The Legacy of the Urra Dam: The Death of Kimy

Monti Aguirre

The struggle against ill-conceived dam projects often comes hand in hand with criminalization, and in some cases, violence against those who stand up for their rights. Opposition to the construction of the Urra I in Colombia resulted in numerous human rights abuses, including several murders. It has been 10 years since the murder of Kimy Pernia Domico, an Embera Katio leader who opposed the dam in his people's territory. The paramilitaries who defended the construction of the dam had already killed other prominent Embera leaders, including Alonso Maria Jarupia Domico and Lucindo Domicó Cabrera.

Kimy was a spokesman for the Embera on the rights of its people and the defense of their land. He spoke to international audiences on the harassment and violations committed against the Embera by the government, the Urra dam company, the paramilitaries and guerrillas.

In 1999, the Emberas marched from their territory into Bogota and set up camp at the Ministry of the Environment's gardens – a journey of some 700 kilometers. They protested the illegal filling of the reservoir, and demanded consultation as required by law. Colombian government authorities shunned the claims of the Embera, and disregarded the rights of the indigenous peoples. The Emberas had no choice but to set up tents and wait until they were heard.

Bogotá helped. Meat, potatoes, water, arepas, blankets and pots began to arrive to the camp. People brought them clothes and sweaters. It was in this camp that Kimy gave me a bright shakira necklace, the colors ironically similar to the Colombian flag.

Kimy came to the offices of International Rivers in 2000. He was accompanied by his sister, Maria Rosinda; Jennifer Harbury, a lawyer and human rights activist, and Sandra Alvarez, who worked with Global Exchange. Together we traveled to Washington, D.C., to accompany Kimy on his visits to US senators hoping they could intervene on the behalf of the Emberas, and to ask not to approve Plan Colombia, which would bring about more violence.

But our memories of the high points in the struggle are overpowered by the accounts of how he was murdered. Tortured, and his body dumped in the Sinu River. Today, Kimy has truly become one with the Sinu whose life he was defending when his own was cut short so terribly. Kimy remains in the heart of the struggle to defend Colombia's peoples, its rivers, its lifelines.