Bibliografia‎ > ‎

The Tabasara agonizes and new protests arise against Barro Blanco

Government vehicles bringing materials to Nuevo Palomar

Waters cover dangerously Central Petroglyph

The government anxiously sought the alleged ngäbe consent when we witnessed motorcades of MEDUCA vehicles among other institutions on Tuesday 21 June with materials for prefabricated houses in comarca areas like New Palomar without telling them that this was just for the presumed consent for Hydropower Project Barro Blanco HBBP and thus impose this illegitimate project.

After the recent floods there were reports that there are not many fish in the upper reaches of the river. Since these were caught in the reservoir and were dying for lack of oxygen. According to reports from the inhabitants of KIAD current location of the edge of the reservoir, the reservoir level despite having remained in 87.5msnm, due to recent floods rose almost two meters at the edge of the reservoir dangerously covering partially the central petroglyph.

This shows that upon reaching the operating level of 103 meters above sea level it proves that with each sudden swelling of the river the level will dangerously exceed the level of 103 meters reaching above 105 and 106 meters levels and with typical floods of the rainy season may even exceed the 108.25 overflow level shattering the fable of the assumed thousand years flood of the company. Hence not only the 6 houses of KIAD would be under the minimum level of 103 meters, but all the communities of KIAD and New Palomar, including Calabacito would be underwater.

Embalse de Barro Blanco eleva crecida (video)

Just for this fact this irresponsible project should not only be canceled for not meeting the standards under which it was designed, but also for having flagrantly violated national laws such as the Law 10 of 1997, International Law, the Constitution of Panama in its Article 127 which protects the collective lands from expropriation and alienation, Universal Human Rights and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The cries of the communities affected by the nefarious HBBP seem to have fallen in torn bags in witnessing the gradual death of the Rio Tabasará with all its endemic species. The inhabitants have seen with their own eyes the death of thousands of fish from lack of oxygen within this reservoir of stagnant and smelly waters due to decomposition of forest and fish. It's horrible the smell of decomposing bodies in the reservoir Barro Blanco, it is unbearable. The level has dropped and thousands of dead fish are visible. Should we ask how can the Clean Development Mechanism CDM certify such a dirty project?

There is another problem which our Ngäbe farmers and herdsmen friends have expressed to us, who are concerned about the water supply for cattle and horses. Due to the high degree of reservoir water pollution and serious danger to their animals in ingesting this water with decaying organic matter. According to the Japanese water quality Standards of AA Tabasará was fit for animal consumption [i] and human pre-chlorination. The current state of the water which is no longer suitable either for consumption by animals let alone to humans, has not been quantified by the government which irresponsibly continues to sponsor this project will mean ruin for livestock activity in the region.

Cattle at risk from contaminated water

The residents are now wondering where are the known environmental groups in the country to give a warning salvo at national and international level of this environmental disaster. Also notable is the absence of the media controlled mostly by large blocks of economic power who have divided the riches of this small country and which have imposed an information blockade, a virtual gag to the dramatic events that unfold around Barro Blanco. Instead they have given full coverage to the fiesta of the Canal Expansion which has opened its gates to the world of services, while the Barro Blanco project closes its gates to the humble Ngäbe Bugle people and peasants.

Tabasara blue frog (dendrobates auratus)

Finally the famous animal rescue appeared that until then existed only in the paper of the discredited EIA Environmental Impact Study [ii]. They came to the rescue of our famous Tabasará blue frogs [iii], members of the great family of auratus dendrobates covering some with different colors like red frog from Bastimentos or the green with large very showy eyes of the Chiriqui highlands. All arboreal because they deposit their young in bromeliads in high trees filled with moisture of the gallery forest of the  Tabasará River and which company representatives even then still denied their existence in the dialogue table last year. They also rescued reptiles as iguanas and other arboreal species. We do not know if they rescued the blue frogs for private collections and terrariums (in violation of the CITES convention [iv] which prohibits trafficking in exotic species) because of its high price for being very colorful and scarce even according to German researcher R. Heselhaus [v] this variety of blue morpho is into steady decline and danger of extinction [vi]. Only because of facts like these projects have been canceled  in other countries.

Contaminated waters in reservoir of Barro Blanco

Upon being questioned by the residents who they worked for, they replied that they were paid by the company but were 'independent'. Then they asked them why not better rescue live fish, so they will not die in these backwaters rather than pick them already dead. They told them that they gathered them to determine whether they were 'poisoned'. Is this perhaps, we do not know, at the request of the company in an attempt to get rid of responsibility and even perversely place guilt to the Ngäbes inhabitants themselves? We also ask how can they find out the cause of death dipped in formaldehyde? Presumably most obvious as in the case of thousands of dams in the world that the mass death of fish [vii] is due to the lack of dissolved oxygen in the water reservoir [viii]. This has always happened around the world when these large dams are built. River fish which have high oxygen requirements live in 'lotic' or environments of large currents where they swim to the upper reaches of rivers to spawn as diadromous species [ix] like the tarpon and snook. But when they are in stagnant or 'lentic' waters they perish for lack of dissolved oxygen. According to our reports there was a chiricano biologist by name of Patino, we do not know if relative to the distinguished chiricano federalist. But when they returned to their activities they avoided giving more statements to the inhabitants.

Peces se mueren en Barro Blanco (video)

The truth is that the promoters of this project do not care about the protection and conservation of these species, or destroying ecosystems. They play God for profit for their financial coffers and sale of megawatts to the highest bidder. They will convert a healthy place of lush vegetation and wildlife into an unhealthy place, full of mosquitoes, stagnant water and source of diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and now zika.

From Honduras  there arrived to us news from the Public Ministry of that country of the formal processing of one of the main executives for this questionable Central American company in charge of the project, for their alleged participation in the MEGA-FRAUD which cost the Honduran Institute of Social Security more than $200 million dollars [x]. It must be said that his family since 2014 had been revoked the visa to the US by the Department of State in its fight against money laundering [xi]. If this government were serious they would immediately suspend the project and initiate a FORENSIC AUDIT of this company.

Ombudsman visiting Kiad

After the great concentration of June 11 at the gate of Barro Blanco the events  have unfolded quickly, there was the inspection visit of the Ombudsman Alfredo Castillero on June 16, who took note of the large fish kill through the 'test' reservoir. Apparently the financing banks [xii]  of such fiasco of a project have turned a deaf ear to the cries of the affected communities and the voices of civil society which have pointed to them. [a.] All the inconsistencies and incompatibilities of the project with affected communities, [b.] irreversible damage on nature and biodiversity [xiii] [c.] and violations of Universal Human Rights and violations of the law and the Constitution of Panama in Article 127 that protects the collective lands which are covered by the law [xiv].

El Defensor visita Kiad (video)

Italo Antinori

In his comments he tells us he was inspired by the management of the first defender or ombudsman that Panama had Don Italo Antinori who was from these same lands of Tolé near the great river Tabasará and who defended those affected at that time of the mega-projects Tabasará 1 and 2. It was in that heat of this struggle in 1999 when the April 10 Movement or M-10 was forged, the first movement to oppose all exploitation and dams on the Tabasará River. Unfortunately the defunct Tabasará 1 project turned into a new spawn, a 'zombie' project brought to life as the nefarious Barro Blanco project. It is worth mentioning that one of the achievements of his visit was that the reservoir level to remain stable momentarily at 87.5 meters above sea level and would not affect the cultural community of KIAD, the community most affected in every way because of this thoughtless project. Now we urge the distinguished defender Castillero to emulate the first and the greatest defender Italo Antinori Bolaños that Panama ever had to fight and cancel this inhuman project.

The company in an attempt to discredit the claims of affected communities always wanted to question the permanence of Ngäbe communities claiming that they could be of recent occupation. Chan 75 had raised similar implications of the Ngäbe communities settled there and as those ignoring the existence of underground archaeological remains indicating continued occupation for centuries. First of all its EIA was saying that "there were no communities of significant cultural value." 

Then upon determining the existence of valuable petroglyphs in the area of inundation; fact they had denied in their famous 'copy and paste' EIA, the company had flown in helicopters in June 2012 to determine their existence. Even landing in a corn field ruining a poor ngäbe farmer's crop [xv]. Then for the Field Verification[xvi] in September 2012 had even an official of the company to mock their existence, making lines on a stone with a metal object to question its authenticity, with this making a fool and earning the scorn even of the UN officials. Not to mention that the official had fallen off several times from his horse and as a ngäbe companion pointed to his chagrin that this constituted a 'bad omen' [xvii]. It was during this occasion when the communities of KIAD and Nuevo Palomar expressed their outright rejection to the project through signs pasted on all their houses in unanimous protest with the famous phrase Ñagare Barro Blanco [xviii].

Detenidos en protesta en Parque Urraca (video)

The announced visit of the vice president who was expected by helicopter on Saturday June 25, however she arrived the next day, on this occasion by boat to a nearly empty KIAD as its inhabitants were busy in the protests of that day on Sunday June 26. The demonstrations followed that day against the Barro Blanco Project until three in the afternoon when a scuffle between protesters and police occurred when they tried to close the road and arrested 3 people including ngäbe Bernardo Bejarano which was pepper sprayed and handcuffed. 

Ngabes protestan y son reprimidos frente a Barro Blanco (video)

After tense negotiations it was possible to release the three agreeing to maintain a partial closure. It must be said that day simultaneous demonstrations were held throughout the republic, from Pacora, the capital city, the Urraca park where even several detained protesters were detained; Plaza May 5, in front of the Legislative Palace, Chorrera, Penonomé, Santiago Veraguas and Bocas del Toro, as well as in the comarca area Ñokribo, and in some places there were road closures against Barro Blanco Project.

Illegal logging in Barro Blanco

It is said that the project will only affect 7 hectares of comarcal area [xix]. However if we consider the environmental damage it would be substantial. Because the gallery forest extends on both banks of the river both in comarcal territory, as well as peasant land and have an extension of approximately 30 to 40 hectares.

Logging crews in Barro Blanc

In one of our previous visits prior the flooding we encountered a group of hunters chasing a wild pig. They proceeded to the area of the dam but were turned back by security. We do not know whether to keep the prey for themselves. However this shows how abundant the wildlife is in this area. Now that the flood has occurred countless animals are trying to escape the flood as the armadillo held by the young ngäbe in the photo.

Precisely we got the unpleasant news since last week crews aboard company boats have returned to resume illegal logging without having legal authorization. What will  the Ministry of Environment MIAMBIENTE now have to say?

Oropéndola nests in Quebrada Caña

We have been informed of the recent changes in the Clean Development Mechanism CDM, now called Sustainable Development Mechanism SDM [xx] and will have human rights guarantees. Assurances which we have always fought for. If these safeguards had been in force 5 years ago, in addition that Barro Blanco is a obsolete reservoir dam, which will also devastate an incredible amount of forest, not to mention violating human rights, such a project would never have been certified in the first place. 

Call it primary or secondary forest, it provides a sanctuary for an incredible amount of species. Actually we were taught in University that is in these secondary forests where the greatest concentration of species and biodiversity is present. In addition to our friendly blue frogs a good part of birds like toucans, parrots, oropendolas and countless other species inhabit these forests. Even Manolo Miranda of KIAD told us that it is precisely in these forests where they get the herbs, bark and traditional medicines for his people and which the ill-fated project has designated for logging. How much money can the ngäbe population save the government by addressing their own health needs at no cost to the government?

To our surprise we had breakfast with the news that the ASEP authorized the start of construction of Tabasará 2 project that rested the eternal sleep. The Tabasará 2 will open the doors to a number of projects such as Tambor, Rio Rey, Estrechos de Vigui  projects that had only been spoken about before. The Tabasará then will resemble other rivers of the Chiriqui province with the highest concentration of hydroelectric projects throughout the republic [xxi].

The Tabasará River has always been the symbol of our 'chiricanidad' and gateway to our proud province and sacred river to the Ngäbe Bugle. It is today one of the great rivers of Panama which had run free so far. It is now in serious danger threatened by hydroelectric projects that portend questionable dark days for its peaceful course.

"It is an error to call hydroelectric power as green energy or clean energy. Since the dams especially in the tropics emit large amounts of greenhouse gases "

  Philip M. Fearnside, Doctor of Biological Sciences at the University of Michigan

[xiii] Documento Técnico Ambiental sobre el conflicto de Barro Blanco