Photo: ANAM press conference
Good news! The government has today suspended the construction of the pseudo-green Barro Blanco hydroelectric project on the edge of the Ngobe comarca. From the website of ANAM, Panama's environmental authority, where they list a whole series of environmental and other violations:
La ANAM indicó que entre los incumplimientos del EIA detectados se encuentran la falta de definición de acuerdos con las comunidades y los afectados; el desarrollo de los procesos de negociación, y la ausencia de un plan de manejo arqueológico aprobado por el Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INAC) para la protección de los petroglifos y otros hallazgos arqueológicos.
Además, se detectaron extracción de minerales no metálicos sin EIA aprobado, reiterados incumplimientos para el manejo de sedimentos y erosión, el deficiente manejo de desechos sólidos y peligrosos y la falta de informes de seguimiento al EIA, la ausencia de coordinación con SINAPROC y Bomberos para el manejo de explosivos y sustancias inflamables, tala de árboles sin autorización de ANAM y la indemnización ecológica correspondiente.
The Ngobe had threatened to block the roads again starting February 13th - just before carnival - if the project would not be suspended. The suspension was agreed already after a high-level government commission, headed by vice-president Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado, had visited the affected areas and investigated the activities of Genisa, the Honduran owned company behind the project.
The suspension comes after years of protests and media attention for a project that is neither needed, nor green, nor sustainable and violates the rights of Panama's indigenous population. Panama does not have a coherent energy policy; the dam's carbon offsets would allow for other businesses to pump more pollution into the atmosphere; and flooding the Tabasara river banks would cause the displacement of various villages inside the indigenous comarca.
It remains to be seen if the suspension will have effects on the financing of the project. The bankers of the Dutch development bank FMO, which finances the project together with its German counterpart, have consistently maintained that everything was on the up and the up with the Barro Blanco dam. That claim can no longer be sustained now that the Panamanian authorities have paralyzed the project and launched investigations.
The M-10 movement and the cacica, Silvia Carrera, have filed a complaint against the financing of Barro Blanco by the Dutch government-owned bank, claiming that the bank is in violation its own environmental and human rights policies. An independent panel reviews these complaints and a decision is expected within a month or so.
The complaint mechanism was introduced after a documentary by yours truly about Barro Blanco led to questions in the Dutch parliament about the bank's involvement with the project.
The government, the leadership of the Ngobe people and the company behind Barro Blanco, Genisa, will start negotiations about the future of the dam shortly.