Onésimo Rodríguez, a leader in Panama’s Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous group, was killed by a group of masked men in Cerro Punta, in western Chiriquí department, the evening of March 22 following a protest against construction of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam. Carlos Miranda, another protester who was attacked along with Rodríguez, said the assailants beat both men with metal bars. Miranda lost consciousness but survived; Rodríguez’s body was found in a stream the next day. Miranda said he was unable to identify the attackers because it was dark and their faces were covered. Manolo Miranda and other leaders of the April 10 Movement, which organizes protests against the dam, charged that “the ones that mistreated the Ngöbes were disguised police agents.”
The Ngöbe-Buglé stepped up their demonstrations against the Barro Blanco project in January, when construction continued at the site despite a United Nations (UN) report that largely substantiated indigenous claims that the dam would flood three villages, cut the residents off from food sources and destroy important cultural monuments. As of March 26 an independent study mandated by the UN report and agreed to by the government had still not started.
In addition to protesting the Honduran-owned company building the dam, Generadora del Istmo, S.A. (GENISA), indigenous activists blame two European banks for funding the project: Germany’s private Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft (DEG) and the Nederlandse Financierings-Maatschappij voor Ontwikkelingslanden N.V. (FMO), in which the Dutch government holds a controlling interest. Dam opponents say GENISA also sought funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB) but withdrew the application after learning that bank officials planned to visit the affected communities themselves. (Mongabay.com, March 25; La Estrella, Panama, March 26)
In other news, as of March 19 the National Coordinating Committee of the Indigenous Peoples of Panama (COONAPIP) had decided to withdraw from the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (UN-REDD+) program, which focuses on environmental problems in developing nations. The indigenous group charged in a statement that the UN and the Panamanian government “have appeared to marginalize the collective participation of the seven indigenous peoples and 12 traditional structures that make up COONAPIP” and have put “legal and administrative obstacles in the way” of indigenous participation. The Mesoamerican Alliance of People and Forests (AMPB), a coalition of Central American and Mexican indigenous and environmental groups, is backing COONAPIP’s decision. (Mongabay.com, March 19; Adital, Brazil, March 21)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 31.