Palestine, Panama, the DRC: Impact by Extraction

As the West becomes increasingly dependent on the natural resources within Black and Indigenous territories, the tactics used to extract said resources have become inconceivably violent. In the case of Palestine, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Panama, imperialist powers have made it clear that the survival of civilians is inconsequential to the profits of resource extraction. The assault on Palestine is inseparable from the fresh water and oil fields that the Israeli government is insistent on controlling. Similarly in the DRC, the massacre and displacement of thousands stems from mining companies and their profit-maximizing goal of extracting cobalt and other minerals, often operating outside the realm of accountability. In Panama, the original contract between the Canadian mining company, First Quantum, and the Panamanian government attempted to erode the country’s sovereignty, violate terms of Escazu Agreement, and compromise the access to fresh water for Panama’s largest Black community in Colon. All of these efforts towards environmental imperialism mean the displacement, destruction and oftentimes murder of local communities, in which  Western states like the United States, Canada, France, and the UK have a vested interest. In Gaza, over 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli apartheid state since October 7, 2023, in the DRC, millions have died since 1998, and most recently in Panama, two protestors were murdered by a United States lawyer for expressing opposition against the unequal mining contract. This pattern of settler and imperial violence has taken an irreversible toll on the environment and local communities, and has shown the world how Indigenous communities have been historically and presently displaced, dispossessed, and killed for the benefit of settler colonialism, imperialist extraction, and private business interests. 

The natural resources that lay under Palestinian soil is one of main reasons for Israeli occupation. Natural gasses, oil, and fresh and ground water flow in abundance in Palestine, despite Palestinians being restricted from using these resources by the Israeli government. After the War of 1967, Israel gained control over Palestinian fresh water under Military Order 92. This order stripped Palestine of all control over their water supply, and prevented Palestinians from constructing their own infrastructure around maintaining water without a permit, a rule that does not apply to Israeli settlers. Attempts by the Israeli government to gain complete control over natural resources in Palestine have violated both humanitarian and environmental international laws. With Israel’s current status as an occupying power makes them legally obligated to follow certain humanitarian laws including, restoring electricity, lifting the 16 year blockade, and resumming access to basic resources such as fresh water and health care. Between 1999 and 2007, Israel over-extracted fresh water in the West Bank by 80%, as was allotted in the Oslo Accord and reported by the World Bank. This has left irreversible damage on aquifers and permanently dried wells and springs throughout Palestine, which is a direct human rights violation. Part of the reason for the current assault on Gaza can be traced back to the discovery of oil fields in Gaza in 1999, which exposed new levels of Israeli control of Palestinian autonomy. Fast forward to present day, Israel announced on October 30th, while raging genocide against Palestinian civilians, that their government has approved licenses for six different companies to explore natural gas fields dangerously close to Gaza maritime territory. Prioritizing resource extraction has always come at the expense of human and environmental rights, and if the profit is big enough it will avoid any accountability for lives lost and environments destroyed. In the case of Palestine, Israeli extraction of Palestinian natural gasses will permanently displace thousands of Palestinians, while expanding on “carbon bomb” gas projects that threaten terms made in the Paris Agreements.  

This pattern of the extractivist economic agenda steamrolling through internationally recognized human and environmental rights has also taken over the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As it is well known, the DRC is one of the most mineral rich countries in the world, containing thousands of diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, tin, tantalum and lithium mines. Since the production of rubber under Dutch colonization, there has been a long history of Western military operations and multinational interests plundering the natural resources of the DRC. It has been made clear that weakened and unstable DRC meant higher rates of exploitation and even higher profits. 

In a 34 billion dollar a year industry, cobalt and copper miners are paid between 2-3 USD per day. In order to maintain these profit levels, collaboration between private companies and the DRC military is necessary to repress any opposition against child labor, inhumane working conditions, or below poverty level pay. In the DRC town of Kilwa in 2005, Canadian mining company Anvil Mining provided logistical support to the Armed Forces of the DRC to suppress a small uprising, killing 80-100 civilians in the process. This clear indication of government support of profit over people has sustained the continuation of rebel groups forming in opposition. This high level of exploitation also makes it impossible for any real economic or social development to take place. This accountability freezone for mining companies has created a crisis that has displaced 5 million people, killed 6 million since 1996, and has led to a long trail of failed humanitarian projects that are unsustainable in this climate. As cobalt mining is done with little environmental oversight, mines continue to pollute water supplies, create toxins in the air, and contaminate crops, making entire villages and towns unlivable for entire communities. Mining companies have entered into the DRC under the false narrative of widespread employment and GDP improvement,  and the results are displacement, exploitation, environmental degradation, and widespread violence for the sole purpose of resource extraction.

Panamanians have also rejected this blatant disregard for the well being of the community in exchange for an extraction based economy, where mining makes up to 10% of the country’s GDP. Over the past two months, Panamanians have consistently taken to the streets to protest the contract between the Canadian mining company First Quantum and the Panamanian government. This contract is intended to mine copper in the province of Colon which holds both Panama’s largest Black population, and Central America’s largest copper mine. Before contract renegotiations started, Quantum First paid Panama $61 million annually to operate mines within the country while taking home $3.2 billion dollars in revenue. This follows the same pattern as the canal contract between the United States and the Panamanian government, where the U.S. paid $250,000 annually to operate the canal in Panama while bringing in millions in revenue. However, since 2018, Panama’s supreme court has ruled Quantum First’s original contract unconstitutional, as it infringes on Panamanian autonomy of governance, economic mobility, and control of natural resources. Despite this ruling however, mining operations have started, exemplifying how little regard mining companies have for local autonomy. Since 2019, the mining giant has faced numerous lawsuits in regards to environmental degradation, contaminating fresh water supply and crops for local communities, and most commonly mass deforestation. The contract and subsequent operations have led to numerous violations of the Escazul Agreements which protects the rights of public participation and awareness of environmental implication. Protests against these violations have led to a complete halt in mining operations, but also a deep reflection of over prioritizing foreign economic interest at the expense of Panamanian autonomy. These protests have shown that time is well overdue for Pamana to center the environment and its Black and Indigenous defenders, and steer away from dangerous extractivist economic policies. 

The expansion of the extractivist economy continues to have a deadly impact on local communities, and a permanent impact on the environment. To achieve climate or racial justice in any capacity, it is imperative that we consider where and how Imperialist powers get resources to create such violent atrocities. “The continuation of extractivist policies in places like Palestine, the DRC, and Panama will have lasting effects on the entire world, while putting Black and Indigenous communities on the frontlines. It is imperative that we hold governments and private companies accountable to follow the international human and environmental agreements to which they signed. . In order to maintain any legitimacy of human and environmental justice, we have to ensure the liberation and protection of autonomy of these communities. The current  exploitation and commodification of the environment is a direct reflection of how governments are willing to exchange people for profit. Without a free Palestine, a free DRC, and a free Panama, there is no climate justice.