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Panama: peaceful protests against CDM hydropower project stopped by police force (Newsletter #14)

CDM Watch reported in its last Newsletter from April 2011 about the heavily contested Barro Blanco CDM project in Panama. A month on, protests continue, as outlined in the eye-witness report below.

The Barro Blanco project is a 28.84 MW hydroelectric power plant in the district of Tolé, in the province of Chiriquí, Panama. The Barro Blanco project has faced strong resistance dating back to 2008[1]. Plans to build a dam at this site have been opposed since the 1970s. Serious concerns have been raised about the additionality of the project. There has also been criticism of the lack of adequate public consultation and human rights abuses involving the company GENISA against the Ngobe indigenous peoples.

Concerns were officially submitted by numerous indigenous communities and environmental groups in Panama during the public consultation period of the project. Although confirmation was sent from the UNFCCC secretariat that comments were received, the auditor (AENOR) has never made them public or taken them into account when validating the project.

This has led to the first launch of a complaints procedure against a DOE pursuant to the new rules for complaints procedures against a DOEs and is currently being investigated by the UNFCCC secretariat. The concerns also prompted an ongoing investigation by the European Investment Bank (EIB).

Nonetheless, the project has requested registration which is pending and will be discussed by the CDM Executive Board at its upcoming meeting starting on 30 May 2011.

Recommendation to the CDM Executive Board:In view of the serious concerns raised by grassroots groups in Panama, CDM Watch is calling on the CDM Executive Board to extend the review of the project registration request to examine the issues raised above and then, to reject the project. The results of the European Investment Bank´s investigation should be taken into account when deciding on the fate of the project.

Eye witness report by Oscar Sogandares from the Asociacion Ambientalista de Chiriqui (ASAMCHI):

the The Movement 10 of April for Defense of the Tabasará River (M10) and the indigenous Ngobe Bugle people continue to peacefully protest against the proposed CDM hydro power project. The protesters point out that the project will flood hundreds of hectares of fertile alluvial banks of the Tabasará River and illegally expropriate dozens of hectares of land that belong to the indigenous Comarca Ngobe Bugle.  Expropriating indigenous lands is in clear violation of the Constitution of Panama [[2]] which “establishes the right of a collective property and the law forbids the private appropriation of indigenous people’s land”; and further violates Law 10, article 17 [[3]] which states that such lands are “inenajenables” (inalienable, in-transferable) and strictly forbids its private appropriation.The project has already reached such notoriety that the European Investment Bank EIB, the original financiers of the project, threatened to investigate the claims which lead the project owner GENISA to withdraw their request for loan[[4]].

On March 28, M10 members started a protest camp at the entrance of the Barro Blanco project [[5]]. On Friday May 6 the group held a rally at the bridge over the Tabasará River which the Ngobe consider sacred.  For more than seven hours they held up traffic, trucks, passenger-filled buses and cars on the Pan-American highway to raise awareness about the project.[[6]]  When riot police arrived and put on their gas masks the protesters agreed to stop the rally and to hold emergency talks.[[7]] Those talks have not lead to any reconciliation.  

On May 17, the Government of Panama dispatched a large police force to block the entrance to the Barro Blanco Dam Project[[8]]. The last news I heard was that there were three contingents of riot control police in the area, some guarding the entrance, others at the Tabasará Bridge to avoid further blockages, and the rest at the local police station, to suppress any popular protests against the project. I was later informed that machinery have already entered into the Barro Blanco project site and started to work there, in violation of the suspension of the project. [[9]]

The protesters would like to make known to the world that the project developer GENISA has trampled Panama’s laws and has violated the rights of the indigenous Ngobe Bugle people and ignored the protests of the peasant population who are not protected by the indigenous rights laws. The government of Panama has repeatedly suppressed dissent against the project and the most affected people have neither been consulted nor heard.

Oscar Sogandares G.

[2] Constitución Política (enmendada en el 2004) de la Republica de Panamá

[3] Ley 10 del 7 de marzo de 1997 que crea la Comarca Ngobe Bugle

[4] Tabasara Revisited published in The Panama News

[5] Massive Protests against Barro Blanco Hydropower Project in Panama

[7] Gobierno acuerda suspender trabajos en la hidroeléctrica de Barro Blanco

[8] Fracasa diálogo entre indígenas y el Ejecutivo La Prensa 18 May 2011

[9] Acuerdo (manuscrito original y firmado) alcanzado por el Gobierno y el M10 el 6 mayo 2011

Acuerdo alcanzado por el Gobierno y el M10 el 6 de mayo 2011 (copia)

English translation of the agreement reached by the govt of Panama and the Movement M10 on May 6, 2011


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