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Panamanian Indigenous Fight Back Against Threatened Eviction

Indigenous leaders in Panama have answered an eviction order with an ultimatum.
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Indigenous leaders in Panama have answered an eviction order with an ultimatum.

In early February, the Panamanian government had announced plans to evict 3,000 indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé families from their territory as part of the construction of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric plant on the Tabasara River.

The Genisa Company, that is constructing the dam, denied they had any plans to evict anyone but the affected indigenous community took action.

Activists immediately organized protests against the order, asserting that the eviction and the entire project were illegal and on March 6, Ngöbe-Buglé leaders issued their own ultimatum.

Indigenous activist Ricardo Miranda, leader of the April 10th Movement, gave notice last week to the businesses involved with construction of a hydroelectric plant.

"If the Barrio Blanco project is not canceled within 15 days we will proceed to a new resistance struggle on the national level with all of our organizations," said Miranda at a press conference in Panama City on March 6.

He added that they have sent their advisory to the Panamanian government and that they have requested a ruling from the Panamanian Supreme Court.

The struggle between the Ngöbe-Buglé community and the Generadora del Isma Company (Genisa) along with the government has been ongoing since plans for the hydroelectric plant were announced in 2010, including a variety of protests and police actions.

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In the last four years indigenous leaders have received support from a variety of groups in Panama as well as international figures such as James Anaya, Special Rapporteur for the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

After his visit to Panama in July of 2013, Anaya noted that the indigenous community had not been adequately consulted according to international law.

RELATED: Rights of the Ngöbe-Buglé Trampled in Hydro Power Grab

“From my visit to the Ngöbe-Buglé community and my dialogues with Ngöbe representatives it is clear that there is strong opposition to the Barrio Blanco project, as well as a lack of clarity and adequate information about the impacts,” Anaya stated.

“The Ngöbe people should have been adequately consulted before authorizing the sale of the hydroelectric project,” he continued. “In any case, and in accord with international norms related to the rights of Indigenous Peoples, they should not proceed with the flooding of the lands of the Ngöbe people.”

The Ngöbe-Buglé people have been protesting the latest order for the last month, camping near the banks of the Tabasara River. National police were sent to the area near the camps but no conflicts were reported until March 8, when members of the April 10th Movement said that they were being fired upon. No other details of the assault were available at press time.

For Chief Silvia Carrera, a Ngöbe-Buglé leader of many protests against mining and energy projects that would have affected tens of thousands of indigenous people, the fight against the Barrio Blanco project is part of a larger fight.

"It's clear to the people that this is not uniquely a problem of taking land from thousands of families, but it is the violation and invasion of territory and their sacred natural inheritance given to us by God that is the Tabasara River and that is not up for negotiation," she wrote in social media.

"The people do not dialogue over the sale of their mother," Carrera asserted.