Protesters from the Ngobe-Bugle tribe block a road during a protest in El Vigui, Panama, Thursday, February 2, 2012. Members of the Indian tribe blocked roads in two provinces on the border with Costa Rica in a dispute over mineral exploitation on their lands.

Resistance As Promised, Panamanian Indigenous Continue to Protest

Rick Kearns
4/30/14

Ngöbe-Buglé leaders promised to increase their resistance on the national stage and in the courts in Panama; part of that promise came to fruition in April.

Two weeks ago they filed a suit challenging a law that allows the government to seize territory to be used for energy projects, such as the proposed Barrio Blanco hydroelectric plant that is the focus of many indigenous protests.

Ngöbe-Buglé leader Silvia Carrera filed a lawsuit in Panama’s Supreme Court of Justice on April 9 asserting that the country’s Law 18 was unconstitutional in that it allows the seizing of property for developing energy projects and that that aspect of the law contradicts a section of the Panamanian Constitution. Carrera and her community have been protesting the seizing of their lands for the Barrio Blanco hydroelectric project since 2010.

RELATED: Rights of the Ngöbe-Buglê Trampled in Hydro Power Grab

The lawsuit comes a month after indigenous leader Ricardo Miranda of the April 10 Movement asserted that if the Barrio Blanco project was not cancelled the indigenous would “proceed to a new resistance struggle on the national level with all of our organizations.”

Miranda made the pronouncement in March, just after protests against the government’s efforts to evict 3,000 indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé families from their territory as part of the construction of the Barro Blanco plant on the Tabasara River.

RELATED: Panamanian Indigenous Fight Back Against Threatened Eviction

The focus of the indigenous legal action is Part 3 of Law 18 which, according to Mario Velasquez Chizmar the attorney for the indigenous plaintiffs, allows “the possibility that the State decrees an extraordinary expropriation without presenting conditions established by the Constitution for its validity.”

Panama’s Constitution includes Article 127 that protects collective ownership of lands and prohibits private ownership of indigenous territories such as the lands of the Ngöbe-Buglé.

The Ngöbe-Buglé and their allies have found more support for their positions recently. On March 27 the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), on behalf of indigenous and human rights groups, filed a complaint with the International Commission on Human Rights (ICHR) about increasing police violence against protestors.

“The tendency has been greater repression and police delivering fewer reports about incidents,” asserted CEJIL Attorney Luis Carlos Buob in regards to the many conflicts that the indigenous have had with Panamanian police.

Along with allies working in the international arena, the Ngöbe-Buglé are receiving support from some local officials. The town council of Muna, a town within the Ngöbe-Buglé territory, issued a formal resolution requiring that Wilfredo Arias, legal representative of the GENISA Company that is building the Barrio Blanco plant, to suspend construction of the plant.

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