Colombia’s comptroller general holds politicians responsible for $1B dam debacle

HidroItuango (Image: EPM)

Colombia’s comptroller general said Thursday that one presidential candidate and two former governors will personally have to account for the $1 billion lost due to negligence at the country’s largest hydroelectric dam project.

Among the 18 former officials who are charged over the Hidroituango debacle are presidential hopeful Sergio Fajardo, Antioquia governor Anibal Gaviria, former Governor Luis Alfredo Ramos and former Medellin Mayor Alonso Salazar.

Their alleged negligence led to the near collapse of the dam in 2018, months before it was projected to be inaugurated, according to Comptroller General Luis Felipe Cordoba.

Former Governor Luis Perez and former Mayor Federico Gutierrez, who were in office at the time of the emergency, were left off the hook.

With the exception of Perez’s former infrastructure chief Rafael Nanclares were in office between 2008 and 2015.

The Hidroituango suspects

Apart from the officials, the Comptroller General’s Office additionally plans to hold 10 companies contracted by Medellin public utilities company EPM responsible for the debacle at the dam.

The 2018 incident

Hidroituango was supposed to be providing 17% of Colombia’s energy consumption since November 2018, but is still being repaired after a water discharge blocked in May that year and the project almost flooded.

Engineers were able to prevent a the breaking of what was becoming the country’s largest dam by using the turbine chamber tunnel as a temporary discharge.

The emergency forced authorities to evacuate more than hundred thousand people who were living downstream of the project and found themselves at immediate risk of disaster.

The emergency was not the result of the the 2018 incident, but a decade of alleged mismanagement and corruption by contractors and alleged negligence of the government officials.


The politicians behind the Hidroituango dam debacle


Decades of controversy

The project was conceived in 1962 and and started by Medellin energy company EPM in 1978 when former President Alvaro Uribe was infrastructure manager.

The 2018 incident that triggered investigations by the Comptroller General’s Office, the Prosecutor general’s Office and the Inspector General’s Office was only the latest.

Colombia’s war crimes tribunal is also investigating HidroItuango because of extreme violence and mass displacement around the construction site during the armed conflict.

The extreme violence by guerrilla and paramilitary groups allowed EPM to cheaply buy out farmers occupying land needed for the project.

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