Friday, April 10, 2009

Bocas Authorities in Panama and the Persecution of Indigenous Leaders


Local authorities in Bocas del Toro Province have started a persecution against Naso and Ngobe indigenous leaders since last Friday, March 27. A few days before, during World Water Day on March 22, there were massive public demonstrations with hundreds of indigenous peoples blockading roads at several points around the province to show their rejection of hydroelectric, mining and tourist projects affecting their land and way of life.
Panama Authorities Violate Indigenous Peoples Human Rights
On Thursday afternoon, a group of indigenous leaders peacefully met with the province Governor, Esther Mena de Chiu. Her response, however, could not have been less conciliatory. Hundreds of police units have been sent to several indigenous communities with orders to bring their leaders and spokespersons to the Police Station. Today, March 30, more than a hundred policemen have been sent to the San San Durui Naso community to demolish homes in an area currently disputed with a ranch company, Ganadera Bocas. We have also received notice that another group of policemen is headed towards Bonyik, in order to force the construction of the hydroelectric dam developed by Empresas Publicas de Medellin (EEPPM). The current events resemble those of previous events in April 2005, June 2006, November 2007 and January 2008, all of which have had claims filed in the correct national authorities and with international human rights institutions like the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Rapporteur of Indigenous People.

We are extremely surprised by the arbitrary actions of the Bocas del Toro authorities, which have taken place only one week after an Ombudsman report was released, recognizing human rights violations in the construction of Chan 75, the hydroelectric project developed in this province by AES Panama. Also, just a few weeks ago, both Naso and Ngobe indigenous leaders asked the World Bank Inspection Panel to review the impact of the National Land Administration Program (PRONAT) on indigenous lands.

For all these reasons, we believe that Governor Esther Mena de Chiu must be held accountable for what is happening. We are making a plea to the national authorities, particularly the General Attorney (Procuradora General), to start investigations in order to state the liability of each party involved in the abuse of authority and the excessive use of force ongoing in Naso and Ngobe territory since 2005. We want to remind the provincial authorities that with 3 months remaining until elections, people from all around the world are watching what is happening in Bocas del Toro right now. We truly hope that the current authorities will not go down in history as those who sanctioned the repression and plundering of indigenous territories.

Read the original bulletin in Spanish here.

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