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Treatment of displaced indigenous populations in two large hydro projects in Panama

Mary Finley-Brook
Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, US; mbrook@richmond.edu
Curtis Thomas
International and Environmental Studies Programs, University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, US; curt.thomas@richmond.edu

ABSTRACT: Consultation practices with affected populations prior to hydro concessions often remained poor in the decade since the World Commission on Dams (WCD) although, in some cases the involvement of local people in the details of resettlement has improved. Numerous international and national actors, such as state agencies, multilateral banks, corporate shareholders, and pro-business media, support the development of dams, but intergovernmental agencies struggle to assure the protection of fundamental civil, human, and indigenous rights at the permitting and construction stages. We analyse two large-scale Panamanian dams with persistent disrespect for indigenous land tenure. Free, prior, and informed consent was sidestepped even though each dam required or will require Ngöbe, Emberá, or Kuna villages to relocate. When populations protested, additional human rights violations occurred, including state-sponsored violence. International bodies are slowly identifying and denouncing this abuse of power. Simultaneously, many nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) seek change in Panama consistent with WCD'™s good-practice guidelines. A number of NGOs have tied hydro projects to unethical greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions trade. As private and state institutions market formerly collective water and carbon resources for profit, these Panamanian cases have become central to a public debate over equitable and green hydro development. Media communication feeds disputes through frontline coverage of cooperation and confrontation.