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News > Latin America

Construction of Controversial Dam in Panama Suspended

  • Panamanian Vice-president Isabel Saint Melo visits with members of the Ngäbe Buglé community in an undated photo

    Panamanian Vice-president Isabel Saint Melo visits with members of the Ngäbe Buglé community in an undated photo | Photo: Presidency of Panama

Published 5 February 2015

A government committee has recommended the project be suspended due to the failure of the company to meet its commitments to the community.

A high level committee established by the Panamanian government is recommending that a controversial dam project impacting the Indigenous Ngäbe Buglé people should be suspended.

The committee was established after the community issued an ultimatum, threatening increased resistance should the project not be canceled by February 15.

According to a statement issued by the office of the Presidency of Panama, the recommendation of committee, headed-up by Vice-president Isabel Saint Melo, comes after they determined that the company behind the project failed to meet the commitments it made as part of an environmental impact assessment.

“The committee determined that there are countless unresolved issues and it therefore falls on the government to ensure the agreements established between the company and the community are met,” read the statement.

The dam, currently under construction, is located in the province of Chiriqui on the lands of the Ngäbe Buglé people, who are fiercely opposed to the project. They consider the project to be a violation of the rights to manage their traditional territory. They allege that once under operation, the dam will flood their lands and villages, displacing the community and affecting over 2,000 families.

The high level committee is also recommending the creation of a tripartite dialogue table, including representatives of the company building the dam, the government, and the community. The community requested that the dialogue take place in their community in order to ensure that leaders from the community can participate. Meetings are set to begin Friday.

Protests against the dam have been ongoing and police crackdowns on the protests resulted in the death of one protester in 2013, according to reports.

In July of 2013 the Special Rapporteur for the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya visited the community and stated, “The Ngäbe people should have been adequately consulted before authorizing the sale of the hydroelectric project,” adding that “in accord with international norms related to the rights of Indigenous Peoples, they should not proceed with the flooding of the lands of the Ngäbe people.”

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