Vincentians in Panama ask the Vincentian Family to include the indigenous Ngäbe and Bugle people in prayer at a critical time in their lives. Please ask that God may touch the hearts of those who hold political and economic power, allowing them to understand that no project is more important the life of a people. A classic conflict between commercial interests and indigenous people.
At the beginning of February 2012 thousands of Ngäbes y Bugles came down from the mountains to protest the government’s breaking of an agreement made the year before that would prohibit the destruction of indigenous lands and society thought the imposition of open-pit mining and hydro dam projects.
After several days of a road block standoff, the government viciously attacked the indigenous families with excessive force that left two indigenous dead from police gunshot and hundreds wounded.
An agreement was signed on February 7th, though the mediation of the Catholic Church, that opened a negotiation table between the government and the indigenous.
The conversations have come to a crucial moment as the government refuses to halt the construction of a specific project. Thousands of indigenous are now coming back down from the mountains to hold vigil at various points along the Inter-American Highway. If the government once again goes back on its promises, the indigenous will protest again. Violence will follow.
The Vincentians have accompanied the indigenous Ngäbe people of Panama for more than thirty year in the Soloy Mission. These years have been marked by great joy of living amongst a faithful people and great hardship in accompanying a people who are continually oppressed by governments and companies that do both respect their dignity as human beings and a people with a distinct and beautiful worldview.
Monday, February 27th, negotiations between the Ngabe Bugle people and the national government continued in Panama. However as a result of the confrontations that arose from the rejection of the mining project, it is foreseen that these talks will be very difficult. On the one hand, the Indian leaders are demanding a halt of the construction of the hydroelectric project in Barro Blanco. On the other hand, the government continues to state that the project has no effect on the Indians’ land that is part of the territory that has been set aside for their use. In fact, the project will effect about 7 hectares in an area adjacent to their land, an area on the Tabasará River. This project is being built by the company Generadora del Istmo and is being financed by Honduras.
Further background….On May 31, 2011 the members of the April 10th Movement in defense of the Tabasará River and legal representatives brought their case before the Third District Court of Justice. A request was made to reject the Environmental Impact Study of the Hyrdoelectic Project.