A Colombian human rights and environmental NGO has released a report condemning human rights abuses and violations surrounding the construction of a mega-dam on Colombia’s second largest river.
Colombia was ranked second as the country with the most environmental conflicts in the world by the Environmental Justice Atlas, according to Colombia’s El Pais newspaper.
The group says that the state’s failure to recognize the environmental and social conflicts caused by mining and hydro-projects make the situation much more difficult to solve.
The Ituango hydro project was started in 2008 by the the state of Antioquia’s energy company EPM, along with various international corporations, with the intention of harvesting the Cauca River’s power generating potential. The damming of Colombia’s second biggest river is intended to satisfy 18% of Colombia’s electricity demand by 2022, according to the project’s website.
The report by the NGO Rios Vivos Movement condemns the endangering of civilians and government suppression of public opposition against the Ituango hydro project.
The dam is being built in the municipalities of Ituango and Briceño but will affect many more.
Region affected by Ituango hydro-project
Civilians in the crossfire
The report by Rios Vivos documents 14 instances where civilians have been exposed to explosive devices. In one instance, during fighting between FARC guerrillas and army troops stationed in the town, two fragment grenades injured two women.
Another event mentioned by the group in the report was the bombing of a house inhabited by a 48-year-old woman, a pregnant 28-year-old, and a 6-year-old girl; family members of the Rios Vivos Movement.
Three municipalities surrounding the Ituango dam have been ranked by the government’s human rights watchdog as the most at risk municipalities in the armed conflict.
During the 2014 presidential elections, out of six municipalities in the state that had to change locations of voting stations, four of those municipalities have been affected by the Ituango hydro project. The municipalities of Ituango, Yuramal, Briceño, and San Andres de Cuerquia had to change voting stations due to anti-personnel mines in the area. All four municipalities had voter turn-outs below the national average, according to the National Registry.
According to the report, Colombia’s military and police have not done much to help the security situation, which has put civilians in danger.
The report cited five cases where army units would use civilian houses and community spaces such as schools and the town hall to relax and talk. On one occasion, an explosive device was found 22 yards from a school and 33 yards from a police checkpoint.
The report states that “mega projects, with the state as it’s principal promoter and defender, generates a kind of institutional paranoia. The military control of private and public territory has been used principally by the National Army, the National Police, and private security forces to occupy roads, schools, and gathering places.”
Rios Vivos disapproved of the restrictions to mobility and the harassment of human rights defenders.
Two civilian leaders of the Rios Vivos Movement have already been brutally murdered in the fight against the Ituango hydro project. The murders of Nelson Giraldo and Robinson David Mazo were also remembered in the report, who were only two of the thousands affected by violence in Ituango.
Colombian police would detain farmers and leaders of the Rios Vivos Movement for hours without reason and prevent them from organizing while the FARC would dynamite buses traveling in the region.
The FARC have been active in the region, with fighting between armed factions of Colombia’s civil war causing massive displacement, disappearances, and assassinations.
On Wednesday, Colombia’s military announced the killing of two FARC guerrillas in Ituango, highlighting the continuing violence in the region with the country’s biggest development project.
- HAN VENIDO POR EL AGUA: Informe semestral (Movimiento Ríos Vivos Antioquia)
- Ituango hidroelectrica, Colombia (Environmental Justice Atlas)
- Combates entre el Ejército y las Farc en Antioquia (Ejercito Nacional de Colombia)
- Hidroelectrica Ituango (Project website)
- Elección de Presidente y Vicepresidente 2ª Vuelta – Preconteo (Registraduria)
- Colombia es el segundo país del mundo con más conflictos ambientales (El Pais)