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News > Latin America

Panama: Indigenous Communities Oppose Hydro Electric Project

  • The Barro Blanco hydroelectric power project in Panama's Chiriqui province.

    The Barro Blanco hydroelectric power project in Panama's Chiriqui province. | Photo: EFE

Published 12 June 2015

Indigenous groups in Panama are protesting against a hydroelectric project being built on their land without prior consent. 

Engineers from the Honduran company Genisa, the contractor responsible for building the Barro Blanco hydroelectric project, stated on Friday, that local Indigenous communities protesting against the project denied them access to the location of the site. 

"We were not able to move ahead with our professional duties as a result of the protests,” Genisa said, according to a statement issued by Costa Rican based consulting company Geo Ingenieria. 

Indigenous groups are blocking access to the project, which is 95 percent complete, and are also occupying its premises. 

The Ngäbe protesters oppose the project, fearing that it will displace more than 36,000 people, damage the environment and agriculture, and cause flooding to sacred sites. 

Members of the local indigenous group, Ngäbe-Buglé, have vowed to continue protests until the newly elected president Juan Carlos Varela cancels the project. 

In February, the national environmental authority mandated a temporary suspension of the project for not fulfilling the requirements of the country’s mandatory environmental impact assessment (EIA). 

The project was previously suspended in March 2012 after three protesters were killed during confrontations with the police. 

According to a legal measure approved in 2012, companies interested in installing new hydropower projects in the Ngäbe-Buglé territory must consult with the local population. 

However, to a report issued last month by a panel from the Independent Complaints Mechanism (ICM) found "significant issues related to social and environmental impact and, in particular, issues related to the rights of indigenous peoples were not completely assessed."

In the ICM’s report, Dutch FMO and German DEG development, the two European banks involved in financing the project were slammed for failing to consider the risks posed against indigenous rights and the environment before approving a US$50 million loan to GENISA, the project's developer.

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