Panama: don’t evict Ngäbe families for the Barro Blanco dam

An indigenous Ngäbe Bugle The Barro Blanco hydropower project: destruction, despair and human rights violation (© Agustín Abad -
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For years, Panama’s indigenous Ngäbe Buglé community has been locked in a struggle to keep its ancestral land: the Barro Blanco dam is a hydropower project that threatens to flood their homes and schools, as well as their religious, archaeological and cultural sites. Please sign our petition against their impending forced relocation.

Call to action

To: the President of Panama, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Panama, the CEO of FMO, the Chairman of DEG and the Executive President of CABEI

“Cancel the Barro Blanco dam project in Panama – don’t flood the ancestral land of the indigenous Ngäbe Buglé.”

Read letter

Panama’s indigenous Ngäbe Buglé people is facing an ultimatum: the government has announced that their ancestral land will soon be submerged under a 240-hectare reservoir. The community's human rights are being trampled in the name of development and “clean" energy.

The Barro Blanco dam is being built in Chiriqui province in western Panama. The indigenous territories of the Ngäbe Buglé are located along the Tabasará river, upstream of the construction site.

The project is being financed by European development banks in Germany (DEG) and the Netherlands (FMO), as well as the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI). The UN has also approved the Barro Blanco project under its Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

The Panamanian government and banks are pushing ahead with the project without the indigenous community’s free, prior, and informed consent and in violation of a host of other human rights. According to official figures, only six hectares of recognized Ngäbe Buglé territory will be submerged. But for the people and their communities, which are inextricably linked to the river, the damage is far greater: they will be losing their water sources and their religious, cultural and archaeological sites.

The Ngäbe Buglé are calling for international support in their struggle against forced relocation. Please sign our petition to Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and the senior management of the development banks.


The petition is available in a variety of languages on the website of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL):

Barro Blanco Dam: take urgent action to protect the rights of the Ngäbes and ensure they are free from repression and eviction


Barrage de Barro Blanco: agissez pour protéger les droits des Ngäbe et assurer qu'ils soient exempts de répression et d'éviction


Represa de Barro Blanco: actúa para proteger los derechos de los Ngäbe y asegurar que estén libres de represión y desalojo


To: the President of Panama, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Panama, the CEO of FMO, the Chairman of DEG and the Executive President of CABEI

Dear President Varela,
dear Minister Henríquez,
dear Mr. Kleiterp,
dear Mr. Wenn,

I am deeply concerned by the imminent threat of forceful eviction of the Ngäbe communities affected by the Barro Blanco dam. These communities have challenged the project at every stage and continue to call for its cancellation. Given the previous conflicts and violence against people who oppose Barro Blanco, and considering the imminent completion of the dam, there is urgent, serious concern for the personal safety and security of these environmental and indigenous rights defenders.

Once completed, the Barro Blanco dam is projected to flood six hectares of Ngäbe indigenous territories including homes and schools, resulting in the forced relocation of many families, as well as the destruction of religious, historical, and cultural sites, which threatens the Ngäbe's cultural heritage. Despite these impacts, the Panamanian government approved the project without adequately assessing the project's environmental impacts or ensuring that the affected communities had given their consent.

Acknowledging these shortcomings, the Panamanian environmental agency, ANAM, decided to temporarily suspend the construction of the then-95% complete dam in February, 2015. The suspension, pending an investigation by ANAM, was justified because of shortcomings in the agreement with the locally affected communities. In September 2015, the Panamanian administration concluded its investigation and officially recognized the concessionary, GENISA, as guilty of failing to reach agreement with the affected stakeholders. As a consequence, the company was sanctioned with a fine amounting $775,000. The completion of the investigation lifted the suspension and construction resumed.

Despite official recognition of and sanction for the rights violations surrounding the project, including the lack of consultation, construction proceeds because the government declared that the completion of the project was a matter of national interest.

The local affected communities now fear that security forces will attempt to forcibly evict them from their lands, thus putting their physical safety at risk. Approximately 270 indigenous people are threatened with forced evictions. These evictions would violate the Ngäbe's human rights to adequate housing; property; free, prior and informed consent; food, water and means of subsistence; culture; and education.

Given the real and urgent threat of physical harm and illegal evictions, the international community calls on President Varela and relevant authorities to:

***Ensure that the Ngäbe are free from intimidation and repression

***Suspend the eviction process and reach an agreement with the local affected communities even if that means cancellation of the project, as required by Panama's obligations under international law.

Kind regards,

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