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Volume 14, Number 21
November 11, 2008

news

Also in this section:
Panama reacts to Obama
March against sexual and reproductive health law
Daniel Delgado Diamante in ever deeper trouble
Civilistas warn, but is anyone listening?
He's a wizard under the sheets and he's got, um, something to sell you
Pedestrian nightmare
Bernal works the holiday crowds
Dozens said to be implicated in sculpture theft
More Panamanian human rights cases appealed to regional court
Bolivia's ambassador honors Che Guevara
Indigenous networking
Burma's Karen rebels run from government offensive
Panama News Briefs


Protest in Naso country. Photo from RootsForce

Panamanian cases before Inter-American Human Rights Court
Court weighs dam evictions,
imprisonment without trial
by Eric Jackson

The eviction of indigenous communities to make way for hydroelectric dams and the case of an Ecuadoran man who was imprisoned for two years and tortured at La Joyita Penitentiary are the latest Panamanian cases before the Inter-American Human Rights Court (IHRC). By treaty this international tribunal is the court of last resort for cases arising from Panama that involve internationally recognized human rights.

Two indigenous communities from Bocas del Toro, Naso residents who would be displaced by the Bonyic Dam project, which the Colombian-owned Hidro Ecologica del Teribe  seeks to build on Quebrada Bonyic, a tributary of the Teribe River; and the Ngobe community of Charco La Pava, which is being displaced by a dam being built on the Changuinola River by the US-based AES corporation, appeared at a court session held in Washington, DC on October 28.

The Bonyic Dam led to the ouster of Naso King Tito Santana and his replacement by his uncle, Valentín Santana, by a vote of the Naso General Council. But the PRD-controlled Electoral Tribunal purged the Naso voter rolls and a new "election" was held under armed guard in which Tito was restored. The issue between Tito and Valentín was the dam. Valentín has international support, which has led to Tito's complaints that the anti-dam movement is led by outsiders. In addition to the displacement of individuals and the privatization of a water supply that has been used by the community, Naso residents and environmentalists complain that the dam will interrupt fish migrations and thus local food supplies and will affect the Amistad International Park, to which the lake will be adjacent.

At Charco La Pava, it is alleged that the Torrijos administration and AES forced people to agree to the sale of their lands --- and the lands of others --- until they claimed that 50 percent of the residents had sold, then sent in police and a private paramilitary army to dislodge the whole community. Journalists and all foreigners caught in the area were detained.

In both the Bonyic and Charco La Pava situations there are also allegations of corruption by the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), in the form of the latter's acceptance of incomplete and inaccurate environmental impact statements for the projects.


Other indigenous communities join the case

One member of the legal team representing the Naso and Ngobe appellants was Leonidas Quirós, the first Wounaan lawyer, who argued that these two cases were part of a general pattern of indigenous people being pushed off of their lands in Panama, to make way for hydroelectric dams, strip mines or developments aimed to serve foreign tourists.

But at the hearing Aristides Royo, Panama's ambassador to the OAS who served as one of the dictatorship's appointed figurehead presidents, attacked the right of the people of Charco La Pava to live where they did, as that community was only established in 1968 and thus the residents's squatters' rights to their land have only been vested for 25 years and that indigenous collective land rights don't apply. He argued that the dam projects are being carried out in accordance with Panama's laws.



The dam opponents also argued against the carbon emission bond scheme contemplated in the Kyoto Protocol, an environmental treaty that allows developers of hydroelecrtic dams to get international subsidies from polluting companies in developed countries. Panama has granted concessions for dams on virtually all of its rivers and streams other than those in the Panama Canal watershed, and if all of these are built it will mean the privatization of most surface water resources and the devastation of virtually all fish species that come in from the oceans to spawn in rivers. However, against these grave economic losses to communities, the hydroelectric companies would be assured profits by a combination of carbon bond subsidies and the sale of power to Central American countries via a regional power grid. Without the carbon bonds and selling just to meet Panamanian needs, these dam projects would not be particularly profitable.

Representing affected Ngobe communities, Felicio Santos argued that "these dams threaten the very existence of our people. If governments in Europe and the US want to make emissions reductions, they should make them in their own countries rather than using the carbon market to impose destructive projects on communities in the developing world."

Imprisonment without trial and alleged torture


In the other case heard by the IHRC, Ecuadoran citizen Jesús Vélez Loor sought damages from the Panamanian government for allegedly being beaten and tortured by Panamanian police in 2002, and being imprisoned in La Joyita for two years without any legal procedures against him.

Vélez had entered Panama illegally, across the border with Colombia.

The foreign ministry admitted that Vélez had been imprisoned without process of law for two years, but said that he had not submitted sufficient proof of being tortured. It is the position of the Torrijos administration that there should be no legal recourse whatsoever for somebody who is imprisoned without process of law, or by a sham legal process, in Panama.


The case arises not long after revelations that the former dictatorship executed at least 15 illegal immigrants by throwing them out of helicopters high over the Darien jungle or the Pacific Ocean. Attorney General Ana Matilde Gómez has opened an investigation of these murders.


Also in this section:
Panama reacts to Obama
March against sexual and reproductive health law
Daniel Delgado Diamante in ever deeper trouble
Civilistas warn, but is anyone listening?
He's a wizard under the sheets and he's got, um, something to sell you
Pedestrian nightmare
Bernal works the holiday crowds
Dozens said to be implicated in sculpture theft
More Panamanian human rights cases appealed to regional court
Bolivia's ambassador honors Che Guevara
Indigenous networking
Burma's Karen rebels run from government offensive
Panama News Briefs

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