Over the last years the various governments have sold a vast amount of concessions for hydroelectric dams all over the country, which, if all of these are indeed built, leaves Panama with much more electricity than we actually need. But the purpose is not to generate electricity for Panama, the purpose is to sell within the framework of SIEPAC, the Plan Puebla-Panama project to interconnect the power networks of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The electricity that is generated in Panama but not needed here can be sold to these countries, or further north to the US when these grids are connected.
Logically, foreign energy giants quickly smelled profits. Generate cheap energy in a third world country, sell it to the first world, leave a little bit of money in the third world but transfer the bulk of the profits back home. Pass the whole thing off as "clean energy" and you're in business. You might even be able to secure your piece of the carbon credit pie for fun and profit!
But they're neither clean nor responsible. For example, AES, a Canadian giant, got itself a concession inside a national park that is a UNESCO heritage site and forcibly displaced the indigenous people living in or near the valley they were going to flood. In a blatant display of multinational arrogance, they simply defied an order from the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights to stop construction of the dam.
Today in Chiriqui we saw another example of a foreign energy corporation going after its prey. Members of the Group for the Defense of the Fonseca River tried to block (not for the first time, by the way) heavy equipment from entering the site where a Spanish group, Grupo Cuerva, is planning to build an 8.1MW hydroelectric dam. The police showed up in full force, teargassed the protesters and took some prisoner.
It appears that the labor unions are right in denouncing that this proposed law to criminalize protests is being debated so that it will be easier to implement this type of rogue projects.
The Fonseca river is one of the most important rivers of Chiriqui, not just ecologically but also because it irrigates agricultural areas - Chiriqui is the vegetable basket of the entire country. Building a dam, locals fear, will negatively affect their livelihoods and even extend into the semi-independent Ngobe Bugle comarca.
Of course the local residents were never consulted about this dam.
So who or what is Grupo Cuerva? A quick search leads us to a Spanish gentleman called Ignacio Cuerva Valdivia, who was born on July 27th in Granada, Spain, and who had in the magazine La Gaceta Juridica the following to say about the Panama project:
Se trata de una central hidroeléctrica de 8.1 MW de potencia. Está ubicada en la provincia de Chiriquí. Es un proyecto precioso, no ya por el entorno natural, que lo es, sino por el enorme reto que supone para nosotros poder superar esta primera aventura internacional. Hemos concluido totalmente el proceso de tramitación y hemos obtenido la correspondiente concesión de aguas, lo cual le garantizo que no ha sido nada fácil. Actualmente, estamos en una fase avanzada para la obtención de financiación y esperamos comenzar las obras a mediados de 2010.
About Grupo Cuerva itself, he had the following to say:
El caso es que, tanto mi hermano como yo, que nos ha tocado en estos momentos estar al frente del grupo, y al igual que le ocurrió a mi padre, hemos tenido la tremenda suerte de encontrarnos con una organización a la que ellos impregnaron con una serie de valores. Creo que el reto permanente de mantener con dignidad esos valores y afrontar continuamente el desafío de un nuevo impulso de crecimiento en lo que en sí es el negocio, está siendo la clave para que la empresa haya tenido esta trayectoria. Dentro de esa filosofía, la empresa ha ido evolucionando con un equipo humano que, en cierto aspecto, han sido parte de la familia, con una entrega y profesionalidad de la que nos sentimos tremendamente orgullosos.
Well, we saw those "values" and "philosophy" at work today: Government gorillas beating up protesters, teargassing children and taking activists hostage prisoner. Such business ethics!
N.B.: Estamos buscando video o fotos de lo ocurrido de hoy en Chiriquí. Por favor envia a firstname.lastname@example.org
I live in Granada and have the misfortune to have been made a customer of Cuerva, when they took over our local electricity supplier. WIthout informing any of us, they took over, stopped charging by direct debit, sent us bills for more than before which can only be paid in banks and offices which are not locally available, and have even been cutting off vulnerable people who are not aware of the changes that have been going on. Nice! They have no customer service, and we have all had to use a lot of our own time and money (it takes over an hour to get to the nearest paypoint, and there is only one bus a day) to sort out a mess that they created.