The Shadows of Hidroituango

28 October 2014

Juan Diego Restrepo E.*

Source: Semana (

The large project to generate energy using the waters of the Cauca River is now a cause for concern for the Inter-American Comission on Human Rights.

The dream of Antioqueños to exploit the waters of the Cauca River where it flows through the north of Antioquia and to construct a great hydroelectic dam in that area had been in the planning stages for several years when work began on land removal, road layouts, and preparation of hillsides and tributaries in order to develop an energy generation project that is key to the nation’s development.

This engineering venture, which involves a set of projects in a mountainous area, involves the Instituto para el Desarrollo de Antioquia (IDEA) (the Institute for Antioquian Development), Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM or Medellín Public Utilities), Central Hidroeléctrica de Caldas (CHEC or Caldas Hydroelectric Power Plant), and a consortium of small shareholders who believed in the project. The goal is to generate 2,400 megawatts of energy by 2018. The project is located 171 kilometers from Medellín and will directly benefit San Andrés de Cuerquia, Toledo, Ituango, Briceño, Yarumal, Sabanalarga, Peque, Buriticá, Liborina, Santa Fe de de Antioquia, and Olaya.

The dimensions of this project are enormous: the machinery housing will be able to acommodate 8 turbines; the reservoir will extend for 75 kilometers and will contain 2.7 billion cubic meters of water; the watershed area, incluing protected zones, will cover 12,800 hectares; and the dam will be 225 meters tall. The final cost is estimated at 5.5 billion dollars.

But all is not as sunny as it may seem. The inhabitants of the project’s affected area harbor serious objections and have communicated them in many ways in order to make the nation and the international community understand negative effects the execution of these works has caused, among them the destruction of the social fabric as a consequence of the displacement of dozens of inhabitants, the loss of occupations in small scale mining and fishing in the Cauca River, and therefore the loss of family incomes.

The leaders of ths region of Antioquia, and other areas of the country where similar projects have affected the inhabitantas, came to present their complaints about what they called “displacement by development projects” before the 153rd session of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights in Washington. In their first response to the testimony, several commissioners expressed their concern and asked what the Colombian government was doing to correct the damage the victims had described.

That is not the only suspicion casting shadows over the hydroelectric megaproject. In December of 2011, the website published information based on the petition of a judge from the Sala de Justicia y Paz del Tribunal Superior de Medellín (justice and peace court of the superior court of Medellín) who formally requested an investigation into “the extent to which the military action of the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia), an organization of paramilitary groups in Colombia, benefitted the power project now beginning construction.” (See Investigarán si ‘paras’ favorecieron proyecto Hidroituango) (

Her concern was based on a statement which Patricia Hernández, the then-15th prosecutor attached (Fiscal 15 Delegada) to the Unidad Nacional de Justicia y Paz (peace and justice unit of the office of the Attorney General of Colombia), made in Medellín, in which she detailed the massacres that occurred between 1996, the year in which the discussion about forming a company that would undertake such a project began, and 2003, when deals were made between the Estado Mayor (general staff) of the AUC and the national government.

According to Hernández’s investigation, the Bloque Mineros [paramilitaries of the AUC] arrived in Ituango in 1996 to confront the FARC guerrillas and two years later, on December 31, 1997, the Sociedad Promotora de la Hidroeléctrica Pescadero S.A. (the Development Company for Pescadero Hydroelectric, Inc.) was established, one of the last acts by the government of the then-governor of Antioquia, Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

The list of massacred and dead in the area of Hidroituango reflects a tragedy of dimensions still unknown. Concrete data reveal the following: La Granja, Ituango, June 11, 1996, 4 persons assassinated; El Aro, Ituango, October 25 and 31, 1997, 15 persons assassinated; Oro Bajo, Sabanalarga, July 12, 1997, 8 persons assassinated and 2 disappeared; Las Juntas, Valdivia, March 31, 1996, 4 persons assassinated; Cristóbal, Liborina, April 18, 1997, 5 persons assassinated; El Playón, Liborina, July 26, 1997, 3 persons assassinated; Los Sauces, Liborina, May 11, 1998, 3 persons assassinated; Liborina, May 11, 1998, 9 campesinos assassinated; Peque, July 4 to 12, 2001, 10 persons assassinated; Ochalí, Yarumal, January 18, 2000, 9 persons assassinated; Chorrillos, Briceño, May 5, 2002, 6 persons assassinated; Briceño, May 12, 2000, 3 persons assassinated and 1 disappeared; El Hoyo, San Andrés de Cuerquia, Novermber 2, 2002, 6 persons assassinated ; La Chorrera, San Andrés de Cuerquia, September 4, 2003, 4 persons assassinated.

Citing examples from other regional projects, such as the banana and plantain area of Urabá in Antioquia and the palm region of Atrato in Chocó, Hernández affirmed before the judges that one might see a similarity to the Hidroituango project. At that time, Hernández stated, “the hypothesis (because there is no evidence to corroborate it) is that the principal obstacle to the project was the presence of guerrillas throughout its sphere of influence. So to make the project feasible, it was necessary to pacify the area, that is, to free it from guerrillas in order to implement the project and to make it possible for workers to enter and carry out their work.”

Confronted with the volume of information the prosecutor brought before the Sala de Justicia y Paz del Tribunal Superior de Medellín, the judges requested her to investigate the project’s minority shareholders that corresponded to .64 % of the stock. However, the request was left hanging because, curiously, one year later, the prosecutor who constructed the hypothesis was removed from the Unidad Nacional de Justicia y Paz and moved to Florencia, Caquetá. The shadows over Hidroituango did not clear. They persist.

Twitter: jdrestrepoe
(*) Journalist and university teacher


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