A movement of Ngabe Bugle people in Panama have made a call for help in the face of the impending advance of the controversial Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam in their territories despite having won a suspension of the project, Prensa Latina reported Sunday.
“We apologize if we have offended in any way, but the Ngabe people only want to live in our territory, not be beggars in other populations,” said Ricardo Miranda, leader of the M-10 movement representing affected communities, in a message sent out on social media, according to Prensa Latina.
“Our crops, our animals, the little that we have is being destroyed in blatant violation of Panamanian and international laws,” Miranda added.
Miranda has also accused Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela of sowing divisions within the Indigenous movement.
The call for help comes as the Barro Blanco dam has plowed ahead with testing the dam despite the fact that the project was suspended last year pending a full agreement between the Ngabe Bugle and the government.
The company opened the floodgates on the dam last Tuesday to start filling the reservoir. At the same time, authorities forcibly removed nearly three dozen people and demolished their nearby encampment, according to M-10.
According to the Center for International Environmental Law, the filling of the reservoir will flood nearly 15 acres (6 hectares) of Indigenous lands surrounding the site of the dam on the Tabasara River.
Government officials claim that the communities were informed of the impending eviction and plan to move forward with testing the reservoirs, Prensa Latina reported. A government spokesperson offered communities an apology for any “confusion” that may have occurred.
Critics of the dam fear that the project will displace tens of thousands of people, harm the local agricultural sector, and flood Ngabe Bugle land and traditional sacred sites. The Tabasara River is fundamental in the livelihoods of the local Ngabe Bugle people, who rely on it for water, fishing, and agricultural production along its fertile banks.
Movements organizing against the dam argue that it violates their internationally-recognized Indigenous right to free prior and informed consent for all projects to be developed on their territories, because traditional Indigenous authorities have never given permission for the dam.
In his call for help on behalf of the Ngabe people, Miranda vowed to continue the struggle and called for solidarity starting on Monday if the eviction of the communities has not stopped.
“Let’s all take to the streets,” he said, “to say enough to the violence against our people.”