The 1849 California Gold rush brought boom times to Panama as thousands of prospectors traversed the isthmus heading for San Francisco. Now gold has become the country’s biggest export.
In the first half of the year $51.3 million of the precious product, extracted from the hills of Colon province was shipped out of the country.
Panama's total exports in that period fell to $386 million, 2.7% less than in the first half of 2011, according to figures released by the Comptroller..
In the first half of 2012, banana exports rose 1.3%, to $. 43.8 million, the melon 3.9%, to $5.9 million, sugar 14.5%, to $27.8 million, and beef 46.2%, to $ 11.9 million.
The largest percentage increase in exports was for cattle which leapt to $1.4 million from $90,000.
Negative changes were watermelon, down 4.2%, to $15.8 million; pineapple, -16.5%, to $14.3 million and coffee, -19%. to $6.8 million
Tuna and fish exports continued their decline, down 52.5% to $13.1 million,
The economist Alvaro Naranjo says "It is better to export materials like gold because not much, not be sold locally or given to the poor. It is not a productive material”.
While he admitted that the environmental issue is delicate, companies must abide by standards of environmental responsibility.
Petaquilla Gold has been the only gold mining company in the country for commercial purposes since 2010 but the state only receives only 4% royalty.
In May the royalties paid for the second half of 2011 were $1.01 million, for exports of $39.8 million, according to the Comptroller.
Petaquilla, which is advertised as "clean mining, responsible and modern", began operating without an environmental impact study of Donoso in the forest.
Rodrigo Esquivel, President of Petaquilla Gold, that in addition to royalties is the social impact generated in the community, as the delivery of the mining royalties generates jobs.
Environmental associations argue that the loss of primary forests, streams, water quality and biodiversity is not offset by royalties received by the state.