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Panama’s hydroelectric boom destroys ecosystems, threatens rural way of life

by Tracy L. Barnett
for Global Sisters Report

Sr. Edia “Hermana Tita” López was living out her mission as a Sister of Mercy, seeking the best ways to serve the poor and disenfranchised of Immaculate Conception Parish in La Concepción on the western end of Panama, when she learned of a plan that would leave many far poorer.

She and other religious in the Vincentian community where she was working in 2005 heard about a “public consultation” in the nearby town of Volcán, and they went to see what it was about. Church and community leaders were shocked to learn that a company was planning to build 11 hydroelectric dams on the largest river in the area, Río Chiriquí Viejo.

Once known for its spectacular whitewater rafting and lush riparian forests filled with wildlife, Chiriquí Viejo was a Neotropical gem. Along its banks, farmers produced much of the food for the nation.

López was alarmed.
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A wall in their river: Flooded Ngäbe communities continue to fight dam

Above: Döegeo Gallardo and Göejet Miranda paddle home through the dead zone that was once a shady, fish-filled river. (Tracy L. Barnett)

By Tracy L. Barnett
For Global Sisters Report

Kiad, Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca, Panama – “Bulu Bagama is my positive name. Luis Jiménez, my negative one,” the Ngäbe elder began, standing on an expanse of cracked mud that covered what for generations was his family patrimony. A tumbledown shell of a house lay in ruins, and a few dead leaves clinging to one remaining tree provided scant shade from the sweltering midday sun.

The words, referring to his indigenous name and the one imposed by the dominant Spanish culture, summed up the feelings of betrayal from a people that has fought bitterly for nearly two decades to stop the Barro Blanco dam, a hydroelectric project that to local communities and environmentalists has become a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the current model of development in Panama.

Bulu and his wife, Adelaida González, stood in the mud and recalled that terrible night last August when they awoke to find the waters of their sacred Tabasará River seeping into their home. They scrambled to collect their children and as many of their possessions as possible. Neighbors weren’t so lucky; their houses were completely washed downstream. A child narrowly escaped drowning in those harrowing hours.

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Coyote Alberto on the Rights of Nature

By Keala Carter

 “Coyote” Alberto Ruz Buenfil has devoted his life to nurturing the bonds that connect humans with the place we inhabit and its other inhabitants, from the beaver to the bee to the wind and the water. His ethic has been influenced by and has in turn influenced movements toward intentional communities, ecovillages and bioregionalism. He has assiduously advocated for the inclusion of the Rights of Nature in legal frameworks and was instrumental in the inclusion of Article 13 ‘Rights of Nature’ in the Constitution of Mexico City in 2016. With a sense of history and the survival of the earth at stake, Alberto is keen to arm people, poets and politicians with the knowledge of our inherent interdependence and the belief that we can do something to change the course of our collective future.

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Ruz, a founder of the Rainbow Peace Caravan, the Vision Council-Guardians of the Earth and the first Forum for the Rights of the Mother Earth in Mexico City, is preparing for a rare free web conference on Monday, Feb. 27 for Gaia University. We took advantage of the moment to visit with him about this most timely subject. Details about the conference follow. 

EP: The title of the upcoming Gaia University conference “Why rights of nature is an essential issue today.” Can you explain to me why now is a ripe moment in time for the rights of nature and a shift toward biocentric jurisprudence?
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Standing Rock: Feeding a movement

Above: Mick Waggoner and Bonnie Wykman, above, run a tight ship at the Southwest Camp Hogan. 

Story and photos by Rain Stites

Their day begins before the sun rises.

Fellow campers slumber while Mick Waggoner and the rest of the kitchen crew quietly tiptoe through the makeshift kitchen of foldable tables and camp stoves. Lanterns and headlamps softly illuminate their workspace.

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Mick Waggoner prepares breakfast for campers in Southwest Camp in the makeshift kitchen within the Hogan. At the time, the kitchen consisted of five camp stoves.

“I got into camp and just started working in the kitchen,” Waggoner said as she sorted through ingredients for that night’s dinner, “and that’s what I do every day, is I work in the kitchen from when I wake up till when I go to sleep and I don’t really do much else.”

Waggoner had been at the Southwest Camp, the Diné or Navajo section of the Oceti Sakowin Camp on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota for about a week when we met.
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Water Protectors like Michael Costabile continue to arrive at Standing Rock, prepared to brave Arctic temperatures and in some cases, potentially lethal force from law enforcement. Tracy L. Barnett photo

VOICES FROM STANDING ROCK

Above: Water Protectors like Michael Costabile continue to arrive at Standing Rock, prepared to brave Arctic temperatures and in some cases, potentially lethal force from law enforcement. Tracy L. Barnett photo
By Tracy L. Barnett and Tami Brunk
For Intercontinental Cry and The Esperanza Project

OCETI SAKOWIN CAMP, N.D.—A winter lull in activities for Water Protectors at Standing Rock is about to come to an end. An executive order confirming the incoming administration’s commitment to forge ahead – not just with the Dakota Access Pipeline, but with the cancelled Keystone XL – has solidified resolve at the encampments, where resisters are calling on reinforcements from society at large. A major confrontation with military-armed police and private security forces now seems inevitable.

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Juventino Carrillo, a former authority of the Huichol community of San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlán, discusses the long history of the land disputes as his wife, Marta Torres, sews the family’s traditional clothing. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Nelson Denman

Mexican ranchers and Huichol people urge government to solve land conflict

Above: Juventino Carrillo, a former authority of the Huichol community of San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlán, discusses the long history of the land disputes as his wife, Marta Torres, sews the family’s traditional clothing. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Nelson Denman

By Tracy L. Barnett
For Thomson Reuters News Service

Audelina Villagrana has managed her ranch alone, with the assistance of Wixárika hired help, since her husband died 23 years ago. (Nelson Denman photo)
Audelina Villagrana has managed her ranch alone, with the assistance of Wixárika hired help, since her husband died 23 years ago. (Nelson Denman photo)

LA YESCA, Mexico, Dec 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Audelina Villagrana has run her ranch in Mexico’s Western Sierra Madre mountains on her own since the death of her husband 23 years ago, herding livestock, hiring local Huichol people and even raising a young Huichol boy like a son. Now she and other ranchers are locked in tense confrontation with their indigenous neighbors over land that has been in contention for centuries. A series of recent legal decisions has brought the dispute to a boiling point.

“It’s a strange situation, when on the one hand I share my home with them, and on the other, they’re suing me for my land,” Villagrana told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from her terracotta-tiled farmhouse in the mesquite-studded hills.
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Lessons from Standing Rock

By Tracy L. Barnett

STEELE, N.D., Dec 8 – We only made it 70 miles from Oceti Sakowin Camp in Standing Rock when a whiteout and fierce winds forced us to seek refuge in this tiny town, where the Kidder County Ambulance District and a wonderful EMT nurse named Mona Thompson took us in like a mother. Mona, we soon learned, has led her volunteer emergency services in manning the front lines on the reservation side after the attacks on the Water Protectors from the paid law enforcement personnel of neighboring Morton County. This improvised emergency shelter is filled with people, many of them coming from or going to Standing Rock, and were up until all hours talking about this historic phenomenon and how it has impacted them and the nation. I will share more about Mona and her story soon.

As for myself I am moved more deeply than words can express. To see the quiet resolve on the part of our Native brothers and sisters, to see their compassion for us in the face of our distress – both physical, for the bitter cold, and emotional, for the bitter truths we are facing. Not for the first time but for the strongest time, face to face with those that our government has deceived and betrayed time after time over the past 250 years, and it keeps going on.

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Esperanza Means Hope