Ngobe fed up with ongoing construction of Barro Blanco

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Construction of the Barro Blanco dam continues at breakneck speed 24/7.

Over a year ago, the San Lorenzo agreement was signed between the Ngobe leadership, the government, the church and Genisa - the company behind the controversy ridden Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam that's being built just outside the Ngobe comarca, but close enough to flood part of it. The deal came after days of heavy battle between Ngobe protesters and the police that paralyzed the country and put the Martinelli government on the brink of collapse.

That agreement included a verification mission by all parties to see if what Genisa claimed - no villages would be flooded, nobody would have to be displaced, no environmental damage, no significant archaeological damage etc. - was actually true. Experts came in, water levels were measured, the commission traveled through the affected area, and guess what? Everything Genisa had said turned out to be a lie. The report is here available for download.

But this verification mission was only half of the agreement. What follows is the peritaje, the stage where experts assess how bad exactly these lies are and, if possible, put a value on the graveness of Genisa's lies.

So, what's the problem, you think? The problem is this: These processes take lots and lots of time. The verification mission took about a year from putting it together to final report. And meanwhile, construction of Barro Blanco continues 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's scheduled to be completed in September of this year. In other words, the dam will be built long before the negotiations about the dam will be finished.

So, the government (Martinelli is a shareholder of Barro Blanco) and Genisa are just using the agreement as a shield behind which they push through completion of the dam no matter what the outcome of all these investigations and verifications may be.

This was obviously never how the agreement of San Lorenzo was intended, and the Ngobe people are understandably getting impatient. They repeatedly asked the government to have construction suspended while the agreement was being implemented. However, today again the answer of the government was "no".

So now what? The Movimiento 10 de Abril (M-10), the most militant opponents of Barro Blanco, has already said in a statement that they have no confidence any more in the UN-led process as set out in the San Lorenzo agreement. Some of them launched protests, and there have been skirmishes with the police and SENAFRONT, which patrols the area around Barro Blanco.

Your Bananama Republic was present at various meetings in the comarca over the last days, and it became very clear that a vast majority of the population is willing to take to the streets again to stop the Barro Blanco dam from being built. It certainly looks as if this whole affair will be culminating into a violent climax.

11 thoughts on “Ngobe fed up with ongoing construction of Barro Blanco

  1. The Gnöbe are right, they have to go to the streets and every panamanian with them. Nothing surprises me about this government. Like Genisa they lie an as always they know that here if you build something nobody is going to take it down. And martinelli is a shareholder…Shame on him.

  2. We have a history of “puppet shows” when the people are against a project and those shows are part of the original conceived premeditated plan. Too bad they can’t plan anything else that way like infrastructure (water, bridges, public transport) etc.

    Only international attention will change their minds otherwise it’s pillage as usual.

  3. The international attention needs to be focused on the UN. Every river foundation that deals with rivers internationally needs to be approached and enlisted, if possible, to pressure the UN. The reason the UN is the pressure point is that the UN awards the Carbon Credits that this unnecessary hydroelectric project is being built. If the UN removes the Carbon Credit award because the project violates the standards set up, and it does according to this report which was compiled with UN topographers, then the project is economically not sustainable. The power generated by this project is not necessary for Panamá and there is no international grid to sell it through. The Carbon Credits the UN awarded have already been sold and if the UN takes them back the company is bankrupt and can’t finish the project. That’s why the UN is the entity that has to be pressured. It MUST make a decision that follows its own guidelines and stop dragging its feet. When it does that, the people who bought the Carbon Credits are going to want their money back and the whole project comes to a standstill. So anyone who can look up international environmental groups to pressure the UN, now is the time. I have already done this and I think they are starting to think of me as a pest. But this mess has to be stopped. There are some precious archeological sites that are going to be covered up by this monstrosity, not to mention the villages and schools and houses and farms and people who are all going to be displaced, mostly without compensation. Please take the time to help.

  4. All this deceit so a Transnational Banking Corporation can sell Carbon Tax Credits!

    This is not just a simple crime of deposing the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous peoples of the Comarca of Panama!

    The Ngäbe-Buglé will not tolerate any more of these childish diversionary tricks by this Fascist Martinelli Cartel Government.

    This is nothing more than a clear cut case of genocide, murder, rape, and out right thief of ancestral land of the Comarca of the Ngäbe-Buglé.

    The Fascist Martinelli Cartel Government have denounced and broken every contract and law which establishes and protects the Ngäbe-Buglé under Panamanian Law and the Panamanian Constitution!

  5. @Jim, part of the problem is that there’s no mechanism for recalling carbon credits on human rights grounds, but I believe some people are working on getting this changed.

    Some of the African palm (bio-fuel) plantations in Bajo Aguan valley in Honduras that received carbon credits were also implicated in very serious human rights abuses, mainly extrajudicial killings. There has been some success in stopping funding from the banks. DEG, which is also funding Barro Blanco, actually pulled out. Others, like the World Bank, continue to front cash.

    I think more pressure and publicity in the Netherlands and Germany might be the way.

    p.s. please check out this documentary if you have not already:

  6. Re: carbon credits and human rights abuses in Honduras

    “In July 2011, the CDM Board approved a palm oil biogas project by Grupo Dinant, a company involved in land conflicts linked to serious human rights abuses, including murders in the Aguan Valley (Bajo Aguan). The decision was made despite representations from many NGOs worldwide, including an Open Letter signed by 77 organisations and networks worldwide. The approval came after EDF Trading, initially the project partner who was to purchase the CDM credits, publicly withdrew from the project and application due to human rights concerns. The UK government who had authorised the initial application, however, refused to denounce the project. The Chair of the CDM Board, Martin Hession from the UK Government (DECC) justified the project approval by claiming the CDM Board was not ‘equipped’ to investigate the human rights abuses. In the context of complete immunity for those responsible for the deaths of now around 50 peasants in the Bajo Aguan, the CDM Board thus gave Grupo Dinant the benefit of the doubt.”

  7. @ExiledBrit The UN can recall Carbon Credits if the initial application and environmental impact statement was predicated on misrepresentation and falsehood. That is stated clearly if the Charter of the Commission overseeing the Carbon Credits. This is particularly so, because the Charter states that if the project involves any impact on indigenous people, the consent of the indigenous people must be obtained. In this case, Genisa flatly lied about the impact on indigenous people. There are villages, indigenous language schools and part of the Comarca that is impacted. The UN sent its own topographers to survey the terrain and they said that Genisa had lied about the impact and that in addition to the above, there are 2 pre-Colombian archeological sites that will be flooded and lost if the project is allowed to go forward. Based upon this information, the UN, by its own rules, must revoke the Carbon Credits for the Barro Blanco Project. They are just stalling because the President of the country has a significant investment in the Project. But there is clearly a means to revoke Carbon Credits in this and other similar cases involving indigenous peoples.

  8. @Jim – can you please provide me with a reference for the charter and I will include it in any future documents. I also need hard evidence that Martinelli (or his family) has an investment in this.

  9. It surprises me that the Ngobe have not tried to sabotage this construction. Up until 50 years ago they would kill intruders on their land. Blocking the interamericana is for pussies

  10. As victims of contract violation, it might be a good idea for the Ngobe to file this at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), if just to present a repetition. With some help (petition site etc.) the case could draw a lot of attention once the emphasis is on the issue that another govt is busy building dams again (some questionable regarding environmental impact) and also by depriving an indigenous people from continuing to make a sustainable living.

    In the case that due to a project people suffer damage or have to be resettled, full compensation of any damage should be granted in the contract and guaranteed by the govt involved because it is responsible also regarding privatized projects.

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