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JEFFREY BROWN: Next, new battle lines are being drawn in the rain forests of the Americas, and billions of dollars are at stake. Canadian mining companies hold about 1,400 properties in developing nations from Mexico to Argentina.
One of those is in Panama, where local groups have teamed up with environmental activists to halt the building of new mines.
Our story is a collaboration with CBC News in Canada and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The producer is Lynn Burgess. The reporter is Mellissa Fung.
MELLISSA FUNG, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting: Deep in the Panamanian rain forest, more than three hours northwest of Panama City, small agricultural communities dot the landscape, places that have remained unchanged for generations.
Carmelo Yanguez has lived in this town of Coclesito for more than 40 years. A subsistence farmer, he lives on what he grows, planting coffee, rice and beans and fish from nearby rivers. But his peaceful life, he fears, is changing.
CARMELO YANGUEZ, farmer (through translator): Families typically grew their own food. However, when the mining companies arrived and hired people, food had to be brought in from outside, because nobody’s left to cultivate the land.
MELLISSA FUNG: Worse, he says, it’s not safe to eat the fish that is left in the river. He and other locals believe the cause is upstream, where the country’s only operating gold mine has been producing gold from its open pit since 2009.
Raisa Banfield is the head of the Sustainable Panama Foundation.
RAISA BANFIELD, Sustainable Panama Foundation (through translator): We receive reports of fish dying and also of animals that drink water from the river periodically. And those events coincide with periods of heavy rainfall that cause the tailings ponds with toxins to overflow. But those situations happen very quickly, so when you finally get there, you can’t prove that.
But we know it’s happening. And the authorities are not doing anything to prevent this.
MELLISSA FUNG: The mine is owned and operated by Petaquilla Minerals based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The company’s president, Richard Fifer, a native Panamanian, scoffs at the complaints.
RICHARD FIFER, Petaquilla Minerals: You see it yourself. Every day up there that you do, there are hundreds of people swimming in the river. That’s the best testament to how true that is, eh?
MELLISSA FUNG: Around Coclesito, it looks like one major construction zone, new roads, improved bridges. It’s all part of another major project that’s going up around Richard Fifer’s gold mine.
Inmet Mining of Toronto is building what will be one of the biggest copper mines in the world right in the middle of the rain forest in part of what’s known as the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, a protected zone spanning seven countries and home to thousands of animal and plant species, some of them endangered.
For the rest of this transcript, please go to the PBS News Hour website: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/world/july-dec12/conquistadors_07-17.html