Colombia: river defenders assassinated —again

Two opponents of a controversial hydro-electric project on Colombia's Río Cauca were slain by unknown assailants while they were working their fields in the riverside community pf El Pescadero, Puerto Valdivia municipality, Antioquia department, on May 8. Luis Alberto Torres Montoya and his brother Duvián Andrés Correa Sánchez were members of the Association of Artisanal Miners and Fishermen of Puerto Valdivia. Six days earlier, unidentified assailants killed Hugo Albeiro George Pérez, another community leader in Puerto Valdivia. All three were part of the Antioquia Ríos Vivos Movement that has publicly opposed construction of the Hidroituango project due to the environmental damage it has caused in the area, and had sought compensation for local families whose lands have been adversely impacted by the project. (Amnesty International, May 11; ¡Pacifista!, May 3)

Local opposition to the project has mounted since the slayings. On May 10, local fisherman, campesinos and barequeros (informal placer miners) occupied the municipal palace in the town of Sabanalarga, also along the Río Cauca, to protest the impacts of the Hidroituango project on their livelihoods. (Colombia Informe, May 31)

Things are reaching a crisis point on the project at this moment, Construction of the Hidroituango dam was started by the Medellín Public Company (EPM) in 2010, and it is set to open this year. But in early May, a tunnel in the complex collapsed due to a landslide, blocking the flow of the Cauca's waters, backing up dangerous levels behind the dam, and causing cracks to emerge in the dam's facade. The EMP, joined by Antioquia governor Luis Pérez and Medellín mayor Federico Gutiérrez, sent a letter to President Juan Manuel Santos on May 16 warning of a potential catastrophe if the dam were to break, threatening downstream communities with being inundated. (CNN en Español, June 6; El Espectador, June 2; El Tiempo, May 16)

Several opponents of the Hidroituango project have been assassinated over the years of its construction. In 2011, the Peace and Justice Tribunal, part of the transitional justice system established for Colombia's peace process, opened an investigation into possible paramilitary collaboration by the builders of the project. (VerdadAbierta, Dec. 26, 2011)

These attacks were the latest in a mounting wave of assassinations of social leaders on Colombia.

Photo via El Espectador