Committee to recommend suspension of dam project in Panama

MOYOGALPA - A high-level government committee is recommending the suspension of the construction of a controversial hydroelectric dam project in western Panama.

The recommendation is being presented at a Cabinet meeting late Tuesday.

Located in Indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé territory, the dam has been the subject of conflict and opposition since the concession for the 28.4 Megawatt Barro Blanco project was granted to the Honduran-owned GENISA energy company in 2006.

Following an ultimatum by Ngäbe leaders calling for the suspension of Barro Blanco by Feb. 15, a government delegation met with Indigenous community representatives in the area Monday.

Vice-president Isabel Saint Malo heads the committee, which also includes the ministers of security and the environment.

The committee found that GENISA has not fulfilled its commitments regarding cultural and environmental issues under the Environmental Impact Assessment.

“The committee determined that there are countless unresolved issues and it therefore falls on the government to ensure the agreements established between the company and the community are met,” according to a statement by the Ministry of the Presidency.

The construction of Barro Blanco dam on the Tabasara River is nearly complete. Indigenous leaders maintain that once filled, the reservoir will flood villages and agricultural lands. They have highlighted the impact the project will have on sites of archaeological and cultural importance, as well as the livelihood of local communities.

Ngäbe communities and local groups have set up protest camps, highway blockades and other actions in the last four years in an attempt to halt construction of the dam. Police actions in response to the protests resulted in the death of a protester in 2013 and several wounded in 2014.

Along with the temporary suspension of construction at the Barro Blanco project, the governmental high- level committee is proposing a tripartite dialogue to begin Feb. 6 with Ngäbe leaders and GENISA.

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