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Dam construction threatens Ngöbe
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Flooding has begun with native population still living near the project site.

Panama’s Ngöbe indigenous communities are about to be flooded out of their homes as a large dam begins construction even before they have been evacuated from the area. Community members and international rights organizations are decrying the advancement of construction on the Changuinola River dam, and demanding the local communities be protected.

“It’s simply unacceptable for the Panamanian authorities to allow this area to be flooded until they can ensure all the Ngöbe families have safely moved away,” said Sebastian Elgueta, researcher on Central America at Amnesty International in a statement on May 25. “People are still living in the water’s path, and their lives and safety are in danger.”
The Changuinola 1 dam, or Chan-75, as it is often referred to, is being built by Panama subsidiary of US-based energy company AES Corporation, which operates power plants around the world. AES Panama, which runs four other power plants in Panama, is planning three river dams on the Changuinola River, near the border with Costa Rica.

“This is an environmentally disastrous project that never should have been constructed,” Peter Galvin, conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity, a US-based environmental organization, said in April at AES’ annual shareholders meeting. “Given the massive environmental and social impacts of the Chan 75 project, AES has a legal and moral duty to compensate the families and communities being flooded out of their lands by the project.”

But this has not been the case.

Bernardino Morales, one of 100 Ngöbe residents who are being forced to flee the flooding, said that even big international bodies like the United Nations and government agencies like the Ombudsman’s Office dragged their feet in helping the local communities.

“When the big thing is ready and the flooding is a done deal, they will just be starting,” he told newspaper La Estrella. “They are flooding our lands and we know that there are many more conflicts to come and the only recommendation of the United Nations is to send documents to James Anaya, the special rapporteur [on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] to see how to proceed. And meanwhile, who is going to help us?”

For its part, Amnesty International’s Elgueta said: “Across the region, indigenous peoples have been forced to abandon their ancestral lands, have lost their livelihoods and means of survival, and have fallen into poverty as a direct result of large infrastructure projects and disputes over land.”

Hydroelectric projects are threatening indigenous communities in Brazil, Costa Rica and Peru.
—Latinamerica Press. 

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