Last Saturday, a group of about 200 members of the indigenous Ngobe people held a protest manifestation against the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam, in Las Nubes, near Cerro Punta. It was a peaceful protest - on the part of the Ngobe, that is.
Afterwards, two of them were waiting at a bus stop when four men showed up wearing ski masks. They took the two protesters and beat them up with iron rods and clubs.
One of them was dumped in a nearby stream. Dead. He was found the next morning. His name was Onesimo Rodriguez, and he lived near the Tabasara river where the dam is being built. The other victim survived, but his identity is being protected for his safety.
This type of death squad activity is not new in Latin America, but it hasn't been seen as of yet as part of the Panamanian indigenous struggle to protect their lands.
Naturally, the Ngobe population is outraged. They see this, some leading figures told us, not as a provocation but as an attempt to scare them enough to stop protesting the dam.
That, however, will almost certainly backfire. The mood in Ngobe Bugle was already quite militant and impatient given the delaying tactics of the government in the negotiating process, and murdering people will only fuel the fire.
Will there be massive protests again? Maybe, but not necessarily. Consider this: The Ngobe are the largest workforce in the Chiriqui highlands. They could easily paralyze all agricultural activity in Panama's vegetable basket or, if they really want to do serious damage, destroy that activity altogether. Food would have to be imported, prices would go up, and economic damage would by far outweigh any profits from building that dam.
With even smaller numbers, the roads around the comarca could be made into a constant hazard to drive, turning the whole area into one fluid nightmarish non-stop bottleneck. Think Kabul - Kandahar. Think 4th generation warfare.
Whichever they decide to do, we think it will be an ugly battle. Genisa (the company behind the dam) and the government are evidently willing to go as far as cold-blooded murder to push through this dam that Panama doesn't even need.
The dam is being financed by the Dutch FMO bank - a semi-government bank - and German DEG. They must be thrilled to see that their "green" investment is being protected by paramilitary thugs clubbing people to death.