Stop Violence Against the Ngöbe Indigenous Peoples

Monti Aguirre

Ngobe People Protesting- Cortesia de Patria Grande
Ngobe People Protesting- Cortesia de Patria Grande

The heavy weight of a law that would let foreign companies build mines, dams, hotels, and other projects on Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous lands in Panama has the local indigenous people quite worried. US energy company AES is already building Chan 75 Dam, even though there was not meaningful consultation or fair compensation for communities. Several mines are already operating in their territories.

The Ngöbe community has been pressuring Panama's National Assembly to rescind the law, and successfully negotiated a new bill incorporating indigenous demands for protection of their territory and the environment. The government agreed to include a ban on open-pit mining in the territories, but refused to exclude hydroelectric projects. However, the government failed to fulfill their promises and presented a version of the mining code that did not take into account many of the demands of the Ngöbe people. The Ngöbe - Panama's largest indigenous group - have been protesting in the streets since October 2011.

On the morning of February 5, Panamanian riot police cut off cell phone communication and cleared roadblocks that members of the Ngöbe-Buglé group had maintained for six days in the western provinces of Chiriquí and Veraguas. Jerónimo Montezuma was killed in the process, dying of a gunshot wound to the chest in San Félix, Chiriquí. Omayra Silvera, a protest leader, said "The riot police fired on us. We were demonstrating so quietly, peacefully, and they repressed us." Police agents "fired bullets, rubber bullets and tear gas."

Ngöbe leaders are asking international citizens to send letters and emails to President Ricardo Martinelli, demanding a halt to the use of lethal force against Ngöbe protestors and a special investigation of Panama's Minister of Security, José Raúl Mulino, and the head of the National Police, Gustavo Perez, for human rights violations. These officials were also implicated in the death of Ngöbe labor leaders Antonio Smith and Virgilio Castillo in Changuinola in July 2010.

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