Rio Bonyic


In the small country of Panama, rivers descend through mountain ranges and rainforests to the tropical coastlines of the Pacific or the Caribbean. As the bridge between the two continents of north and South America, the isthmus of Panama has developed plant and animal species more diverse than anywhere else in the world.  

One of Panama’s early experiences with dam construction, the Bayano Dam, was built in the 1970s and flooded more than 350 square kilometers of pristine tropical forest, destroying habitat for numerous aquatic species. The project forcibly displaced 2,000 Kuna and 500 Embera indigenous peoples, who until this date have not received full compensation for their losses as a result of the project.

In 2007, International Rivers began to work closely with Panamanian organization Alliance for Conservation and Development (ACD), indigenous peoples and others to stop dam projects for the Changuinola-Teribe Basin. On the Changuinola River, US energy giant AES is planning four dams. The first, Chan 75, finished construction in 2011 and has forcibly displaced more than 1,000 Ngobe indigenous peoples and harmed the livelihoods of 5,000 more downstream. The Ngobe have suffered beatings, arbitrary detention, threats and illegal destruction of homes and farmland at the hands of the police and AES. The projects threaten the Ngobe indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and the ecological integrity of La Amistad International Park, a World Heritage Site.

We are also working with the Naso indigenous peoples, who face an uncertain future due to plans to build a dam on the Teribe River. Hidro-Teribe, a subsidiary of Colombian public utilities company Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM), is developing the Bonyic project. The Naso indigenous peoples are one of the most endangered indigenous peoples in Panama.

The Naso, who do not have a legally recognized territory or comarca, have been trying to obtain legal rights to their lands since 1973. They have not been properly consulted and the process to build the dam is moving forward without the Naso’s legal rights to their communal lands acknowledged by the Panamanian government.

We are working with the Environmental Defenders Law Center and ACD to help obtain the legal rights to Naso lands, and for EPM and the government of Panama to engage in a new consultation process regarding construction of the Bonyic Dam.

Watch a documentary on the Chan 75 Dam and then call on AES corporation to live up to its commitments:

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