The rainforest of the indigenous tribe Ngobe is a natural paradise for reptiles and amphibians, such as the endangered Tabasara Rain Frog. Now, part of it could be drowned due to the hydroelectric dam project Barro Blanco. Please demand the protection of the Tabasara rainforest.
The rainforest of the indigenous people Ngobe in Panama shelters an extraordinary diversity of species. Frequent rainfalls in the Tabasara mountains – located in the province of Chiriqui – provide enough humidity to turn this area into a paradise for amphibians and reptiles, many of them being highly endangered species which are only found in this particular region.
One of these species is the blue Tabasara Rain Frog, as Oscar Sogandares, Chiriqui Natural tells us. This beautiful creature lives exclusively on the riverbank which could soon be drowned as part of the planned artificial lake.
Oppression of indigenous protests
Panama's government has officially acknowledged the land to be indigenous territory. However, the Ngobe never gave their consent to the dam project. Their protests were brutally oppressed in February. At least two were killed, more than 100 injured, arrested and humiliated.
The construction costs of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric power station are estimated an equivalent of 100 million euros. Almost 20 million have been granted by three public development banks: the German DEG, the Dutch FMO and the Central American BCIE.
The indigenous people as well as conservationists are asking these banks not to allocate funds for this dam project in the heart of the rainforest.
Please write to the bank and demand the protection of this natural paradise and of the Tabasara Rain Frog.
Panama: UN expert calls for recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, concluded his official visit to Panama today. In his final statement, Mr. Anaya stated that indigenous peoples of the country are calling for greater recognition and protection of their territories and natural resources.
During his visit, the Special Rapporteur also heard indigenous peoples throughout the country express concerns regarding a lack of respect and deference by State authorities towards decisions by indigenous authorities.
Mr. Anaya noted that "...it is necessary to consolidate and implement State public policies in favor of the rights of indigenous peoples in a manner that is coherent with international standards." The Special Rapporteur also stated that "... an important advancement for the recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples would be the ratification of International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. Panama is one of the few countries in Latin America that has not yet ratified the Convention. Convention No. 169 is an instrument that compliments the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted in 2007 by the United Nations General Assembly with an affirmative vote by Panama."
Panama: Time is running out for Tabasará communities
On 8th March, during a 3-hour blockade which prevented vehicles from leaving or entering the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam construction site in western Panama, an 80-strong group of Ngabe protesters were dispersed by riot squads who pelted the area with tear gas.
According Voces Ecológicas Panamá, an alternative media outlet affiliated with Radio Temblor, five protesters were arrested on Saturday 9th March and carried away in the direction of Los Ruíces in Veraguas province.
Elsewhere, near Vigui and the dam site, M10 are continuing to mobilise and are threatening to close the Panamerican Highway. Composed of indigenous and campesino families living in the shadow of the dam, the group is seeking the complete cancellation of the project, which they say is illegal under national and international law.
Speaking to La Estrella newspaper on Friday, Toribio Garcia, President of the Regional Congress of the Comarca Ngabe-Bugle, said ‘the struggle is just beginning’. Silvia Carrera, the Cacica General of the Comarca, has already expressed her support, saying the government must listen to the demands of the Tabasará peoples.
Three indigenous communities will be directly impacted by the dam, which is almost 50% complete and advancing rapidly across the banks of the Tabasará river. Unless the project is suspended or cancelled, it will have cut off the valley by the onset of the rains in May or June 2013.
The impacts to the affected communities are likely to be deep and irreversible, and they have not been properly addressed by Genisa, the Honduran-owned company constructing the dam. In fact, their official environmental impact assessment contains several startling omissions.
Most significantly, the reservoir created by the dam is set to flood fertile lands that the communities rely upon for subsistence agriculture. It will also create a physical barrier to aquatic species that migrate between the highlands and lowlands, destroying the river’s precious stocks of fish and shrimp.
During a visit last year, a team of United Nations inspectors confirmed that some of the lands set for inundation form part of the collectively owned territories of the Comarca Ngabe-Buglé, which are protected under national law. The current President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, however, has consistently sided with the company, and confirming the concerns of US diplomats, appears to be ‘willing to set aside the rule of law to achieve his political and developmental goals’.
In the Tabasará river valley, opposition to Barro Blanco is virtually universal. None of the affected indigenous communities have been properly consulted about the project, much less provided their free, informed, and prior consent. In the community of Kia, a specialised Ngabere language school, a cemetery, church, and several houses will be destroyed, along with two sets of valuable ancient petroglyphs, their existence verified by the United Nations and of considerable cultural and archaeological importance.
Thus far, Genisa has denied it is taking food from the mouths of some of Panama’s most marginalized peoples. It is also ignoring the recommendations of the United Nations, which include the suspension of works until a more thorough impact assessment can be made.
Since the national police in Panama operate with virtual impunity, there are concerns about the safety of the protesters, who now feel compelled to take whatever steps necessary to protect their resources. The Martinelli administration also has an extremely poor track record for resolving civil crises peacefully. Your solidarity and vigilance is requested at this time.
May 24, 2012
Statement on the Barro Blanco dam project in the rainforest of Panama
The response of the German Investment and Development Company (DEG) to our “Dam action alert: Please help the Ngobe protect their rainforest” campaign was disappointing. The reply relies on superficial data that does not reflect the realities of the Tabasará region. We will continue to call on the DEG to stop the financing of the dam immediately.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the German Investment and Development Company (DEG),
Thank you for your reply pertaining to the financing of the Barro Blanco dam project in Panama, which was identical to the reply we received from you on March 23 – before we started our protest.
The total financing that the DEG and two other development banks granted for Barro Blanco amounts to US $25 million (the equivalent of nearly €20 million), and not US $25 as indicated in the letter.
The information provided by DEG is not verifiable. The DEG does NOT state which “international standards” it is applying. The cited “environmental impact study and other studies” have NOT been published. Their contents and results are therefore NOT known, nor are the names of the participating experts and companies.
The sole publication was a completely superficial “summary of social and environmental impacts of the project”. The name of the “internationally experienced environmental and social expert” responsible for the summary remains a mystery. The Ngobe indigenous people reject the study as completely inadequate and unacceptable.
The Senckenberg Institute in Frankfurt, Germany, has been performing field research in the Tabasará Mountains for years. Its scientists have documented 33 species of amphibians there that are classified as “endangered” or “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Some of the species are endemic, i.e. they occur only in the area that includes the Tabasará river valley. The researchers have published the results of their studies 1.).
It is also not very helpful for the affected indigenous population if the “environmental and social impacts of the project are limited to the local area”, as the DEG puts it. The fact is that the people have been using the river and its valley for a long time. The flooding of the valley would thus have a direct impact on the lives of the Ngobe.
It has been agreed within the framework of a UN-led dialog that new and appropriate technical studies must be carried out for the project. In the meantime, construction work must be halted. Nevertheless, the operating company has started construction work in the field, violating the agreements. The residents protested against it, occupying the building site on May 19.
Rainforest Rescue supports the demands of environmentalists and the indigenous peoples in Panama. They reject the dam project, calling for the immediate cessation of construction and revocation of the granted licenses. We call on the DEG and other development banks to immediately stop funding the Barro Blanco Dam.
1.) Andreas Hertz, Sebastian Lotzkat, Arcadio Carrizo, Marcos Ponce, Gunther Köhler, Bruno Streit, 2012: Field notes on findings of threatened amphibian species in the central mountain range of western Panama. Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (2012), Volume: 6, Issue: 2, Pages: 9-30
the German DEG, alongside the Dutch FMO and the Central American BCIE, is financing plans for a hydroelectric power station called Barro Blanco in Panama, having granted almost 20 million euros.
In order to produce 29 megawatt, a 55 metres tall dam is planned to be built in the course of the Tabasara river. This would lead to the banking-up of the river for miles and would cause the flooding of 1.6 square miles of rainforest and cultivated land.
The inhabitants and especially the Ngobe natives have been fighting against a hydroelectric power station on their land for decades. Time and again, the construction of Barro Blanco could not be put into effect due to the resistance of the people.
But now the military police is using brute force to oppress the protests of the people. At least two were killed, numerous are missing, dozens of people were injured and arrested - this is the sad summary of a police operation this February.
The DEG is referring to environmental and social studies, signed contracts and the laws of this Central American state. However, violence and shots fired at indigenous people who are struggling for survival are not compatible with basic and human rights.
The cited studies are highly superficial and loaded with imprecision and mistakes. For example, the environmental review states that the endangered animals are able to migrate to other areas. However, the extremely endangered blue Tabasara Rain Frog is not even mentioned in the study. In addition, even more contracts have already been signed for the construction of further hydroelectric power stations downstream.
The problems mentioned above are well documented and summarized in the television report "Panama: village of the damned":
Being involved with Barro Blanco, the DEG is also jeopardizing the previous success of development cooperation with the Ngobe.
Therefore, the bank should withdraw its support for the Barro Blanco hydroelectric power station project immediately and should refrain from granting further financial support.