News / 18 February 2014

Situation tense for indigenous Ngäbe people near Barro Blanco in Panama

The construction of the Barro Blanco dam in Panama is entering the final stage. Project developer Genisa is planning to bring the dam into operation in May. The indigenous Ngäbe people that live in the area, a tribe of about two hundred thousand, are opposed to the construction of the dam. They have entrenched themselves in the areas where the building of the dam is being completed. All of them are afraid of the security forces, who acted with a lot of violence in the last confrontation.

No agreement or permission

The common lands, a number of culturally valuable locations, and some houses of the indigenous Ngäbe people on the banks of the river Tabasará will be inundated by the reservoir of the dam. After numerous protests and consultations, the government and the project developer have still not come to an agreement with the affected people. Both a Round Table led by the UNDP and UN Rapporteur James Anaya concluded that the residents have not been sufficiently consulted and that the affected people certainly have not given their permission to the construction of the dam.


Role of FMO

The Dutch development bank FMO, which has granted a loan of $25 Million to this project, claims to use its influence to improve the consultation process between the project developer and the Ngäbe Indians. The only question is: how? It is becoming increasingly difficult to organise proper consultations. The dam is nearly finished, so the possibilities of the residents to influence the construction/proceedings are minimal at this stage. Meanwhile, the government issued a formal warning to the Ngäbe that Genisa is permitted to access their land as of last Monday, February 17.  This means Genisa can start operating their machines on Ngäbe land.



The Ngäbe in turn called on the people of Panama to participate in the protests against the dam. Previous clashes between protesting Ngäbe and Panamanian security forces have resulted in a number of deaths and injuries. We are hoping for a peaceful outcome.


For more information also see:

Investigation of UN-rapporteur James Anaya (19 June 2013)

Anouk Franck on visit UN Rapporteur James Anayo to Panama (13 August 2013)

Filing a complaint with the FMO (14 February 2014)



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