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News > Latin America

Panama Indigenous Groups Escalate Protest Against Dam Project

  • Ngabe Bugle women on the front lines of resistance against construction of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam.

    Ngabe Bugle women on the front lines of resistance against construction of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam. | Photo: ESCRIBANA and CONAMUIP

Published 30 June 2015

Indigenous leaders have signaled a major permanent blockade may be the next step to pressure the government to cancel the project.

Indigenous Ngabe Bugle people in Panama have launched a hunger strike to protest the contentious Barro Blanco hydroelectric project slated for their territories, Prensa Latina reported.

The hunger strike comes as the latest stage of ongoing protests against the hydroelectric project, including occupations and road blockades to stall the final stages of dam construction and pressure the government to cancel the project.

RELATED: Indigenous Activists End Blockade, Reopen Inter-American Highway

Ngabe Bugle leadership also denounced the Barro Blanco dam before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, calling for an investigation into alleged irregularities in the project, local media reported.

“They're leaving us without options and the next step could be to block the Interamerican highway indefinitely, which so far we have done only for short periods of time of one or two hours,” an indigenous leader told Prensa Latina.

According to the movement spokesperson, the last blockade of the major international freeway to demand repeal of the project was several thousand people strong.

“Indefinite closure of the Panamerican highway expected if Juan Carlos Varela doesn’t decide to cancel the project.” Banner reads “Free Tabasara (River)”

The Ngabe Bugle have vowed to continue their protests until President Juan Carlos Varela agrees to permanently cancel the project. Critics say the Barro Blanco dam would displace tens of thousands of people, harm the local agricultural sector, and damage Ngabe Bugle land and traditional sacred sites with flooding.

RELATED: Facing Violence, Resistance Is Survival for Indigenous Women

Last week, a dialogue process kicked off between indigenous representatives and the government, set to meet again on Thursday for the second session of negotiations.

But some prominent movements in the dam resistance have decided not to return to the negotiating table with the government, vowing to continue the grassroots fight to have the project canceled.

RELATED: Panama: Indigenous Communities Oppose Hydro Electric Project

“Only the people can save the people,” said Ricardo Mirando of the M-10 movement involved in actively opposing the Barro Blanco construction project, according to Prensa Latina.

“Indigenous people protesting against the Barro Blanco project agreed to close the road for 30 minutes.”

Indigenous movements continue to maintain a blockade preventing workers from doing construction on the dam, an action now ongoing for 25 days.

The site of the dam, the Tabasara river, is essential to the sustenance and livelihoods of the Ngabe Bugle people, who rely on the river for water, fishing, and agriculture on its fertile banks. 

The Barro Blanco project was temporarily suspended February 9, 2015, but indigenous communities continue to call for a permanent cancelation of the river concession for the dam. 

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