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An assessment of the ecological conflicts in Panama

An assessment of the ecological conflicts in Panama

By Olmedo Carrasquilla II

In Panama, in recent months, the mobilization of peasants and indigenous people threatened with energy, mining, and market tourism projects linked to territorial initiatives has escalated at the level of social movements. There is also an urgent need to regulate the uncontrolled growth in the metropolis where they suffer from the health of the passerby to the safety of the animals on a daily basis, where there is no regulation that ensures the water supply and its deficiencies under a single operating regime, the problem is the treatment of garbage and an orderly recycling process, the massive traffic of cars and the poor condition of the roads.


The global scenario and its various manifestations of a socio-economic nature have had an unfavorable impact on the development and preservation of cultures and environmental spaces in Latin America, where Panama is one of the countries at risk due to the application of intervention and exploitation policies under the dynamics of the predatory market.

Deepening sustainable development practices is nothing more than the credible threat of indigenous production, where they are uprooted from green spaces by preservation policies. These policies are nothing more than the inventory of the different species with great genetic and profitable wealth that goes against the degree of ecological identity that it represents for Panama. Briefly, it is necessary to build, at a wide pace, a legal structure that goes in the application of conservation ordinances and balanced productivity, integrated from citizen participation, which I would call sustainable development.

Without losing urban development, there is an urgent legal need to regulate the uncontrolled growth with which the environment suffers every day, from the health of the pedestrian to the safety of the animals in the metropolis, where there is no regulation that ensures under a only operating regime the water supply and its deficiencies, the problem of the treatment of garbage and an orderly recycling process, the massive traffic of cars and the poor condition of the roads.

These precepts and, like rural conflicts due to tax and lucrative concessions, lead us to make efforts aimed at the development of a comprehensive Environmental Law, of a sustainable, supportive and participatory nature.

Energy conflict

In Panama, in recent months, the mobilization of peasants and indigenous people threatened with energy, mining, and market tourism projects linked to territorial initiatives has escalated at the level of social movements.

Some of these mobilizations had the participation of more than 800 indigenous people from the Emplanada de Corcha, who suffer threats from mining and hydroelectric activities. Community that, in addition to suffering the problems of extreme poverty and social exclusion, are currently harassed by these projects that put their regional lands and culture at risk.

Like these mass demonstrations, the residents of the Gariché River, Dolega, Paso Canoa and Tabasará have shown their discontent.

These events have alerted other communities living in rich lands and waters, such as the Integrated Development Network made up of more than 20 communities that live on the banks of the Liri and San Pablo rivers in Veraguas. From these community struggles, the Public Service Authority (ASEP) has been able to review the Environmental Impact Study (EIA), disapproving of some requests for concessions.

In Villa Alondra in Puerto Pilón, province of Colón, residents constantly close the road that leads to Portobelo because they feel threatened by a power generation project through thermoelectric plants. The community demands that the earthworks that are currently being carried out be immediately suspended. It will be affected by the thermoelectric boom, as well as the Buena Vista community by the megaproject of the Centro Energético de las Américas petrochemical plant that will settle on the coasts of Colón, a few kilometers from the communities of Pilón and María Chiquita.

In the same energy order, the French company Suez Energy Central America is developing three energy projects in Panama with an installed capacity of 500 megawatts with an investment of US $ 650 million. With the operation of the Cativá projects in Colón, the conversion to coal of the Bahía Las Minas plant and the Suez Hydroelectric in Gualaca, Chiriquí, it is expected that this energy company will have a presence in the Panamanian market of 25 to 30%.

In the same market check is ENDESA-IBERDROLA, a union of Spanish companies, participating in the construction of the Electric Interconnection System for Central America (SIEPAC), which after a contribution of US $ 45.8 million, will coordinate and manage the company that owns the the network, and inaugurates its presence for the first time in Central America behind SIEPAC and that the Kuna Yala region will be affected by this interconnection between Colombia and Panama. This project is also part of the Puebla-Panama Plan, with a regional development strategy sponsored by the World Bank and that will boost the business of energy multinationals that operate in the region, such as UNION FENOSA, ENDESA-IBERDROLA, which controls 110 electric power companies in many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Without neglecting other regions, we cite the Bonyic region, in Bocas del Toro, where armed groups entered in order to intimidate and threaten the communities that oppose the hydroelectric project that bears their name. This armed group is backed by the Medellín company with a criminal record.

There are also other communities in resistance such as Mata Redonda, La Pedregosa, Guayabo, La Catalina, La Campana and Las Palmas cabecera, in Veraguas, which freely and with organized responsibility were integrated as a comprehensive community development network, with the aim of promote and seek alternatives to achieve the well-being of thousands of families. It was formed to defend the waters of the Liri River, also the lands and wildlife against the possible construction of a hydroelectric project in the region.

We can also see the same situation in these communities in the Ciruelar del Río Santa María, with the peasants who live on the banks of the Gatú and Cobre rivers in Veraguas, La Concepción, Las Palmas, Charco La Pava, Plan de Chorcha and Caizán in Chiriquí , where there are mobilizations of hundreds of indigenous people and peasants denouncing and rejecting any project that threatens human rights, their identity and nature.

For rivers, communities and water, the III FONACOR or National Antirepresses Forum took place from September 18 to 22, 2008 in Bonyic, Naso Territory, Bocas del Toro. Space for articulation, shared learning, construction of alternatives and coordination of actions, in the development of an integral citizenship through the democratic and participatory exercise of social responsibility on collective problems, guided by principles of respect for diversity, solidarity and social justice . This was the scene where communities in resistance and international organizations converged.

Territorial conflict

(Beaches and coasts)

Darién Gap (Panama and Colombia), complaints have already been made in rejection of the statements of the Colombian government, through the Colombian presidential advisor for Competitiveness, Fabio Valencia Cossio, in claim to the completion of the Pan-American Highway, stopped two decades ago in the Darién Gap, on the border with Panama, as a priority within the integration project of the Puebla-Panama Plan (PPP) for 2010.

Similarly, the presidents of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe, and of Panama, Martín Torrijos, agreed to accelerate the electrical interconnection project within the framework of the X Summit of the Tuxtla Dialogue and Agreement Mechanism, which was held in Mexico.

But at the II Binational Encounter in Madugandí, which took place from September 15 to 18, 2008, the Kuna Dule People expressed themselves and reaffirmed that they are originally from Abya Yala and declare that they resist the imposition of the states and integrationist policies, to monoculture production and the invasion of their territories.

In that same territory, 279 thousand hectares will be destroyed with the authorization of the Panamanian government by the company Harken Limited, owned by the family of President George W. Bush and a subsidiary of the Global Energy Development group. It intends to extract oil in Darien and to do so will explore the area for 25 years, as stipulated in the contract signed between the former Minister of Commerce and Industries, Alejandro Ferrer, and the legal representative of Harken de Panamá Limited, Stephen Gulwell Voss. Document that already appeared in the Official Gazette on March 10 of this year.

Isla Viveros, Taboguilla, Isla Cébaco and the Archipelago de las Perlas are threatened in all dimensions by the extraction of underwater sand. Extraction that is carried out without a regulatory plan that orders the type of activities. Also the real estate boom in the interior of the country, without measuring the consequences and the value of the land, beyond the lucrative sense in the sale of islands and the product of laws of benefit to the promotion of real estate projects such as interest preferential, construction and operating permits.

The tourism real estate market points to this same point, when it destroys mangroves and wetlands for buildings, as is the case in San Carlos with the company Desarrollo Turístico, owned by Gabriel Diez, Minister of Housing. As a result of this development, Charro Espino, uncle of President Martín Torrijos, was opened a criminal case for an ecological crime. The second instance ruling considered that Espino had caused irreversible ecological damage to a coastal area located in Punta Chame, by deforesting it to build a tourism project.

Another coastal case is the Coiba Park, where the Repeal of Article 11 of Law 44 of July 2004, better known as the Coiba Law, to favor tuna boats. The article in question created an exclusion zone in the Panamanian Pacific, in which the use of purse seines for tuna fishing is prohibited, since they affect marine species such as billfish, dolphins, cetaceans, turtles and others.

But there have also been achievements such as the moment when Ocean Embassy gave up, according to the Panama Aquatic Resources Authority (ARAP), the construction of a dolphinarium in San Carlos. Given this news, we can state that the effort of environmental organizations and civil society was resounding.

Regarding the ecological environment, we cite the case of the Association of Indigenous and United Peasants of Veraguas (ACIUV), which held on Wednesday July 9 at the Chapel of San José in San Francisco de la Montaña, the consultation and rejection of the concession granted by ANAM for the extraction of pine by the Colombian company Maderas Inmunizadas de Panamá, SA (MADERIMPA). Situation that puts at risk communities that for 30 years have developed their lands as a form of subsistence in the face of the job that the company offers. Question that questions and mistrusts the legal spirit of the contract.

Among other cases is the construction of a wind project by the Santa Fe Energy company in the Santa Fé National Park, which is the trigger for environmental groups, who claim that it will be built in a protected area and in a place other than the one indicated in the environmental impact study approved by ANAM. According to the environmental impact study, it will be built in Cerro Tute and Cerro Delgadito, but the location map attached by the company in that same study indicates that the project will be developed in Cerro Cabeza de Toro. The concern is that, according to the map, Cerro Cabeza de Toro is being chosen to develop the project and this is a wooded area. The company needs about 25 square kilometers for the infrastructure of the wind farm. This includes, among other things, the construction of a road that will connect the 40 wind turbine towers.

Mining conflict


In the mining area, the Colombian power generator ISAGEN agreed to initiate feasibility studies for a project that would serve the electricity needs of the Petaquilla company's mining concessions in Panama. If the project is completed, the needs of the Canadian Petaquilla Cooper concessions will be partially or totally met. This would allow the potential energy surpluses to be commercialized in the electricity market of Panama and Central America.

But recently the company Minera Petaquilla lost before the Supreme Court of Justice, which declared legal articles 3, 4, 5 and 6 of Decree No. 209 of September 5, 2006, which had been sued by the company for considering them illegal within of the administrative process that ANAM follows. The decree establishes sanctions for companies that start activities or projects without having approved an environmental impact study.

Leaving no other weaknesses for the Panamanian state, Canadians now paid US $ 44.9 million to get rid of their Panamanian partners. The state did not receive a single hundredth, despite being the owner of the lands that will be exploited. The group of Panamanian businessmen within Minera Petaquilla, led by Richard Fifer, received US $ 44 million 920 thousand for transferring 26% of their shares in the copper project to the company Minera Panama, owned by the Canadian companies Inmet and Teckcominco. There were 20 million 418 thousand 565 shares purchased at US $ 2.20 each.

Canadians are now trying to disengage from their Panamanian partners and as part of that process they announced the name change from Minera Petaquilla to Minera Panama, of which Inmet now has 76% and Teckcominco owns the other 26%.

Other communities in resistance are Cañazas, Guaribiria and Cerro Pelado, which oppose mining projects, due to the way in which companies have carried out activities left and right violating human rights and all legal norms in national and regional territory.

But another case is that the Mici gave the green light to the exploration of manganese and other metallic minerals, not specified, within the Chagres National Park. It is about 1,597 hectares that the Mici gives in concession to the company Minera Cañazas in the townships of Nombre de Dios and Viento Frío in the province of Colón. Most of the concession is located within the park, whose forests produce little more than 40% of the water required by the Panama Canal for its operation, and also provide the drinking water that is consumed in the cities of Panama and Colón, according to information from the National Environmental Authority.

More than 76 thousand hectares in Soná and Las Palmas are being processed, in the National Directorate of Mineral Resources at the request of Oro Gold de Panamá, S.A. There is also a company called Aurífera El Sol, SA, which has a request for gold exploration in 24,700 hectares in Bahía Honda, Río Grande, Guarumal and Cativé, which was rejected by Mici, but that the company presented a reconsideration appeal to see if the authority changes its mind.

Faced with this situation, indigenous people and peasants come together to establish the First Anti-mining Meeting in Panama, which arises from the need to integrate and promote alternatives to this threat. Therefore, the opening of this space facilitates the convergence of ideas and tasks to build a platform for community struggle and development, which is founded by the RED ANTIMINERA PANAMEÑA (REDAP) fighting platform against concessions to explore and exploit open-pit mining in Panamanian territory. This meeting was held in Cañazas de Veraguas on Saturday, September 6 with the participation of more than 12 resistance communities and support organizations. Similarly, one of the first actions took place on Tuesday, September 23, before a meeting of mining consortiums at Miramar, on Avenida Balboa, Panama City.

Urban Problem

Among the urban conflicts is Law 29 of June 2, 2008, which was sanctioned by President Martín Torrijos, which includes an article that has been exclusively designed to legalize all the illegal actions that the Ministry of Housing has carried out so far, referring to the reverted areas of the Canal. This article indicates that everything done since 1997, when the Garden City Law was published, is retroactively legalized. To allow the construction of high-rise luxury apartment buildings, where nothing could be built, and has given these luxury buildings the character of “social interest”.

Like the Cinta Costera, where residents and property owners in the Calidonia area, Avenida Balboa and Vía Justo Arosemena oppose the payment of an appraisal fee to defray the cost of the work, according to the Minister of Public Works. , Benjamin Colamarco. More and more inconveniences arise for citizens and the environment. Regarding water, the Latin American Water Tribunal on September 8-12, held a hearing in Guatemala before the Panamanian state on water matters. The first case that was brought to a hearing is: Hydroelectric Projects on the Bonyic and Changuinola rivers, Palo Seco Protective Forest / La Amistad International Park in the province of Bocas del Toro, specifically the Naso de Bonyic and Ngöbe communities of Charco La Pava.

This complaint was presented by the organizations Alianza Naso, Association for the Conservation of Nature and Ngöbe Culture, Alliance for Conservation and Development and Association for the Conservation of the Biosphere. Opposing this demand was the Government of Panama, the National Environmental Authority, the Medellín Public Services Company and the AES company.

The second case was presented by civil organizations which is: Panama Concession Law for the use of water in Panama. Territories of the indigenous Panamanian regions: Ngöbe-Buglé, Madungandí, Kuna Yala, Wargandi and Emberá-Wounaan. This lawsuit was filed by the Ethical Consumption and the National Coordinator of Indigenous Women of Panama (CONAMUIP). Opposing the demand were the National Environmental Authority and the Population, Environment and Development Commission of the National Assembly.

Canal Expansion

An information platform has not yet been established that will truthfully guarantee the proper use of the funds discharged from the Canal expansion operations. All a delusion that in public opinion does not convince about the information that the national government discloses with the authorities of the Panama Canal (ACP).

However, there are reports of the devastation of a large part of the vegetation located on the banks of the great ditch, and that they belong to large green parks such as Chagres and other reserves that represent research sites, and of course the habitat of migratory species, that by the historical cut they were in Panama.

In conclusion, we can state that the rural and ecological movement of Panama has gained strength and mobilization due to the predatory market of how the government implements as a national need, such as the mobilization of indigenous and peasants on March 20, where for more than 25 days they held a sit-in in the Cathedral Park in front of the Presidential Palace.

This year the First Socio-Environmental Forum was also held with the participation of different delegations of the country with socio-environmental conflicts and national and international experts. Said event within the environment and society modality aimed to promote all efforts to fight and alternative to the concessions of exploration and exploitation of energy, mineral, runaway tourism and oil in the national territory. This took place on Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 June in Veraguas.

In the same way, the First Green March took place on June 28 in the city of David, some 2,000 people marched between environmental and social organizations and national delegates to protest the rise that has taken in recent times the offensives of companies and the state in the development of predatory projects such as the dozens of hydroelectric projects. One of the first massive marches in defense of our natural resources.

Olmedo Carrasquilla II - Social Ecologist

Sources

La Prensa newspaper
Oilwatch Mesoamerica
Chiriquí Environmental Association
United Front in Defense of the Ecosystem (FUDECO)
Association for Conservation and Development (ACD)
Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MICI)
Public Services Authority (ASEP)
National Environmental Authority (ANAM)
Communities affected and in resistance.


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