Chronology of Events for Barro Blanco Dam (Panama)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

This chronology was compiled to provide a clear picture of the stakeholder activities surrounding the Barro Blanco Dam in western Panama since its inception. The sources of information include first-hand accounts, blogs, official documents, and media reports. While we hope this will provide a comprehensive and useful resource for those interested in the project, we cannot vouch for the accuracy of all the information listed here. We welcome any corrections and additions you may have.

Compiled by Melissa Orozco, Latin America Communications Intern


  • General Omar Torrijos was forced to cancel the first dam project, Tabasará I, a 220 MW dam designed to supply energy to the Cerro Colorado copper mine, due to local opposition. As the mine was never developed, due to rejection by the community and the sudden drop in copper prices there was not a need for the dam.  


  • The consortium Tabasará, S.A is created to develop Tabasará I and Tabasará II hydroelectric projects.   


  • A proposal for a new 48 MW version of the dam appears. 
  • The communities around the Tabasará River (Chiriquí and nearby areas of the Comarca Ngäbe Bugle) become aware of the project during the Environmental Impact Studies (EIA).  
  • April 10. Protest culminates in the arrest of several Ngäbe people; in response they create “Movimiento 10 de Abril” (the M10 movement). 


  • Tabasará River valley
    Tabasará River valley
    Photo courtesy of Rick Gerharter
    December. The Supreme Court provisionally suspends the Resolution that approved the Environmental Impact Study of Tabasará II, based on a lack of participation of the indigenous peoples. 


  • The lawsuit was withdrawn and the Ngäbe community starts to mobilize.


  • January. Ngäbe protests are suppressed by the National Police. Many protesters detained after these demonstrations. No further actions are undertaken for either of the two dams by Consorcio Tabasará, S. A.  
  • On Friday January 31, published in the Official Gazette of Law 18 of 2003, a single line repeals Articles 63, 99 and 102 of the General Law of the Environment that “relate to the participation and acquiescence which is to be obtained from indigenous communities.” This change in the law paved the way for the new concession in 2007.


  • A new dam project concession in the same location as former Tabasará I is awarded to the company GENISA from Honduras, this time with the name Barro Blanco and with an initial capacity of 19 MW. 


  • February. GENISA conducts a public consultation in Tolé – a non-indigenous town located in eastern Chiriquí, without notifying the affected communities along the riverbanks such as the Ngäbe indigenous groups. Upon finding out the affected communities (approximately 50 persons) flocked outside of the meeting quarters chanting anti-project slogans, the local police was summoned, who then blocked the entrance to the opposing group. Finally the organizers allowed only five individuals to enter but only to listen, without voicing their opposition to the project. This “failed” stakeholders meeting was not used as the project’s official stakeholders’ consultation. Rather a previous 2007 survey was used as the “consultation” form, in which the Ngäbe communities affected by the project were left out.
  • The company GENISA has an approved Environmental Impact Study (EIA) to develop the 19 MW project Barro Blanco (a successor to Tabasará I). 
  • November. The company “Asociación Española de Normalización y Certificación” (AENOR) requests validation for carbon credits for the 19 MW project under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). 
  • The Alliance for Conservation and Development (Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo or ACD) point out the lack of consultation to the Ngäbe community.


  • July. A new period of CDM validation is open, this time for a 28.84MW project in which comments were submitted by ACD and ASAMCHI but were not posted online. For this increase of capacity a new design was adopted. The only authorization granted by the National Environment Authority of Panama (ANAM) was the “resolución modificatoria” which only specified an increase in volume and power generation. Absent was the increase of dam height from 42 meters to 61.09 meters. Also, there was an increase of the reservoir from 234 hectares to 258 hectares and the increase of the maximum flood level from 103 mts to 108.25 mts asl. This data was available only through the CDM, but not from any agency in Panama. Despite these major modifications, no new EIA was done nor were any “public consultations” held. The only public consultations on record was the survey for the 19 MW version in which persons from other communities were consulted but not the Ngäbe Bugle affected communities.


  • June. ACD, ASAMCHI and the M10 Movement are contacted by the European Investment Bank (EIB)
  • There is a complaint to the Environmental Advocacy Center (CIAM) against the EIA of the Tabasará II project. 
  • Public participation forums begin, but the lack of access to this information conclude in the poor participation of all the groups affected. 
  • October. Several organizations request the intervention and support of the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the company GENISA withdraws their loan application to the EIB. GENISA had already procured financing from DEG of Germany, and FMO of the Netherlands. GENISA procures investment from the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (CABEI) to replace the lost EIB funds.  


  • M10 protest on the Pan-American Highway, 2011
    M10 protest on the Pan-American Highway, 2011
    Photo: Richard Arghiris
    February. Panama’s government passes a new legislation on Law 8, which provides foreign companies bold new rights of exploitation and acquisition on the nation’s mining, including one of the largest copper reserves in the Comarca Ngäbe Bugle.
  • March 3. President Martinelli announces to repeal the recent changes made to Law 8, in the Mining Code.  
  • March. Construction work on Barro Blanco starts without consent or official consultation. 
  • March-May. After the incessant noise of the machinery at the project site, the M10 movement consisting of affected indigenous Ngäbe and other affected peasants occupied the entrance to the Barro Blanco project, effectively blocking the project’s operation for nearly two months. Since no “private lands” were occupied no charges were filed against the movement. However the company threatened to lodge a suit against the movement leaders.  
  • MayThe government established a “three way” talks in the Tolé Catholic Mission. After several weeks the talks reached an impasse. The movement organized a massive roadblock on May 5, 2011 and the government finally agreed to continue the talks. However as a condition the movement would have to abandon their protest camp and cease further protests. Twelve days later, the government announced that they were in effect taking possession of the entrance and from that date on the project was effectively “militarized” including agents from the elite border units SENAFRONT to “guard” the project site. The entrance perimeter was also fenced in and leveled to avoid any future occupation.
  • June. Project Barro Blanco was approved under the United Nation carbon offsetting scheme despite concerns lodged by domestic and international groups about accuracy of the Environmental Impact Assessment and local stakeholder requirements.
  • September. M10 wrote a letter of complaint to DEG and FMO following a teleconference in August that was organized between these parties, as well as European NGOs Both ENDS and Urgewald. This led to no more than a confirmation by FMO and DEG that the have followed their own internal rules and are not willing to take any action in response to the complaint.


  • Feburary 5. Confrontation of communities (Bocas Del Toro, Viguí, Tolé, San Félix, Las Lajas and David in Chiriquí Panama) and Police. The Ngäbe indigenous people block the Inter-American Highway, as a protest of the construction of mining and hydroelectric projects. As many as four people die from the confrontation. 
  • February 17.  Women demand punishment and dismissal of José Raúl Mulino and Gustavo Pérez, responsible for the massacre against the Ngäbe Buglé people, which included sexual violation and aggression against underage people. 
  • March 15. An Agreement is signed between The Coordination for the Defense of Natural Resources and the rights of the Ngabe Buglé Community, the National Assembly, the Government and The Traditional Authority of the Comarca Ngabe Bugle. The agreement states there will be a revision of the EIA report and a Mission of field verification will be done to verify in situ aspects that were not satisfactory.
  • May 18. A disagreement between different groups leads to a two-day occupation of the project site by indigenous Ngäbe, including the Ngäbe traditional authorities (not recognized by the government) such as the Traditional Ngäbe Congress President Celio Guerra and the Vice Cacica Mijita Andrade and local campesinos (peasants). Those supporting the Cacica Silvia Carrera maintained that the Verification must be held to “document” the degree of impact on the Comarca while the other faction maintained that the project must be stopped at all costs. This internal division offers the government an excuse to stall the Verification Mission, while the company continued with the project. The company proceeded to lodge suits against the organizers of the attempted takeover of the project and the government reinforced their presence in the project with 200 SENAFRONT agents. 
  • June 15. The United Nations Development Program conducts a Topographical Survey in the adjacent areas to the Comarca Ngäbe Buglé, near the Tabasará River. 
  • September 22-26. A Field Verification Mission is conducted to the project site and to Quebrada Caña, Kiadba, and Nuevo Palomar. During these days the Mission verified the major impact upon these communities omitted in the EIA. The officials were also surprised at the high degree of rejection by the Ngäbe communities who greeted the mission with signs on their homes against the project. 
  • December. The UNDP finalizes the report of the Mission of Verification. The report was to be signed and reviewed by the different parties, but it was not available to the Cacica and the M10 Movement until December 2012. 


  • Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam under construction.
    Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam under construction.
    January 9. The M10 movement along with the Cacica Silvia Carrera stage a peaceful march and rally in the town of Tolé ending at the entrance of the Pan-American Highway. The roadblock was immediately dissolved with tear gas only 2 minutes after it had blocked the Pan-American Highway.
  • March 19. Confrontation between 150 police officers and protesters in a camp at Vigui with fired bird shots, rubber bullets and tear gas.
  • March 20. Ricardo Miranda and Manolo Miranda of the M10 inform that they are the subjects of repression by agents of the national police and militarized police of SENAFRONT. The police had followed the people to the mountains inside the Comarca Ngäbe Bugle so that people can’t organize and manifest against the project.  
  • March 22. Onesimo Rodriguez is killed in Las Nubes, Cerro Punta, Chiriquí Province by four alleged masked policemen after a rally.  
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