Ngobe Indians win environmental battle
WASHIGTON. After two years of brutal government repression and destruction of their homeland, the Ngöbe Indians of western Panama won a...
WASHIGTON. After two years of brutal government repression and destruction of their homeland, the Ngöbe Indians of western Panama won a major victory yesterday as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called on Panama to suspend all work on a hydroelectric dam that threatens the Ngöbe homeland.
The Chan-75 Dam is being built across the Changuinola River by the government of Panama and a subsidiary of the Virginia-based energy giant AES Corporation.
The Commission’s decision was the result of a petition filed last year by the Ngöbe after AES-Changuinola began bulldozing houses and farming plots. When the Ngöbe protested the destruction of their homes, the government sent in riot police who beat and arrested villagers, including women and children, and then set up a permanent cordon around the community to prevent anyone from entering the area. In addition to threatening the community, the dam will irreversibly harm the nearby La Amistad UN Biosphere Reserve.
“We are thrilled to have the Commission take these measures to protect Ngöbe communities,” said Ellen Lutz, executive director of Cultural Survival and lead counsel for the Ngöbe.
“We are hopeful that this will help the government of Panama and AES recognize their obligation to respect Ngöbe rights.”
The Commission, which is a body of the Organization of American States, is still considering the Ngöbe’s petition and issued this injunction, called precautionary measures, to prevent any further threat to the community and the environment while the Commission deliberates on the merits of the case.
Specifically, the Commission called on the government to suspend all construction and other activities related to its concession to AES-Changuinola to build and administer the Chan-75 Dam and abutting nationally protected lands along the Changuinola River.
Chan-75 would inundate four Ngöbe villages that are home to approximately 1,000 people.
“The Panamanian government must follow the precautionary measures issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,” said Jacki Lopez, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.