In April 2021, the Dutch development bank FMO announced that it is no longer involved in the Barro Blanco project, a controversial dam in Panama. GENISA, the Panamanian company that built the dam, unexpectedly paid off the multi-million dollar loan early. The question is to what extent, now that the bank is no longer actively financing the project, FMO can still be held responsible for the damage and suffering that was caused when this was still the case.
Representatives of the Dutch and the German development banks (FMO and DEG) are in Panama today to discuss the future of the controversial Barro Blanco project with the government. Last May, the locks of the dam were closed to test the dam, in complete breach of all previous agreements. Part of the surrounding land is now flooded and some residents might soon have to be evacuated. Both ENDS, together with seven other organisations sent a letter to the directors of the two banks, urging them to assume their responsibilities as investors in the project.
On Tuesday 24th of May the locks of the Barro Blanco dam in the Tabasará river in Panama, which is partly financed by the Dutch development bank FMO, were closed. This is in complete discord with the previous agreements between the Panamanian government and the leadership of the indigenous communities. Last august these parties had agreed that the reservoir of the dam would not be filled until a new agreement had been reached which includes all affected parties. According to the Panamanian government and the company Genisa the present filling of the dam is only a test. But this ‘test’ means that the water will rise 26 meters above the predicted future level of water.
Three days after the first homes were flooded as a consequence of the Barro Blanco dam, the government of Panama signed an agreement about this dam with a number of representatives of the Ngäbe-Bugle people. The affected communities however have still not been involved in the process. Both ENDS is worried about these developments.
The Dutch Entrepreneurial Development Bank (FMO) has put pressure on the Panamanian government to proceed with the construction of the Barro Blanco dam. This was reported by the Dutch Newspaper ‘de Volkskrant’ on Monday the 18th of May. Construction works were suspended last February after the Panamanian environmental authority had found out that the company carrying out the construction – the Panamanian company Genisa – had violated environmental regulations and had failed to make proper arrangements with local Ngöbe communities. FMO is one of the investors in the project.
The closing of the Barro Blanco dam last year caused not only material but also cultural damage in the affected Ngäbe-Buglé communities in Panama. So far, funder FMO is not taking responsibility for the human rights abuses caused by the project. So, what now?
The Barro Blanco dam project in Panama, which has Dutch financial support, is causing indigenous lands to disappear under water. Both ENDS is working to protect the rights of indigenous communities living near the dam.
As we celebrate both the 30th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development (December 4th) and Human Rights Day (December 10th), Both ENDS joins with communities and civil society groups around the world to call on development finance institutions, governments, and businesses to take 3 steps to stand up for Human Rights in development.
We were very pleased that James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, visited Panama to speak with the indigenous Ngäbe Buglé community and to take a close look at the developments around the Barro Blanco dam.