Panama: NgÀbe Communities Remain on High Alert

by February 24, 2014

NgÀbe communities in Panama remain on high alert after the government announced its intention to evict the Tabasarå River area in western Panama.

Gathered on the banks on the river Tabasarå, NgÀbe from the village of Kiabda and other affected communities have established a protest camp to halt the completion of a 28.58 megawatt hydroelectric dam, Barro Blanco. The completion of the project will result in the communities losing their homes, livelihoods and cultural heritage.

Groups of NgÀbe followed the press to the protest camp 17 february 2014 (Photo: Oscar Sogandares)

Groups of NgÀbe followed the press to the protest camp, 17 february 2014. (Photo: Oscar Sogandares)

Oscar Sogandares, an environmental activist, told IC Magazine that the government has not yet initiated forced evictions due to media pressure. But the communities remain deeply concerned that evictions will occur in the coming days.

Sogandares said: “It just might be that they may try to use next Carnaval Monday or Tuesday, when everybody's attention is focused on partying and something else to try to surprise us.”

Cacica suplente Clementina Perez with Luis Jimenez , or 'Bulo' (big man in ngÀbe) Justo's father in the camp. (Photo: Oscar Sogandares)

Cacica suplente Clementina Perez with Luis Jimenez , or 'Bulo' (big man in ngÀbe). (Photo: Oscar Sogandares)

GENISA, the company responsible for constructing the dam, has received a total of $78.3 million in loans from three development banks: the Dutch FMO, the German DEG, and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CBIE). And, in 2011, the project was approved by the UN Carbon Setting Scheme despite the fact that the government violated the NgĂ€bes’ right to free, prior, and informed consent.

GENSIA’s has maintained that no communities will be displaced or impacted by the dam. But the resistance movement Movimeinto Diez de Abril para la Defensa del RĂ­o TabasarĂĄ, known as M10 and formed by NgĂ€be community members, has always refuted this claim as being a flagrant lie. M10 state that the project will disastrously impact four communities directly, as well as indirectly harming many more.

Goejec Miranda president of M10 giving statements to the press 17 february 2014 (Photo: Oscar Sogandares)

Goejec Miranda president of M10 giving statements to the press, 17 february 2014. (Photo: Oscar Sogandares)

A UN report, released in 2012, confirmed that the completion of the project and the subsequent creation of a 258 hectare reservoir will flood at least six homes, a school and cultural centre, farmland, and destroy several hectares of gallery forest. Communities will lose the use of the river, which is also culturally and historically important, for fishing, bathing, and swimming. The report recommended that a further specialist study be conducted but construction of the project has continued unabated.

Last Thursday (February 20), M10, the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), Earth Justice and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) submitted an urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on behalf of the affected NgÀbe. The groups are calling for a halt to forced evictions and are requesting that Panama respects the rights of its indigenous peoples.

Weni Bagama, of M10, said: “Our lands and natural resources are the most important aspects of our culture. Every day, we fear we will be forced from our home.”

Weni Bagama M10 leader (right) and the Cacica Silvia Carrera at the Protest Camp (Photo: Oscar Sogandares)

Weni Bagama (right) and the Cacica Silvia Carrera at the Protest Camp. (Photo: Oscar Sogandares)

  • February 24, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Hello, Thanks for this update. I'm trying to find more information on this GENSIA company. I found one GENSIA company that is called GENSIA Sicor and is a pharmaceutical company, but they changed their name to Sicor in 1999, I think.

    In one of your articles, you mentioned that GENSIA said on their website...etc. Just wondering where that website is.

    Basically, I'm trying to understand what corporation is behind this and how do the banks profit from this?



  • February 25, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Hi BAI,

    GENISA, Generadora del Istmo, S.A., is a registered Panamanian company, and it was set up for the purposes of constructing Barro Blanco. It is owed by the Kafie family, a wealthy Honduran family who supply most of Honduras' energy and supported the 2009 coup. GENISA's website is

    For background info on the project you can read my investigative piece for CorpWatch. There is also more info about the banks, which I contacted during the course of my research.

    Hope this helps. And, I have done quite a bit on this so drop me a line if you need anymore info. Email:




  • Cornelia van der Kuur
    March 19, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    So sad that the truth is never told, when there is making money involved, and the poor and indigenous people of the world are just exploited.


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