Illegal Construction of CDM Project Barro Blanco Continues

Katy Yan

Save the Tabasara River
Save the Tabasara River

Along with CDM Watch, we recently reported about the heavily contested Barro Blanco CDM project in Panama. A month on, protests continue, as outlined in the eye-witness report below.

The Barro Blanco project is a 28.84 MW hydroelectric power plant in the district of Tolé, in the province of Chiriquí, Panama. There has been serious concerns regarding the additionality of the project, the lack of adequate public consultation and human rights abuses involving the company GENISA against the Ngobe indigenous peoples.      

Concerns were officially submitted by numerous indigenous communities and environmental
groups during the public consultation period of the project. Although confirmation was sent from the UNFCCC secretariat that comments were received, the auditor (AENOR) has never made them public or taken them into account when validating the project.

According to CDM Watch, this has led to the first launch of a complaints procedure against a DOE pursuant to the new rules for complaints procedures against a DOEs and is currently being investigated by the UNFCCC secretariat. The concerns also prompted an ongoing investigation by the European Investment Bank (EIB). Nonetheless, the project has requested registration which is pending and currently being discussed by the CDM Executive Board.

Eye witness report by Oscar Sogandares from the Asociacion Ambientalista de Chiriqui (ASAMCHI):

The The Movement 10 of April for Defense of the Tabasará River (M10) and the indigenous Ngobe Bugle people continue to peacefully protest against the proposed CDM hydro power project. The protesters point out that the project will flood hundreds of hectares of fertile alluvial banks of the Tabasará River and illegally expropriate dozens of hectares of land that belong to the indigenous Comarca Ngobe Bugle. Expropriating indigenous lands is in clear violation of the Constitution of Panama which "establishes the right of a collective property and the law forbids the private appropriation of indigenous people‘s land"; and further violates Law 10, article 17 which states that such lands are "inenajenables" (inalienable, in-transferable) and strictly forbids its private appropriation. The project has already reached such notoriety that the European
Investment Bank EIB, the original financiers of the project, threatened to investigate the claims which lead the project owner GENISA to withdraw their request for loan.

M10 group during peaceful protests on May 6, 2011
M10 group during peaceful protests on May 6, 2011

On March 28, M10 members started a protest camp at the entrance of the Barro Blanco project. On Friday May 6 the group held a rally at the bridge over the Tabasará River which the Ngobe consider sacred. For more than seven hours they held up traffic, trucks, passenger-filled buses and cars on the Pan-American highway to raise awareness about the project. When riot police arrived and put on their gas masks the protesters agreed to stop the rally and to hold emergency talks. Those talks have not lead to any reconciliation.

On May 17, the Government of Panama dispatched a large police force to block the entrance to the Barro Blanco Dam Project. The last news I heard was that there were three contingents of riot control police in the area, some guarding the entrance, others at the Tabasará Bridge to avoid further blockages, and the rest at the local police station, to suppress any popular protests against the project. I was later informed that machinery have already entered into the Barro
Blanco project site and started to work there, in violation of the suspension of the project.

The protesters would like to make known to the world that the project developer GENISA has trampled Panama's laws and has violated the rights of the indigenous Ngobe Bugle people and ignored the protests of the peasant population who are not protected by the indigenous rights laws. The government of Panama has repeatedly suppressed dissent against the project and the most affected people have neither been consulted nor heard.

Oscar Sogandares G.