15, Number 15
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Ngobe communities protest against hydroelectric dam on the Fonseca River that would displace them. Archive photo by FRENADESO
Indigenous protesters set out from Ngobe-Bugle Comarca for the capital
On September 16 the Movilizacion Nacional Indigena, Campesina y Popular, an alliance comprised primarily of indigenous groups opposed to hydroelectric dam, strip mining and tourist resort developments that would dispossess communities of their lands or water rights, set out on a 370-kilometer march from Quebrada Guabo in the Ngobe-Bugle Comarca to the Presidencia in Panama City. Vowing to march through sun and rain, the protesters aim to pick up support along the way and present their proposal for "an alternative development model that respects people and their cultures and land."* * *
The demonstrators expect to arrive in the capital on October 6, camp out in the city and meet with diverse groups for several days, and lead a march on the presidential palace on October 12.
Ngobe community claims Galique Thermal Springs
The concept of a public right to a presecriptive easement to use a recreational asset that the public has regularly used for since long before anyone now living was born exists in Panamanian law. Although the place in question, the Galique Thermal Springs in the San Felix district of Chiriqui, was drawn outside of the Ngobe-Bugle Comarca by the Pérez Balladares administration, as an indigenous cultural site its public nature is also arguably protected by the organic law by which the comarca was created.
None of this used to be an issue. The springs were on land to which a private individual held title, and he never disputed their free use by bathers, mostly but not exclusively from the area's Ngobe majority.
However, the title owner died, the land was sold to foreigners, and the Torrijos administration refused to recognize most traditional collective property rights, particularly indigenous rights to anything at all outside of the comarca limits. An alliance of officials of the Ngobe-Bugle Comarca, community groups, environmentalists and leftists, concerned that the springs will be privatized and closed to the general public, is challenging the right of anybody to assert private ownership over them. A vigil has been ongoing for months, and on August 31 and September 1, members of the movement to declare the site public property of the Ngobe community gathered by the springs.
Photos by the Coordinadora de Lucha por el Respeto a la Vida y a la Dignidad del Pueblo Panameño
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