Panama: Ngöbe-Buglé step up fight against dam

Silvia Carrera, the traditional leader (cacica) of Panama's indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé, announced on March 30 that she would present an appeal the next day to the Supreme Court of Justice concerning land expropriated for the controversial Barro Blanco dam. She said this would be part of a legal action against Law 18. Passed on March 26, 2013, the law allows the Public Services Authority (ASEP) to expropriate, evict and indemnify the population living beside the Tabasará river in the western province of Chiriquí, where the dam is being built. According to Ngöbe-Buglé activists, some 3,000 people will be relocated because of the project, which is now said to be 64% complete.

The Ngöbe-Buglé have been protesting the construction of the dam for the past two years. They insist that since the project is in their own designated territory (comarca), construction should not have been started without first holding a referendum of the indigenous group's members. In a television interview on Feb. 11, Silvia Carrera charged that the government of rightwing Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli had failed to respond to indigenous concerns because it has interests in common with Generadora del Istmo, S.A. (GENISA), the Honduran-owned company building the dam. Martinelli responded by charging that the Ngöbe-Buglé were playing electoral politics.

Meanwhile, protesters have set up barricades and a camp at the dam's construction site in an effort to block the work. The April 10 Movement, an indigenous community group that is independent of the traditional leadership, announced it would publicize information on attacks on human rights and environmental damage in the territory with the goal of stopping the dam. (Adital, Brazil, March 27; Prensa Latina, March 30)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 30.