Panama: Ngäbe-Buglé stop dam project

A young Ngäbe-Buglé woman writing on a blackboard The Ngäbe-Buglé are concerned about the survival of nature and their indigenous culture (© CampañaTabasara -Libre- www.riotabasara.com)

Mar 3, 2015

A big victory for Panama’s indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé people: for years, they have been battling the construction of the Barro Blanco dam that would have flooded their traditional land. The Panamanian environmental authority ANAM has now put a stop to work on the hydropower plant until further notice.

The Panamanian government has ordered a stop to work on the controversial Barro Blanco dam. This was announced by Chancellor and Vice-President Isabel Saint Malo at the press conference of a government commission on February 9, 2015.

In 2013, a United Nations commission had criticized the fact that the state of Panama had not fulfilled its obligations with regard to the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous people. 

According to the Panamanian environmental authority ANAM, fraudulent environmental impact statements had been filed for the dam project in Chiriqui province. Furthermore, important archaeological sites would have been flooded by the reservoir.

An investigation by government officials found that the responsible companies Generadora del Istmo S.A. (Genisa) and Hidráulica San José S.A. had randomly cleared vegetation, moved considerable quantities of soil and rock, caused erosion that washed sediment into the river, and had been negligent in their handling of hazardous substances.

The life and culture of the Ngäbe-Buglé people is closely tied to the river and nature. For years, they have been fighting the dam project that would have flooded parts of their ancestral land along the Tabasará River, as well as a village and a school.

Rainforest Rescue, the German NGO Urgewald and other international organizations have joined with Panamanian environmentalists and human rights activists in calling for the project, and its financing by development banks, to be dropped.

In 2012, Rainforest Rescue addressed those responsible for the project with the petition Help the Ngäbe protect their rainforest. In June 2012, we personally delivered the petition with 36,800 signatures to Bruno Wenn, Chairman of the DEG development bank. DEG agreed to review its financing of the Barro Blanco project.

Since then, the government of the Central American country has entered into a formal dialog with the Ngäbe-Buglé people in hope of finding a mutually agreeable solution. 

The primary purpose of the Barro Blanco dam would be to provide cheap electricity to the mining industry.

Further information (in Spanish):

La Prensa, 19 Jan. 2015: Ejecutivo designa comité de alto nivel para diálogo con indígenas

La Estrella, 9 Feb. 2015: Gobierno ordena suspender proyecto hidroeléctrico de Barro Blanco

HispanTV, 28 Feb. 2015: Panameños piden cierre definitivo del proyecto “Barro Blanco”