Police Detain Ituango Dam Affected

Monti Aguirre

Colombian police and soldiers interrupted a peaceful protest by communities affected by Ituango Dam on March 14th. The protest was to mark the International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers, Water and Life. More than 80 people were charged with obstruction of public roads; they were later released after the judge declared charges unfounded. Peasants and fisherfolk came from Briceño, San Andres de Cuerquia, Toledo, Sabanalarga, Peque, Yarumal, Liborina Ituango – all areas that will be affected by the dam.

The march began in Valle de Toledo in the northern state of Antioquia and protestors aim to arrive in Medellin to meet with Sergio Fajardo, governor of Antioquia State, representatives of dam developer Empresas Publicas de Medellin (EPM), the ministries of the Environment and the Interior and other government agencies, including control agencies to find solution to the conflict generated by the dam.

“What we want is for the government to conduct a new census of affected people, to include those who were left out of compensation programs,” said Juan Pablo Soler, a representative of the Movimiento Rios Vivos in Colombia. “Around 640 affected families were not included in the original census.”

The lack of compensation contrasts starkly with EPM's public commitment to best practices. EPM recently stated it would use the voluntary Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP) to audit its social and environmental practices on Ituango Dam. Many see the company's commitment as little more than greenwash.

The HidroItuango Dam’s river diversion tunnel is under construction by the Colombian-Chilean consortium Sainc Ingenieros and Ferrovial Agroman. The 2,400 megawatt dam, which is expected to cost US$5.5 million, is planned to be completed in 2018. EPM awarded the contract to build the dam to a consortium comprised of the Brazilian Camargo Correa Construction and Commerce SA and Colombian Construction Conconcreto SA and Ramon H. Coninsa SA.

Other violent acts were committed by the police earlier in March. Even though communities had a permit from the Municipality of Ituango for a peaceful demonstration, on March 11 the anti-riot-ESMAD surprised the protesters (including children and the elderly), dispersing them with tear gas.

“We believe that this is a strategy of the company to stigmatize and criminalize the Living Rivers Movement and weaken our work as an organized social force,” said Soler. “Despite the peaceful nature of the protests, our demands and claims are still being ignored by the government of Antioquia.”

Today, the walk towards Medellin continues, where a solidarity movement was beginning to collect food, toiletries, clothes and blankets and finding lodging for families affected and displaced by the construction of the dam.

Monday, March 18, 2013