributed by: Don Winner

By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - The following was received this morning as a comment to an earlier article - but I though it was worth hauling out to "prime time" as an opportunity to address some of the more salient points regarding mining and hydroelectric projects in Panama. "Why should the Indigenous want mining or hydroelectric in Panama? Why should anyone except of course those politicos and foreign corporation who benefit? How much electricity is sent up to Mexico and the US. Why should those who live here suffer the environmental degradation with little benefit and much harm? The Ngobe live on dirt floors, cook inside on wood campfires, and walk almost everywhere they go because they have little infrastructure. I do not see any offers of electrification of their homes or help with community water systems, much less roads, or telephone - television signals. I do not see the Environmentalists as exploiting the Indigenous, but instead, I see them supporting them and every other Panamanian citizen not in the very richest strata of the country. Please explain how these projects would benefit the Panamanian citizenry?"

Editor's Comment: OK, I'll take these points one at a time:

How Does Mining Benefit Panama? One word - money. Mining generates a whole lot of new economic activity and all of it is excellent, wonderful news for Panama. There are several primary revenue streams;

Environmental Impacts and Mitigation: Many people are knee-jerk anti mining, mostly on environmental issues. Personally I tend to be in favor of the further development of the mining industry in Panama as long as it's done in a responsible manner, with proper oversight and with applications of techniques to mitigate the environmental impact. The anti-mining environmentalists tend to point to the worst examples of poor management and mines done badly. And, while I personally am in favor of mining on the money side of the equation, I most certainly do not support blatant criminal destruction of the environment. However there are many industries that are "ugly" on the surface. There's no such thing as a "pretty" open face copper mine. But have you ever seen the inside of a refinery? Taken a tour of a meat processing plant? You are protected from all kinds of "ugly" things every day, and most of the people who oppose mining do so using their laptop computers - which contain lots of copper - so therefore they are hypocrites. Anyway, my own personal bottom line revolves around the word "mitigation" - meaning you can find a way to do the mining while reducing or mitigating the environmental damage as much as possible. And, it's not impossible to do with modern techniques and practices.

The Value of Hydroelectric Projects: Panama has the lowest rates for electricity in all of Central America. Opposition politicians scream and complain about "higher costs of electricity" but in reality those costs would be much, much higher if it were not for the many hydroelectric projects in Panama. Panama does not export electricity, and in fact the expansion of the production capability is just barely keeping pace with local (Panama) demand as the national economy continues to grow and expand.

Environmentalists Hurting The Ngobe People: There is a global environmental movement that does not want any mining, anywhere on the planet. The Ngobe are sitting on a massive copper deposit at Cerro Colorado - worth billions upon billions of dollars. They are quite literally sitting on a gold mine, however they simply do not have the ability to take advantage of that resource. Imagine if you had gold under the ground behind your house and you owned the mineral rights - but you're broke and starving. Does it make sense that some foreigner should come to your house and tell you that you should not take advantage of those resources - to protect the environment? Of course not. I would like to see the Ngobe people basically "get their shit together" and negotiate a separate deal that would benefit them for many generations. That would not only lift them out of poverty but make them relatively rich. Consider this - the Bedouins were extremely poor desert dwelling camel jockeys for thousands of years until the industrial revolution drove a need for oil - which they happened to be sitting on in the Arabian peninsula - and now they are billionaires. Go figure. Good thing the environmentalists care more about jungles than deserts, eh?

So, The Bottom Line: It all comes down to the money. If the government of Panama has more money from taxes on industrial activities and royalties then they can spend it to do good things for the Panamanian people. The operation of the mines will help to further expand the economy, and create more jobs and business opportunities. Sitting on a gold (or copper) mine and not taking advantage of those mineral resources is just plain stupid. Sure, protect the environment, mitigate the damage, but damn man, don't be dumb. "No, you might need oil, but we like our desert sands the way they are. Oil wells are "ugly." We've been living like this for eight thousand years, and we're happy being this poor. Go away, and don't let the camel bite you on the ass on the way out..." Yeah, good call.

Copyright 2012 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.

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