It is the most important private investment project in the history of Panama and one of the largest copper mines in the region: Cobre Panama is practically operational and is preparing for start exporting mineral concentrate from the second half of the year.
Nestled in a jungle and steep hill, in the area of Donoso, 200 kilometers north of the capital, this open-pit mine plans to export 320,000 metric tons of copper concentrate per year to full capacity, which in the international market it is equivalent to 2,000 million dollars.
The mine, which has a useful life of 34 years and which construction amounts to 6,300 million dollars, will triple Panamanian exports, which do not exceed 600 million dollars a year.
"This project is the largest foreign investment in the history of the Republic of Panama and the second most important infrastructure project, after the (interoceanic) canal and its expansion", Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela said on Monday.
The president participated in the so-called "first grinding", a symbolic act in which it is commemorated that for the first time the copper rocks are being ground and with which the mining company warns potential buyers that it will soon start exporting.
Panama is thus entering the world copper market, a relatively stable commodity and increasingly used in the technology sector and in the construction of hybrid cars, according to analysts. Chile is by far the largest producer of copper in the world and China the main buyer.
The project director of the Canadian multinational First Quantum Minerals, Zenon Wozniak, acknowledged in the same act that "more than one thought it would be impossible" to move the mine forward when the company acquired the rights in 2013.
"Those who doubted said it was a very remote place, Donoso was isolated and the land was treacherous, it was too rainy and the country had no experience in copper mining, today we say to everyone who doubted they were wrong", the manager added.
The project, which has employed more than 13,000 people since it began, also includes the construction of an international port on the Caribbean coast from where ships loaded with copper will depart, a kilometric access road and a 300-megawatt power plant (MW).
Panama has placed much of its hopes on this copper mine to once again take the lead in economic growth in Latin America.
The majority of international organizations agree that the country, which a few years ago was the envy of the region with double-digit rates, will grow above 5.5% in 2019, more than one point more than last year, mainly thanks to the mine.
"Today (this Monday) we began a new economic era in our country, with a diversification of our pillars of economic growth and social development", said the Panamanian president.
The mining sector in Panama represents only 2.5% of the national economy, but the Chamber of Mining estimates that it will reach 9.5% of GDP when copper begins to be exported.
The history of this site, which also includes molybdenum and gold to a lesser extent, dates back to 1968, when it was discovered by an expedition from the United Nations. The Canadian Petaquilla Minerals obtained in 1997 a concession to exploit 13,000 hectares, but did not make any development and ended up selling the rights.
The work has gone through different vicissitudes since its inception, such as a long strike in demand for wage increases or a judicial ruling that annulled the 1997 mining concession, in addition to criticism from environmentalists for the alleged impacts on the environment of this megaproject.