Ngobe ask banks to stop financing Barro Blanco dam, prevent more bloodshed

PA130199

A radio documentary made by your editor Okke Ornstein about the controversial Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam under construction near Tole in the Tabasare river, has provoked questions in Dutch parliament. Legislator Jasper van Dijk wants the government to explain why state-owned Dutch development bank FMO is investing in the project while its European counterpart walked away from its commitment to finance it.

“I want to know what the vice-minister has to say in response to this documentary,” van Dijk said on Radio 1.

Meanwhile, a large group of Ngobe residents from the comarca, where various villages will be flooded according to surveys done by the UN, marched on Friday the 12th to demand that Dutch bank FMO and its German co-financier DEG withdraw their support for the Barro Blanco dam.

In the documentary, various Ngobe activists also called on the Dutch bank FMO to cut off the money supply to Genisa, the developer of the dam. Here’s an audio clip in Spanish, featuring Ricardo Miranda, community coordinator of the M-10 movement.

Falling off a horse – The adventures of Wilfredo Arias

Three weeks before that, on September 22nd, the so-called “field verification mission” had started. As a result of the protests earlier this year, this mission had been agreed upon between the conflicting parties as part of a larger effort, headed by the UNDP, to supposedly separate fact from fiction in the Barro Blanco project.

The commission, with members from the UNDP, the Catholic Church, the Government (ANAM, ASEP) and the developer GENISA, started its survey in a massive rainstorm, according to our spies and sources around the Barro Blanco site.

The team was met at the gates along the highway by a group of protesters with protest signs and slogans.

Monday 23rd September the team visited the community Quebrada Caña where they were met with signs on virtually every house against the project. These signs read “Ñagare Barro Blanco” which in Ngobe means, “No to Barro Blanco” and similar slogans against Genisa. Wilfredo Arias, one of the company representatives, requested from community leaders that the signs be taken down. However, they answered him that if this was the opinion of their people, in no way they would contravene. This angered Mr. Arias considerably.

It also happened that Mr. Arias was thrown off his horse. That was when one of the “bugodais” or Ngobe security told him that that was a “bad sign”. Mr. Arias then grew even madder.

Tuesday 24th September there were no activities, as one of the government representatives, a tad overweight at 300 pounds, had to undergo medical treatment since he nearly succumbed under the physical strain of inspecting jungle terrain, and had to be evacuated on horseback.

Back at work on Wednesday, the team also visited the carved stones or “monoliths” next to the banks of the river. There, Wilfredo Arias hinted that these were “counterfeit” and he could easily make them himself. This adequately explains the way of thinking in Genisa circles, where they are used, after all, to counterfeiting things like environmental impact studies and flood lines.

When the UNDP officials gave Mr. Arias a chisel so he could show them how to carve out age-old petroglyphs all by himself, he had to give up after just a few minutes and instantly became the object of ridicule.

On Thursday 27th September and final day the UNDP visited Nuevo Palomar. The group was met with the unexpected visit of more than 80 campesinos and peasants who claimed the company did not take them into account. Mr. Enrique Alvarez, the spokesman for the campesinos, said he stood to lose everything he had and that Genisa had lodged an “expropriation” procedure against him (adquisicion forzoza). Wilfredo Arias said that in no instance the company ever lodged an action against him. Another bad move by the unfortunate Mr. Arias, because Mr. Alvarez subsequently produced the legal papers, confirming the expropriation procedure. Ouch!

The UNDP officials were heard telling Arias he had not even told them anything regarding these procedures and that Genisa had acquired all these lands.

The very same day they all left, and the UNDP team was to meet at their hotel in Las Lajas beach near San Felix. However, they were suddenly given notice to pack up and leave due to a so called “security alert” about protests and highway closures by the Ngobe indigenous people. Of course there were neither protests nor road closures and the “security alert” was entirely fabricated.

A great time, in short, was had by all – mostly at the expense of the Genisa reps who, once again, so adequately demonstrated how Panama’s entrepreneurial class could do with a bit more sophistication and a little less sleaze, maybe.

About the author /


Okke Ornstein is an award winning journalist, TV/Radio producer and photographer from the Netherlands and currently based in Panama. Specialized in high-impact investigative journalism, his work has led to arrests, questions in parliament and the downfall of many frauds and swindles.

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