Indigenous Victory in Panama?

ngobe2The Ngobe Indians of Panama filed a petition against U.S. based AES corporation and the Panamanian government 1 year ago to stop the destruction of their homes and farm lands in the name of “progress” and have recently received a positive first decision on their petition.

 A subsidiary of AES and the Panamanian government reached an agreement to build the Chan-75 Dam through Ngobe lands about 2 years ago. Construction threatens both the Ngobe and the UN Biosphere Reserve. 4 villages, about 1000 homes, would be destroyed by the project, while another 4,000 Ngobe living in neighboring lands would have their main transportation routes and food sources polluted (both the end or near end to fishing and flooding of farm lands). Their culture is also being fundamentally threatened as the Dam opens their lands and resources to exploitation and settlement by non-Ngobe peoples.

UNESCO believes the Dam project will spell then end of several endangered species in the area by ngobedestroying their migration routes. It also believes several fish species that live in the area will become extinct through damming or polluting of water ways. Similar projects have had similar effects on Amazon water ways.

When the Ngobe protested, the Panamanian government is said to have paid militia to go into the area and threaten and beat the Ngobe people into submission. Reports of abuse against women and children, as well as Ngobe in general, did not reach most of the U.S. despite the fact that the Dam project is partially backed by a U.S. owned multinational corporation.

Early this week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a stay order suggesting that the Panamanian government halt all work on the Dam. This decision is an early indicator that review of the case will result in condemnation of the Dam project by the IACHR but is not a final decision on the matter.

As part of the IACHR decision, they have asked the Panamanian government to ensure the HR of the Ngobe people and to stop speculation on at least two other Dam sites. They have given the government 20 days to respond with a detailed plan about how they plan to protect Ngobe human rights now and in the future.

Neither the Panamanian government nor AES have issued a statement ensuring compliance with the intial IACHR decision.

You can help by contacting AES in support of the IACHR decision and the Ngobe. click here for contact info.

Info for this post came from Cultural Survival Journal

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