For Immediate Release
Hydro Project Threatens Indigenous People, Biological Preserve; Human Rights Panel to Review Issue
WASHINGTON - Cascading from the heights of the Talamanca Mountains, the Changuinola River forms the heart of the Panamanian portion of La Amistad International Park,
a UNESCO World Heritage Site that provides habitat for hundreds of
rare, endemic, endangered and migratory species, as well as the
indigenous Ngöbe and Naso tribes.
AES Corp., a
Virginia-based company, plans to build three hydroelectric dams on the
Changuinola, threatening to forever ruin this ecological gem. AES is
building the dams on the Changuinola - which runs through the La
Amistad Biosphere Reserve - in an effort to gain carbon-offset credits.
The first of the dams will flood four Ngöbe villages and create
impassible barriers for fish species the tribes rely upon, such as the
mountain mullet and the bocachica.
"No other time
in the history of Panama has a project been developed with so much
disregard for the environment, human rights, and indigenous peoples as
the Chan 75 hydroelectric project by AES Corporation. The Company and
its Danish contractors are practically building on top of the people of
Charco de La Pava, as if their lives and properties had no value," said
Osvaldo Jordan of Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo (Alliance for Conservation and Development), one of the groups fighting to protect the tribes.
Because Panama lacks adequate legal mechanisms for indigenous people to
obtain title to their land - even though Panama's Constitution
expressly recognizes indigenous peoples' rights to their traditional
lands - and because indigenous people have failed to gain traction in
Panamanian administrative and penal processes, the Alliance for
Conservation and Development, and three other advocacy groups,
submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Consequently, the IACHR has scheduled a public hearing for 9 a.m. Tuesday in Washington.
"What is most tragic about the dam construction and the oppression of
the Ngöbe and Naso communities is that the destruction of their land is
being done in the name of fighting climate change ... it's the most
shameful form of greenwashing," said Jacki Lopez, a legal researcher
from the Center for Biological Diversity, a group that authored an amicus brief to the IACHR on behalf of the tribes.
The IACHR has consistently held that governments must recognize
indigenous land claims and develop mechanisms to obtain land titles.
With the social impacts of the dam construction to include the forced
displacement of more than 1,000 Ngöbe indigenous people, and impairment
to the livelihoods of 4,000 more, a favorable IACHR decision could be
the boost the tribes need. Already, the Ngöbe people have suffered
beatings, arbitrary detention, public humiliation and threats by local
police to expedite the dam construction. And according to the tribe,
AES has failed to obtain their free, prior, informed consent to take
The immediate environmental impacts of
the dam constructions are expected to include the destruction of
riverine and forest ecosystems, including harm to fish and shrimp
biodiversity, by blocking migrations between the San San-Pond Sak
Wetlands, a Ramsar Convention site and the Reserve. The long-term
effects are lesser known, but are expected to include an increase in
methane production, a powerful greenhouse gas.
AES Corp. has applied for "green company" status with GES Investment
Services, a green investment company in Western Europe. However, a
growing body of scientific evidence reveals that dams dramatically
increase - rather than decrease - overall greenhouse gas emissions. The
science shows there is a link between reservoirs and methane gas
emissions related to resulting vegetation decomposition, making
reservoirs significant contributors to overall greenhouse gas emissions.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with nearly 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.