Translated by: Steven Fake, CSN Volunteer Translator
Edited by: Susan Tritten, CSN Volunteer Editor
In the morning of Tuesday, February 14, 2012, some 300 fishermen and inhabitants were evicted from an area affected by the hydroelectric project, El Quimbo. The dislocated were protesting in defense of their territory and against the negative consequences of this megaproject. One of the residents lost an eye as a result of the police action.
Since January, transportation and commercial sectors, as well as organized communities of the Asociatión de Afectados por la Hidroeléctrica El Quimbo (Asoquimbo) [Association of Persons Affected by the Hydroelectric Plant El Quimbo], organized a general strike in the western part of Huila department to demand the immediate convocation of a public hearing on the environment and the suspension of the environmental permit for the multinationals Emgesa [electrical generation company owned by The Endesa Group based in Spain ], for its hydroelectric project El Quimbo, and Emerald Energy [international hydrocarbon production company based in the UK], for oil exploitation in the region. They also demanded the immediate construction of the Paso el Colegio Bridge and repair of the Yaguará-Íquira-Pacarní and La Plata-Garzón roads.
Since then, protesters, delegates from the Ministry of Environment, mayors, and the governor of Huila, Cielo Gonzáles Villa, have held talks in several roundtables. However, the affected community said that the talks ended due to the lack of guarantees by the authorities.
As reported by Miller Dussan (Asoquimbo), the organization opposing the hydroelectric project that plans to divert the Magdalena River, spoke on February 13, with the Vice Minister of the Interior, Juan Fernando Londoño, about the response of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development to the call for a public hearing on the El Quimbo project. The Vice Minister informed him that he had not yet received a report on the El Quimbo project, which, according to Dussan, caused the failure of mediation by the Ministry of the Interior.
On February 8, the Minster of the Interior had informed an Asoquimbo delegation that it could do nothing about the eviction order signed by the mayor of Paicol. In response to the announcement, Asoquimbo filed a police injunction with the Ministry of the Interior against Emgesa, in defense of local sovereignty over the river and artisanal fishing rights. In the injunction they also explained that an appeal that had already been filed with the Paicol City Hall had produced no reponse. Asoquimbo confirmed that it would respect due process and submit to the rule of law.
After the dialogue ended, the multinational, Emgesa, used a police injunction granted by Paicol city government to evict the settlers in the village of Domingo Arias on the banks of the Magdalena River. This injunction was directed to the area known as La Dispensa, even though the protesters were in La Esperanza. According to Jennifer Chavarro, a member of Asoquimbo, the injunction was against “unknown and unidentified persons” in violation of due process and the right to a defense.
Although the protesters were merely holding hands to protect the Magdalena River, security forces threw tear gas at them. As a result of the police action, three people were injured, and one sustained a wound that, according to a Neiva University Hospital report, resulted in the loss of his right eye. Pregnant women and older people were also present during the police action and were victims of violent treatment.
According to the Minister of the Environment, Frank Pearl, in an interview with Radio Nacional de Colombia on the 14th of February, local farmers have been absent from three meetings while they kept up violent actions. Moreover, according to Pearl, the Ministry found no irregularities that would prompt them to withdraw the multinational’s environmental license.
General Segura, commander of Region Two of the National Police, ordered restricted access to the Paso del Colegio Bridge in the La Plata municipality to prevent the entry of persons and vehicles other than those of the multinational. The road was also closed to Elsa Ardila, who is Asoquimbo’s legal representative, to members of human rights organizations, to international observers, and to the alternative press. General Segura told the newspaper, La Nación, that this was due to a special security cordon in the area.
Dussan Miller, a member of Asoquimbo, announced that Asoquimbo will file a complaint with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, and will call for a regional mobilization to continue the struggle against the El Quimbo hydroelectic Project.
The Vargas Lleras Brothers
Asoquimbo requests clarification on the reasons for which the Minister of the Interior, Vargas Lleras, said that he was “powerless” before decisions and actions by others that affected the physical well-being of the population, infringing on rights such as freedom of organization, of movement, of the press, and of accompaniment by human rights organizations , among others.
Miller Dussan maintains that “this transparency is relevant because his [the Minister’s] brother, José Antonio Vargas Lleras is the president of CODENSA [largest electrical energy distribution company in Colombia] , a group that includes electrical energy distribution and marketing businesses administered by the Empresa de Energia de Bogota [Bogotá Power Company] and Emgesa [an electrical generation company], to whom the Colombian government has granted the el Quimbo hydroelectric project concession.”
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Location: None Provided
Date Published: February 16, 2012