Barro Blanco floodings: enormous damage
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 indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé have been opposing the dam for years, without success. The test floodings in May 2016 raised the water level of the reservoir to 103 meter, inundating large pieces of indigenous land. Both ENDS' colleague Anna van Ojik visited the community Kiad in March to seek a solution for this long-lasting conflict.
Material and immaterial damage
Some houses, cacao plantations and vegetable gardens have been destroyed by the water, part of the Ngäbe's food forests has died. The river bank is hardly accessible through the mud and the water is no longer suitable for consumption or doing laundry. The inhabitants now have to rely on a thin water trickle from a provisional tube.
At least as bad is the intangible damage, especially around Kiad, the cultural center of the Ngäbe. Here is the only school where the written version of the Ngäbe-language is taught. Because trails between the communities are no longer passable, many children now can not go to this school. In addition, a cemetery flooded and ancient rock drawings of the ancestors of the Ngäbe-Buglé are now under water.
Consultation proved difficult
The communities, united in the 'Movimiento 10 de abril' (M10), meanwhile seek ways to influence the project, that affects their life so directly. M10 has therefore made a counter-proposal to the Panamanian government, which is based on a water level of 80 meters. At this level, no land within their indigenous territory, the comarca, will be inundated. Their proposal is now being discussed.
Apart from that, the dialogue between the indigenous Ngäbe and the government is difficult. The government is trying to reach an agreement with the indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé Congress and negotiates it with its board, which however was fired by the same congress this March because of disagreements over mining concessions. Therefore, there is little chance that the congress will support the agreement, which may be presented this week already.
All national legal paths to stop the dam have been exhausted. The communities have now pinned their hopes on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). With the support of Both ENDS, representatives of M10 and partner organization ACD traveled to Washington for a hearing on human rights in Panama. The outcome is at least a small step forward: the government should better consult the communities and must submit proof of the consultation process to the IACHR. Today, April 4 is the first meeting, where M10 will be present.
FMO should not accept human rights abuses
Even though Both ENDs has been involved for years in the Barro Blanco case and stays in close contact with our local partners M10 and ACD, it turns out that there are many things you won't learn from a distance. The Dutch development bank FMO, who has not visited the area recently, therefore has no clear view on the situation on the ground. Both ENDS has already informed FMO about the latest developments in Panama.
FMO now has to show that they do not accept the human rights abuses by their client GENISA, the company building the dam. Furthermore, FMO can no longer point to the dialogue between the government and the communities, now that it is very clear how arduous this process has been until now. FMO should visit the affected communities and recognize the human rights abuses that take place there. And FMO should ask their client GENISA to halt the project until a consultation process has been carried out correctly and the affected communities received fair compensation.
- 23 March 2017, Global Sisters Report: Washington hearing is activists' last hope in battle over Panama dam
- 23 March 2017: A wall in their river: Flooded Ngäbe communities continue to fight dam
- 30 August 2016: Worrying new developments around Barro Blanco
- 2 June 2016: Indigenous land submerged by illegal clusure of dam
- 1 June 2015: FMO did not follow its own rules in financing Barro Blanco dam
- 18 May 2015: Dutch FMO pushed Panama to continue construction Barro Blanco dam
- 6 May 2015: Construction of Barro Blanco dam will be resumed
11 Feb 2015: Construction Barro Blanco dam finally suspended
Read our background story about Barro Blanco
The Barro Blanco Dam
The dead trees clearly show until where the water rised. Although the water level has dropped somewhat, the damage is huge. According to the plan of the dam, the water can reach even higher.
The cocoa plantations of Kiad's inhabitants have been destroyed by the water. The fruits are left in the trees.
These are the remains of a house engulfed by the water. There remain only a few poles.
The water came until this house, causing the owners to abandon it.
This temporarily laid tube is the only drinking water supply for the residents of Kiad. Previously, they used the water of the river, but that has become unusable by the closing of the dam.
Manolo with his youngest grandchild. 50 years ago, the illiterate Manolo invented the script of the Ngäbe language and founded this school in Kiad. It is the only school where the script is taught. Children from other communities can't reach the school any more because of the floods.
Schoolbook made by Manolo in the Ngäbe-script.
The school is also being used as a meeting room. Whoever wants to share their thoughts, often does so from the hammock.
Only the top of the rock that carries (or carried) the ancient rock drawings of the ancestors of the Ngäbe is now visible.
Read more about this subject
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.
News / 27 July 2021
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.
Press release / 5 October 2022
Independent research confirms FMO’s responsibility for destruction caused by Barro Blanco dam, recommends compensation
Utrecht, 5 October 2022 - Dutch development bank FMO bears responsibility for the destruction of livelihoods, economic losses and environmental damage caused by the construction of the Barro Blanco dam in Panama, according to a report by the bank's Independent Complaints Mechanism (ICM). Indigenous communities affected by the dam are pleased that their complaints have been confirmed and reiterate their call for apologies and compensation.
Indigenous Hondurans are resisting the construction of the Agua Zarca hydrodam. Their fight has cost several lives, including that of Berta Cáceres. After considerable public pressure, Dutch development bank FMO withdrew from the project.
News / 8 November 2021
Both ENDS and SOMO condemn violence against Indigenous community near the Barro Blanco dam in Panama
Members of the Indigenous Ngäbe Buglé people were brutally attacked by Panamanian police on Friday 29 October 2021 from a parcel of private land near the FMO-financed Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam. The victims, all members of the anti-dam movement M22, had peacefully occupied the land after their protest camp got dismantled in July this year.
Large-scale infrastructural projects have detrimental effects on local people and the environment, while their benefits are felt elsewhere. Both ENDS is working to ensure that local people have a greater say in decision-making and is investigating the way these projects are funded.
News / 23 December 2021
2022 is the year for FMO to make good on its promises and provide financial support only to sustainable development
2021 was a turbulent year for Dutch development bank FMO, to say the least. The bank has been under fire for many years for investments linked to human rights violations and suspected corruption. But in the past year, the Dutch press and media have reported on one new development after the other in ongoing cases involving FMO. Below we give a short summary of these cases and call on FMO to make the promised improvements in 2022.
Development banks should comply with strict environmental and human rights rules to ensure that their projects benefit and do not harm the poorest groups. Both ENDS monitors the banks to make sure they do.
News / 28 June 2022
On Tuesday 28 June, the Honduran organisation COPINH and the Global Justice Association filed a complaint with the public prosecutor in the Netherlands against Dutch development bank FMO. For COPINH, this is part of their continued efforts to bring to justice those involved in the murder of their leader Berta Cáceres. FMO financed the Agua Zarca project in Honduras in 2014. The new complaint is based on documents indicating that FMO's money has been used improperly.
News / 6 July 2017
Both ENDS and SOMO welcome the announcement done today by the Dutch and Finnish development banks, FMO and FinnFund, to exit the controversial Agua Zarca hydroelectric project in Honduras. Conflict about the project has led to violence in the region, including the murder of three leaders who opposed the project. In March 2016, renowned human rights defender Berta Caceres was murdered for opposing this project in indigenous Lenca territory.
News / 23 July 2021
The million-dollar loan that the Dutch development bank FMO provided to project developers of Honduran company DESA for the construction of the controversial Agua Zarca dam project in Honduras, may be related to gross corruption and malpractice. This is concluded in an article published today in the Dutch news paper Financieel Dagblad, based on information provided by COPINH, the indigenous organisation that has been opposing the construction of the dam for years. Several members of the organisation, including its leader Berta Cáceres, were murdered. DESA director David Castillo has recently been convicted of being involved in the assassination of Cáceres in 2016.
News / 1 December 2018
On Thursday, November 29, seven suspects of the murder of Berta Cáceres (in March 2016) were found guilty. Members of the indigenous human rights organisation COPINH, of which Cáceres was the leader, and close relatives of Cáceres herself see the ruling as the first step towards justice for her murder and the recognition that the company DESA is co-responsible for this. They also point out, however, that the process was permeated with corruption, intimidation and other abuses from the very beginning, and that the masterminds behind the murder are still walking around freely.
News / 20 October 2016
This week, Laura Zuniga Cáceres, daughter of Berta Cáceres*, visits the Netherlands. She will talk with the directors of the involved departments of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, participated in a colloquium about indigenous right of Leiden University and meet with several Dutch NGO's. Both ENDS asked this brave young woman about the situation in Honduras and her motivation to continue her mother's work.
News / 9 December 2016
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.
News / 2 July 2019
In the Nam Ou river in Northern Laos, seven dams are built by a Chinese company. All over the world one can see the same picture when it comes to hydropower projects: it has devastating impacts on the people living in or around the area where they are being built, primarily because they are being displaced. It seems that displacement of communities is still accepted as the unavoidable collateral damage of infrastructure projects. This reveals a highly unacceptable attitude towards poor communities in whose name development is proceeding. In Laos, our Laotian partner visited communities along the river to talk with people about their life after displacement:
Publication / 29 May 2019
News / 4 October 2017
On September 20th FMO published its new position statements on human rights, land governance and gender. We appreciate that FMO takes human rights serious and applaud the efforts that have been made to come to an improved position on human rights, land and gender. However, to truly have a positive impact on people and the environment, some important follow up steps are necessary.
Event / 7 March 2018, 15:00 - 16:30
Join us for the third session of this five-part series on women's rights and climate finance, aimed at building knowledge and power to ensure finance flows benefit local women's groups, respond to community needs and respect human rights.
News / 28 November 2017
On 28 November 2007, the Saramaka people won a ground-breaking court case against Suriname at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). The Court ruling included the provision that Suriname could no longer grant concessions on tribal territory without the permission of the inhabitants. Ten years later, little has come of implementing this ruling in practice.
News / 2 March 2017
Today, it is exactly one year ago that Berta Cáceres was brutally murdered in her home in Honduras. Cáceres was a globally known human rights defender and coordinator of the indigenous Lenca organisation COPINH. The murder of Berta is closely related to her protest against the Agua Zarca dam, a hydroelectric project financed partially by the Dutch development bank FMO.