Colombian State Ombudsman promises to request that El Quimbo hydroelectric dam construction in Huila be halted

A resistance group forum against energy mega-projects meets as the mining community
of Briceno (Antioquia) stops Hidroituango dam construction indefinitely

March 16, 2011

(Translated by Rolf Schöneborn, a CSN Volunteer Translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, a CSN
Volunteer Editor.)

Festivities celebrating ‘National Day in Defence of our Territories’ (Jornada Nacional por la
Defensa del Territorio) began on Monday March 14, 2011, in various parts of Colombia.
A roundtable on the environmental impact of mega mining and hydroelectric projects on the
surrounding areas and the question of sustainable development took place in the Congress of
Colombia (Congreso de la República /Bogotá) on March 16, 2011, which was attended by
14 affected communities and social organizations from all over the country. The objective
was to plan further meetings, dialogues and communication between communities already
affected and communities about to be affected by these mega projects and the government,
the Ministry of Public Affairs and representatives of Congress so that the demands of
communities and social organizations could be heard and processes found which would allow
citizens and government to outline a work agenda for the issue at hand. This meeting showed
already one positive result because state Ombudsman for the Environment Óscar Amaya
promised to ask the Ministry of the Environment to halt the El Quimbo hydroelectric power
plant construction in the Huila Department, located in the southwest of Colombia. Amaya
also promised to visit the area in April and hold community meetings in order to analyze
the situation. This commitment was made in response to charges made by Miller Dussán,
a professor at the University Surcolombiana and member of an Association for People and
against the hydroelectric project El Quimbo (Associación de Affectados). Dussán charged
that the state ombudsman had presented a plan so that the needed environmental licence could
be granted as of the end of last year. The Association filed an action for the annulment of
an extrajudicial conciliation, which according to Senator Jorge Robledo would decrease the
amount to be paid for social and environmental damages by more than $100 million. This
conciliation was asked for by the Colombian subsidiary Emgesa of the Spanish energy giant
Endesa charging that “if the excessive environmental burdens that had been imposed were not
lessened the project would definitely have to be given up.” This conciliation also diminished
the acreage which would allow for forest exploitation, decreased the environment protection
perimeter and resulted in smaller compensatory payments for the so-called ‘occupants’ who
live next to the highways and along the Magdalena river. The initial environmental licence
that stipulated that all owners, current holders and occupants would be given housing was also

This extrajudicial conciliation was stayed by the Cundinamarca Court which ruled among
other things that in this type of conciliation the patrimonial interests of the Republic,
the region and the communities involved should be defended and not the interests of
multinational companies. Miller Dussán confirmed that the State ombudsman for environment
sent a letter to the Ministry of Environment indicating that the environmental licence could
be changed in accordance with the administrative resolution 2820 of August 5,2010, that is to
say two days before President Uribe Vélez finished his second term in office. This resolution
changed the environmental law (La LeyAmbiental) and determined that the environmental
licences could be adjusted in keeping with the environmental realities of the country. Dussán
and Robledo assert that the resolution 1814 of September 17, 2010, that changed the El

Quimbo environmental licence is illegal.

Coordinating the resistance

There had been a similar meeting prior to this one in Santa Cruz de Lorica (Córdoba) in
July of 2008 named 'IV Meeting of the Latin-American Network against Repression and for
Rivers, their communities and Water' (IV Encuentro LatinoAmericano contra Represas y
por los Ríos, sus Comunidades y el Agua’). The meeting was called because of the Urrá Dam
megaproject, Department of Córdoba, in the Colombian Atlantic Region. It was attended
by representatives from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panamá,
Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Urugay, Paraguy, Brasil, Italia, and the United States.

States who exchanged information on how to resist

repression and suggested strategies on how to resist land encroachment and defend, water,
a way of life and culture given the problems and threats the South American continent is
facing. This time a great number of organized resistance groups from all over the country
that oppose energy mega projects met and according to Isabel Christina Zuleta, member of
the Hidroitungo Citizens' Roundtable (Mesa de Debate de Hidroituango)” organizational
pressure is increasing given that the politics of energy and minerals is playing an ever more
significant role with the continuing growth of multinationals. Hydroelectric companies will
be more and more influential with the Santos government economic locomotive under full
steam which means that the conflicts will be even more severe in the future.” Topics at the
conference were land grab threats, organizational progress and the continuing problems
communities encounter that live around completed reservoir projects such as the La Salvajina
Dam, located in the Cauca Department. Social, political and judicial actions needed to be
coordinated with the people and organizations in attendance.

This year’s forum was an occasion for organized resistance to make its demands public in
regard to the impact of mega mining and hydroelectric projects, to condemn environmental
licence violations and that requests made by multinationals have been met. The forum looked
in greater depth at environmental infractions and it was announced that various civil and
criminal law suits would be filed with different control agencies. The new government and
the national development plan (Plan de Desarrollo Nacional) with its plans for additional
electric power projects as engine for economic development eliminate the problems these
megaprojects might encounter and clear the way “since it is very simple to say that it is in the
public interest to use up our water resources."
Also, these megaprojects cannot be seen in isolation and it needs to be clarified what the
connection actually is between the fact "that the richest regions of the country are also those
that are known for the most violence" and that "these energy projects are located in very
violent regions of the country as for example the Hidrosogamoso dam and its connection to
the history of violence in Barrancabermeja/Santander.”

The future and nonviolent resistance

Miller Dussán saw the forum as a success because for the first time a majority of the
resistance organizations against mining and electric projecs as well as against agribusinesses
managed to attend. “This coordination effort is extremely important because it allowed
to discuss and analyzedifferent demands in such a way that they helped to strengthen the

empowerment of the communities and the struggle in defence of the land, biodiversity and
generics. What is also extremely significant is the fact that the resistance groups were able to
show that their arguments are serious and solid not from an academic or scientific point of
view but also because they mirror the experiences of the communities they are a part of."

An itinerant panel is being planned for the different regions affected like the one that took
place in Bogotá at the beginning of March. The objective would be to have nonviolent
resistance organizations and academia find common ground, that is to say with academic,
state and civic perspectives. Millar Dussán finds “most important what's to come now.”
The forum produced a mission statement for the coordination of all the resistance movements
that will take to the streets in support of the 1st of May Demonstrations in defence of the land.
Dussán says that “we will demand from the multinationals and private capital that spoil the
environment and above all ruin our communities to get out.”

The professor of the Universidad Surcolombiana also stated that if that should not happen
the people would initiate nonviolant actions given that "the land is ours and the State has
surrendered it to the interests of the multinationals and it no longer serves the interests of
our Nation.” Just as these words were spoken at the end of the march through the streets
of Bogotá to the Ministry of the Environment about 300 people from rural districts such as
Orejón, Buenavista, La Calera and Chiri have brought the machinery of the Hidroituango dam
project, finca Caparrossa, to an indefinite halt starting March 15. This action was provoked
by numerous reported acts of violence and by a possible contamination of the community
water supply which is needed for the local artisanal and small-scale mining of gold (ASM).
The local people have called on Hidroituango on numerous occasions since the beginning
of the year to be adequately compensated and to have their problems be resolved as soon as
possible because of the danger of landslides as a result of the construction of the road below
which miners have to work. The community will be on strike indefinitely unless the company
responds to its petitions. As this article goes to press neither Hidroituango nor the police have
been seen at the site of the demonstration.
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