Three protesters were injured Tuesday when police broke up a demonstration against a multi-national company plans to destroy five villages in order to build a dam.
One man was reported to have lost an eye in the clash, sparked by plans by the Colombian government backed energy company Quimbo Emgesa, to flood five villages in order to build a hydroelectric plant.
150 police approached by land and water, surrounding the camp and barricading the area to prevent media access. According to locals, together with “Emgesa’s men” they used tear gas to forcibly evict more than 600 demonstrators from their camp on the banks of the Magdalena River, in the southwestern Huilo department.
The proposed $837 million El Quimbo hydroelectric plant requires a dam that will divert the Magdalena River, flooding at least five towns and forcing the relocation of over 458 families, many of them peasants and poor farmers. The displacement has been sanctioned by the Colombian government because of the plant’s strategic potential — it will provide an estimated 8% of the country’s electricity and allow the export of energy to neighboring countries.
Despite police claims that it was a peaceful process, one protester was reported to have lost an eye when he was hit with shrapnel from a tear gas grenade, another was wounded in the leg by a tear gas grenade, and a third sustained a broken nose.
“We were leaving peacefully when Emgesa’s men came in and attacked our civilian group. They broke my nose, punched me in the eye, and knocked out one of my teeth,” one of the injured protesters was quoted as saying to the local paper Diario del Huila.
Although the protesters describe their assailants as “Emgesa’s Men,” the eviction was mandated by a court order handed down by the mayor of Paicol.
Quimbo Emgesa is a daughter of the international energy giant The Endesa Group. Its supporters include Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos and other high-ranking government officials who maintain that the plant will have geographical, political, and diplomatic importance because it will allow Colombia to sell energy to countries like Ecuador, Chili, Peru, and even Mexico.
As well as generating a large proportion of Colombian electricity, it will also bring an annual income of around $3 million to the Huila department, according to the president of the Endesa Group, Borja Prado. He has also promised that 60% of the labor will be local and that the Endesa Group is committed to its social and environmental commitments.
Farmers, fisherman, miners, and environmental activists had been occupying the riverbank in an attempt to stall the execution of what they call an “ecologically destructive” project that will decimate their homes, farms, and livelihoods.
“I have a house and five acres [in the area to be flooded], Emgesa promised me a new home and five acres but they haven’t given anyone anything. We don’t want to give up our land and homes for nothing,” one of the evicted protesters was quoted as saying by Diario del Huila.
A resolution granted by the Colombian government in January authorized Emgesa to seize the land if the owners refused to negotiate. The resolution allows for the expropriating of the lands because they are part of the Quimbo Hydroelectric plant’s “zone of influence.”
The displaced protesters will attempt to continue their occupation of the riverbanks and this weekend they will hold a demonstration against Quimbo Emgesa.
A local priest told the Diario del Huila that, “The information I have is that there as an agreement to vacate a property, but not the dislodgement of all of the properties of peasants that are being taken at this time. This is violence and crime. Apparently one person lost an eye. I think that is a crime.”
Dussan Millar, leader of the Association Affected by Project Hydroelectric Quimbo (Asoquimbo), an organization that united members of the affected communities, said that, “while Emgesa, hidden behind the national government, used force and violence, we have only resorted to peaceful protest, legal arguments, and international law to defend our lands.” Asoquimbo has filed two protective orders with the Cundinamarca Civil Court, “One regarding the violation of due process by the Mayor of Paicol, and the other, a request for the protection of the labor and quality of life for everyone affected mainly by the diversion of the Magdalena River and subsequent flooding.”