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Government suspended hydroelectric project again
Latinamerica Press
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Breach of environmental impact assessment and lack of an archeological protection plan, authorities say.

The National Environment Authority (ANAM) announced on Feb. 9 the temporary suspension of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric project being built in the Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé, a semiautonomous indigenous territory in west Panama.

Mirei Endara, ANAM administrator, said the construction companies — Generadoras del Itsmo (GENISA) and Hidráulica San José — does not have a plan for the protection of archeological sites and has not taken steps to prevent erosion and sedimentation.

This is the second time the project is suspended. In March 2012, after the massive protests against the dam that left two people dead in clashes with security forces, indigenous groups and the government reached an agreement to suspend the project until an environmental impact assessment is complete and that all future projects will be approved by the Ngäbe-Buglé people’s General Congress.

“The company has complied with these commitments to the extent they have been allowed by the indigenous authorities,” Aldo López, GENISA general manager, said. “With great courage and strength we decided to organize a rural participatory assessment and concluded to build the project. 45 public consultations were made and also 40 meetings with the indigenous cacique and his advisers.”

However, after an official visit to Panama in July 2013, James Anaya, the then Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, issued a statement stating “the Ngäbe people should have been adequately consulted before granting of the concession for the hydroelectric project.”

Source of conflict
Silvia Carrera, general cacique of the Ngäbe Bugle, welcomed the suspension, noting that “was required to sit in a tripartite table. I think we have to make new environmental studies, because in the previous government [of former President Ricardo Martinelli (2009-2014)] there was no will. The current government, if it has nothing to do with it, will take the best decision,” she said, referring to the current administration of President Juan Carlos Varela who took office in July 2014.

The private sector also raised its voice on the measure.

“We argue in support of the existing statutes and we speak out against the extreme of paralyze the construction of Barro Blanco,” said José Luis Ford, president of the Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama (CCIAP). “We are worried that under the pressure of a minority an option was chosen to the detriment of the majority”.

Humberto González, president of the Panamanian Association of Company Executives (APEDE), warned that “we are reducing the gap between the demand and the capacity of the energy supply. If this work will not be finished, we will have to face new rationings.”

The Barro Blanco project, with an investment of about US$130 million, begun in 2008 on the Tabarasá River, district of Tolé, about 250 miles west of Panama City. The hydroelectric should start operations next July, with an output of 28.5 megawatts.

Since the beginning, the project has been source of conflicts with indigenous communities because the dam will flood 5.6 hectares of their territory where “are located an indigenous cemetery, a church and several petroglyphs where residents gather to celebrate rituals of their culture,” said Gisela Perez-Polo, coordinator of the National Strategic Alliance, which brings together individuals and organizations of civil society.
—Latinamerica Press.

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