Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Jaime Calle Moreno discuss the protests in Panama related to a controversial copper mining contract, plus more on a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, the Australian Prime Minister’s visit to China, local elections in the U.S. and the latest on Ukraine’s bid to join the E.U.
NOTE* The podcast will be off for a few weeks, so our next episode will publish on Nov. 30. In the meantime, we are a 24-7 newsroom, so be sure to follow us on Twitter, or X as it’s called now, where we’ll still be posting breaking news.
*This note was updated on Nov. 20 to reflect an additional week off.
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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Sophie Perryer, Jaime Calle Moreno, Irene Villora, Vivian Wang, Joe Veyera and Alex Moore. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
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Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:
Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.
Today is November 2nd.
In this week’s forecast we’re discussing protests over mining contracts in Panama, a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, the Australian Prime Minister’s visit to China, local elections in the U.S. and the latest on Ukraine’s bid to join the EU.
You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.
Panama mining contract and protests
Information compiled by Jaime Calle Moreno
JIMMY: Up first, we’ll take a look at the growing protests in Panama. For more on that I’ve got fellow Factal editor Jaime Calle Moreno.
JIMMY: Hello, Jaime.
JAIME: Hi, Jimmy, how's it going?
JIMMY: It goes well. I'm glad you're here. It's not too often we have major news in Panama, but here we are. What can you tell us about these protests that have broken out? What triggered these demonstrations?
JAIME: Yeah, of course. So, on October 20, it was announced that the Panamanian government had approved and accepted a contract with a Canadian mining company, which is called First Quantum Minerals Limited and its subsidiary in Panama, Minera Cobre. The contract is for a 20-year extension to service and extract copper from the Panama Cobre mine. And to give some context, it's one of the largest, kind of, new open-pit copper mines globally. It's around a little over, I think, 33,000 acres and it accounts for around three to four percent of the country's GDP. Now, the mine itself is in a very biodiverse region of the country, which is specifically in the Colón province, and there have been some issues in the last years regarding the impact of the subsidiary company and the extraction of copper having an environmental impact and, due to tax issues, between the two – between the mining company and the Panamanian government. Mining had kind of stopped late last year, around the same time that these allegations were made by local associations about environmental regulations not being met. So this year, a new offer was made, a much more lucrative one than the one previously. It was around, I think, $375 million. And so after a three-day debate, earlier this October in the National Assembly – which is a very quick turnaround for this type of contract – the government contract was signed. Now, immediately after, protests started across several regions led by different types of labor and civil unions. Specifically, also the teachers union was there. And while the majority have been peaceful, many were not. And they've all been kind of citing the rapidity at which the contract was signed and also for its environmental reasons. Additionally, Panama's kind of undergoing a water crisis due to drought and so the extension of this mine may divert large amounts of water needed elsewhere, which is something that demonstrators are arguing. Now, the protests have been largely along the Pan-American Highway that kind of crosses the entire country and they've been blockading it at multiple points with fiery barricades. But as the protests continued, they've become a little bit more brazen and intense.
JIMMY: And what's the latest? Are there any new developments?
JAIME: Yeah, so this week, protests and police have had clashes, with tear gas used in several points to attempt to disperse people in Panama City, specifically. In one instance, when protesters attempted to break down the barriers in front of the country's National Assembly, police used quite a lot of force to try to disperse them. The latest figures, while I'm speaking to you right now, indicate that almost 40 police officers have been injured throughout these protests and more than 800 people have been arrested so far in, kind of, the last 10 days, which is when the protests have been happening. Now, injury tolls among the protesters are hard to tell. There's not many reports of protester injuries. But there's been acts of vandalism towards vehicles and shops as well as government buildings. Now, the protests have kind of blocked a lot of Panamanian commercial and agricultural activity by cutting off the main roads. And so in a way, these anti-mining protests and demonstrations are affecting the country in more ways than one. Protests have continued every day since the contract has been ratified and they don't seem like they're gonna die down in the immediate future. I think one of the most recent developments, in the last couple of days, has been really how the government has reacted, with President Laurentino Cortizo announcing a referendum on the mining contract for December 17. Now, when this was announced, which was this past Sunday, the day later the country's electoral body waved away the chances of a referendum happening, stating that the conditions for such a vote had not really been met. So that's, I think, where we are kind of at the moment.
JIMMY: What have reactions to these protests been like in Panama? You know, and around the world?
JAIME: Well, to be completely honest, they're just really not happy with the mining contract. Not only have Minera Panama been accused earlier this year of not following mitigation measures, not meeting regulatory aspects of the previous contract, and also, you know, they've been accused of clearing out biodiverse areas that allegedly weren't under the contracts geographical area or purview and they've also removed some archaeological findings when digging. It's pretty clear that a large part of the population is just against the contract in general. They really don't accept how it's going to affect, environmentally, that biodiverse region. Now the government, the way they've reacted, is, like I mentioned, they've tried to kind of appease the situation by first of all exemplifying the kind of financial benefits that contract brings. It would obviously employ thousands of people, as it's quite a large copper mine in general, and it would also receive a hefty amount of money from the contract itself, as well as further exports, of which is quite a bit in terms of this mine, in particular. In terms of the international reaction, we haven't seen much from countries themselves. But Panama is a pretty investor-friendly country and so nationwide protests over a copper mine from a foreign firm – it's something that might risk investors not to enter the market and affect the economy that way. We've already seen, as a result of the protests, a significant decrease in the share prices of this large Canadian mining company. And so, this is definitely something to keep a lookout for in the future.
JIMMY: Well, before you go, do you think maybe you can tell us what you think folks should be watching for next?
JAIME: Yeah, of course. So, well, it's unclear whether this referendum is really going to take place, at this time in December. It's yet to be seen if that goes through, what kind of impact it's going to have on the protests and the demonstrators themselves. Will they relax the protests if they see a chance to be able to vote on the actual referendum and on whether the contract is actually going to be ratified? This is one of the most important aspects for them, as well as because they felt that they weren't being consulted. It's pretty clear though that unless any major changes in the coming days happen, the protests are likely to continue, which means further disruption along Panama's most important roads in Panama City and Colón and other areas, as well as further clashes with police officers in populated areas or neighborhoods, especially where these major highways pass through. As we know, these can always escalate in a moment's notice. So it's kind of up in the air as to what exactly is going to happen and how long these protests last.
JIMMY: Well,Jaime, let's pause there for today. Though, 'm sure we may have you back if things in Panama start to escalate. I always appreciate you informing us. Thanks.
JAIME: Always a pleasure, Jimmy. Thank you.
JIMMY: Take care.
Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City
Information compiled by Irene Villora
JIMMY: Thousands of people will march through the center of Mexico City on Saturday for the annual Day of the Dead parade.
The four-hour-long event marks the end of the traditional Day of the Dead festivities, which began on October 21.
A convoy of floats and pedestrians will pass by iconic Mexico City monuments including the Angel of Independence.
Now, the city’s government has deployed more than 17,000 police officers to keep crowds under control, along with 38 mobile medical units. Multiple roads will also be closed.
The event will be broadcast live on local media channels.
Australia prime minister visits China
Information compiled by Vivian Wang
JIMMY: Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will travel to Beijing on Saturday. He’ll meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang.
Albanese’s trip will be the first by an Australian head of state since 2016.
Relations between the two countries deteriorated in 2020, when China imposed tariffs on imported Australian goods. However, they improved last year with the election of Australia’s center-left Labor government.
Now, China is Australia’s largest trading partner, accounting for almost a third of its trade with the world.
This trip is expected to improve relations further, with both sides saying they plan to reach a deal to end Chinese tariffs on Australian wine.
U.S. local elections
Information compiled by Joe Veyera
JIMMY: Voters in several U.S. states will go to the polls on Tuesday for local elections. Those polls will likely give an insight into the political mood ahead of next year’s presidential vote.
Republicans are seeking to gain ground in several states, after retaking the governor’s office in Louisiana in a primary back in October.
In Virginia, the GOP could seize full control of the state’s government if they are able to flip the Senate and retain the House.
Elsewhere, there’s potential for GOP victory in the New Jersey state legislature after Republicans made surprising gains in the traditionally blue state during the 2021 elections.
Finally, the incumbent governors of Kentucky and Mississippi are both running for re-election. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves is more likely to hold onto his seat, as Mississippi hasn’t elected a Democrat since 1999. However, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear faces more of an uphill battle in red-leaning Kentucky, where he’s facing a challenge from the state’s Republican attorney general.
Ukraine's EU membership bid to be assessed in report
Information compiled by Alex Moore
JIMMY: The European Commission will publish a report on Wednesday detailing how Ukraine is progressing in its ambition to join the 27-member bloc.
Ukraine has been seeking to join the EU for almost two decades. In 2014, the two parties signed an association agreement amid a revolution which triggered Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Several days after Russia’s full invasion in February of last year, Ukraine officially applied for fast-tracked membership to the EU.
Now, in order to join, Ukraine has to meet a set of economic, political and legal conditions. Wednesday’s report will track the country’s progress on those metrics.
EU leaders are expected to decide on whether to launch formal membership negotiations before a summit starting December 14.
Joining the EU would strengthen Ukraine’s partnerships with European allies and give the country access to a different level of support as the war with Russia continues.
JIMMY: One final note for you, the podcast will be taking a couple of weeks off. So, our next episode will be out on Thanksgiving, Nov. 23.
In the meantime, we are a 24-7 newsroom, so be sure to follow us on Twitter, or X as it’s called now, where we’ll still be posting breaking news.
JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.
Today’s episode includes work from Factal editors Irene Villora, Vivian Wang, Joe Veyera and Alex Moore. Additional writing by Sophie Perryer. Our interview featured editor Jaime Calle Moreno and the podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing email@example.com
This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed.
Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.
Music: 'Factal Theme' courtesy of Andrew Gospe