Tag Archives: indigenous rights

Manolo Miranda, one of three Ngäbe leaders facing trial, explains the impacts of the Barro Blanco Dam on the Tabasará River and surrounding communities. (Jonathan González photo)

Panama trial of three Ngäbe leaders “a pattern” of intimidation and criminalization”

Above: Manolo Miranda, one of three Ngäbe leaders facing trial, explains the impacts of the Barro Blanco Dam on the Tabasará River and surrounding communities. (Jonathan González photo)

By Tracy L. Barnett
Intercontinental Cry

Manolo Miranda, leader of an indigenous community recently flooded by the Barro Blanco dam, now faces up to two years in prison for causing delays and financial losses to the company that has ruined his community’s way of life.

Miranda is scheduled for trial Aug. 18, together with two other leaders of the Ngäbe-Buglé who opposed the dam, regional cacique Toribio García and religious and protest leader Clementina Pérez. All three face up to two years in prison for trespassing and interfering with the “inviolability of work” for their alleged role in an encampment that blocked the entrance to the hydro dam in May and June of 2015. Charges against two other activists who were present at the encampment, Oscar Sogandares and Carmen Tedman, have been provisionally dismissed.

Ngäbe religious leader and Barro Blanco opponent Clementina Pérez, one of the three facing trial, shares an article about her arrest during the May-June 2015 protest. (Photo: Tracy L. Barnett)

Human rights and environmental leaders say the case is typical of a growing trend of using the courts to silence and intimidate environmental and human rights defenders throughout the country. Some point to a request made in March of this year by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington D.C. to meet with such defenders and try to address the problem. Miranda’s sister, Weni Bagama, was one of those who testified at the IACHR hearing in March, and Barro Blanco was one of the cases discussed. Government representatives have not responded to requests for information on this process or on the lawsuit.

“It’s very worrisome because this is not an isolated case,” said Susana Serracín of the Alliance for Conservation and Development (Alianza para la Conservación y Desarrollo), one of the organizations that worked over the years to halt the dam. “We are seeing a pattern of intimidation and harassment, and we are not seeing any support on the part of the government.”

Neither the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the Defensoría (Ombudsman) responded to Intercontinental Cry’s questions despite repeated e-mail contacts.

Ngäbe activists standing in front of the Barro Blanco dam site in June 2015 (Photo: Jennifer Kennedy)

Part of a pattern

“It’s a very serious problem,” said Dr. Donaldo Sousa, president of the Panama Association of Environmental Law and a law professor at the University of Panama. Environmental crimes are being committed on a daily basis in Panama, he said, with activists denouncing them in good faith; he has filed more than 70 lawsuits in the past eight years. “The great majority have not been prosecuted,” he said. “Instead they (the courts) are going after the human rights defenders and the ecologists.”

As the Ngäbe leaders prepared for their trial, word came of another lawsuit against a development opponent in Panama City, in which his belongings were seized as a part of the investigation. Max Crowell, president of the homeowners association of Ciudad Jardin Albrook, won a lawsuit halting construction of a private school due to irregularities affecting the neighborhood. The company retaliated by suing Crowell;  his home was searched and items were seized in the investigation.

Other cases of environmentalists being sued include:

  • Larissa Duarte of the Campesino Movement for Rio Cobre in Veraguas, sued for $10 million for stopping a hydroelectric dam on that river;
  • Community leaders in Coco del Mar, a neighborhood that fought the destruction of a mangrove forest to make way for construction of a high-rise apartment complex in Panama City.
  • Forestry expert Basilio Pérez in the region of Azuero, sued for $40,000 by the mining company Cerro Quema, also for financial losses following a lawsuit against the company for environmental violations.

Sousa told IC that there are additional cases where environmentalists are being physically threatened, sometimes with death – as in the case of journalist Ligia Arreaga, who was forced to flee Panama last year for her defense of the country’s largest wetlands, Matusagaratí. In June of this year, two owners of the company were sentenced to two years in jail for environmental crimes against the wetlands; nonetheless, those who made attempts on Arreaga’s life remain at large and there is no apparent effort to prosecute.

Journalist Ligia Arreaga was forced to flee the country after death threats related her defense of the country’s most important wetlands, Matusagaratí. (Photo courtesy of Ligia Arreaga)

In the Barro Blanco case, Sousa filed a lawsuit before the dam was built, against the individuals who carried out the environmental impact study, as well as Public Services Agency director, Roberto Meana, and former Minister of the Environment Mirei Endara. The complaint charged that fundamental data regarding damage to the area’s archaeological heritage, environment and quality of life for the communities was false or missing.

“The result of that complaint was that nothing was done, it was not investigated at that time,” said Sousa. “Here in Panama there is too much impunity on the part of those who investigate the crimes.”

Francia Archibold, the attorney who is representing the three Ngäbe leaders, said there is no doubt in her mind that they should be acquitted completely.  For one thing, she said, the three leaders were among more than a hundred people, and it was unfair for them to be singled out. “Practically the entire community was there, and they were sincerely fighting for their rights,” she said. “I as an attorney can indisputably say that there is a certain level of persecution here. The reason is to harass the leaders with the sole purpose of silencing them, because they definitely have the power to convoke the people.”

“They offered us a misery”

Meanwhile, in the community of Kiad, Miranda and other Ngäbe residents are living with the consequences of the illegal flooding of Barro Blanco Dam. The waters of their sacred Tabasará River, which they once fished and bathed in, has grown into a stagnant lake, killing the fish, swallowing the food forest that was their sustenance and flooding the sacred petroglyphs that connected them to their ancestors.

Flooding by the Barro Blanco Dam has affected nearly 500 residents of the communities of Kiad, Quebrada Caña y Nuevo Palomar. (Photo: M10 archive)

Some residents’ homes have been destroyed, leaving them homeless. Contacted by telephone, Miranda said the waters have risen to just within a few meters of his home and the cultural center and school for the Ngäbe language at the heart of their community.

His sister, Ngäbe congressional delegate Weni Bagama, shared an interview with IC in a June visit to Panama City and described the conditions in the community.

“We used to live very peacefully, we slept our children happily all night, and after they flooded us, we have no peace,” she said. “Now from 6 p.m. onward, huge quantities of mosquitoes descend on us. We do not have repellents or mosquito nets, because it is an expense that we can’t possibly cover, and anyway it’s something we never needed before.”

Fever and diarrhea that have increased in the community, and children are being covered by mosquito bites, which are leading to infections, Bagama said. In addition, there is not enough food to go around since the community’s cropland was flooded. Before, they had a wide range of foods from a productive, multi-generation food forest along the river; now they are living on the little bit that people bring from neighboring communities, the little that they can buy and whatever they can grow in other areas higher up, but production has been very limited.

“We do not want to be a burden to anybody; we want them to lower the reservoir, because food we had, territory to produce we had,” she said. “We caught shrimp, fish, in that river and now we cannot do any of that.”

Ngäbe leader Weni Bagama surveys the damage to her community of Kiad and surrounding areas from the flooding caused by Barro Blanco Dam. (Photo: Tracy L. Barnett)

Both Bagama and Miranda told IC that the government sent representatives to the community in March and offered them compensation for the land. Their position and that of the movement they represent against the dam, the Movimiento 10 de Abril, is that they are not willing to accept compensation for their lands.

“They offered us una miseria  (a misery, or a pittance), giving us food for a day and taking away our lands that have offered us economic, food, social and cultural security for over 500 years,” said Miranda. “We cannot share that policy with the government in any way.”­­­

Meanwhile, the lawsuit has taken its toll in terms of peace of mind for Miranda and his neighbors.  “We feel a great social and legal insecurity; I feel as if there is no guarantee to my right and the right of the people, I feel deprived of my free expression,” said Miranda. “We have lost part of our land, and our crops.

“This is the fourth time that the company has invented a pretext to persecute me, and it’s clearly to intimidate us from the struggle we are carrying out.”

Another of the leaders being sued, Regional Congress President Toribio García, said the company had sued him five times and has tried to bribe him, but he has no intention of giving in. “What they do not know is that putting us in prison will just further activate the movement for the future generations that we are fighting for.”

Like Miranda and Bagama, García said he will not be intimidated.

“We as leaders and people will maintain our fight to the ultimate consequences,” said García. “We will demand our rights, and those rights are the dignity of a people — and the dignity of a people is priceless.”

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


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.

Continue reading


Wixaritari Take a Stand: Indigenous community takes back its land from Mexican ranchers

Wixárika woman overlooks the community of San Sebastian Teponohuaxtlán "Wuaut+a" in the Mexican state of Jalisco. (Facebook/San Sebastian Teponohuaxtlán)
Wixárika woman overlooks the community of San Sebastian Teponohuaxtlán “Wuaut+a” in the Mexican state of Jalisco. (Facebook/San Sebastian Teponohuaxtlán)

Tracy L. Barnett
Intercontinental Cry

A contingent of at least 1,000 indigenous Wixárika (Huichol) people in the Western Sierra Madre are gearing up to take back their lands after a legal decision in a decade-long land dispute with neighboring ranchers who have held the land for more than a century.

Ranchers who have been in possession of the 10,000 hectares in question for generations say the seizure is unlawful and that they will not hand over the land — setting the scene for a showdown that observers fear may end in violence.

Read the full story at Intercontinental Cry


Remembering Yuka+ye: Wixarika teacher and activist left a storied legacy

By Tracy L. Barnett
For El Daily Post

If Wixarika, or Huichol, culture and language have a future, if the world view of this magical people persists, if their sacred lands remain a spiritual sanctuary, the tireless struggle of Jesús Lara Chivarra will not have been in vain. The death of this indigenous fighter leaves a void in the hearts of many.

Wixarika (Huichol) culture lost a champion when Yuka+ye died

Jesús Lara Chivarra and Cilau Valadez face the entrance to First Majestic Silver Corp. headquarters in Vancouver, demanding entrance to the annual stockholders meeting. All photos: Tracy L. Barnett

While most people were celebrating the holidays, others  from Canada to Mexico mourned the loss of a leading Wixarika scholar and teacher, a cultural ambassador and an indigenous activist whose work on behalf of indigenous unity spanned North America.

Yuka+ye Jesús Lara Chivarra’s path took him from the Huichol Sierra to the halls of power. He hobnobbed with rock stars and artists, he faced down police and corporate executives, he taught college students, film producers, attorneys, journalists – but he was always most at home in his village.

Continue reading


Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians

This week Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians had its world premiere – fittingly in the remote mountain enclave of Real de Catorce, the picturesque colonial capital of Wirikuta – followed by a second showing after a rugged two-day journey into Wixarika territory in the even more remote Sierra Madre.

The most important movie to date about the Wixarika (Huichol) people and their struggle to save the center of their cosmos, the Birthplace of the Sun, this movie weaves the dramatic story of that battle around the pilgrimage of Marakame José Luis Ramírez and his family to the desert of Wirikuta.

Finally, its premiere came yesterday in the modern metropolis of Guadalajara, where an hour before show time, hundreds were already lined up in front of the University of Guadalajara’s Cineforo for the chance to be the first to see this long-awaited film. I was excited to be among them, to be reunited with my old friends and companions in that struggle and to see this story, a struggle that marked my own life so profoundly, played out on the big screen. I was also eager to see the small contribution that I’d made to this masterpiece with the video clips I’d contributed to the director, Hernán Vilchez, from my trip with the Wixarika delegation to Vancouver in 2011.

Thankfully we arrived early – because we were the last to be let inside the doors. Hundreds of others were sent away disappointed.

The premiere was opened by Marakame José Luis, also known by his Wixarika name, Katira, with a prayer of gratitude, an invocation to the five directions and a blessing for all those who work for the Mother Earth. Never has a film been more beautifully introduced.


Tomorrow, Saturday, May 24, the film will be shown in Mexico City, at the Monumento a la Madre in Colonia Serapia Rendón.

You can view the film by downloading it from the website or organize a showing in your community. We are currently seeking venues for this film all over the world. Please contact us if you are interested, tracy at tracybarnettonline.com. Watch this site for an upcoming interview with Director Hernan Vilchez and Producer Paola Stefani soon.

Santos y Ruben

Behind the Scenes: What Wirikuta Fest fans bought with their tickets

“Wirikuta is not for sale!” Wixarika leaders and activists take the stage at Wirikuta Fest to the chants of 60,000 fans.

Story and photos by Tracy L. Barnett

It was a long time coming – but it was worth the wait.

Nearly two years ago, more than a dozen of Mexico’s biggest performing artists came together in a mega-event aimed at saving Wirikuta, one of the country’s most sacred sites, from devastation at the hands of Canadian gold and silver mining operations.

It was a triumphant moment for the indigenous Wixarika people and for indigenous movements in general when, as the daylong festival came to a close, they were invited to come up on stage. A massive screen flashed images of traditional Wixarika beadwork behind them as 60,000 fans chanted, in unison, “Wirikuta no se vende! Wirikuta se defende!” (Wirikuta is not for sale! Wirikuta will be defended!)

Leaders of the indigenous Wixarika people and the Wirikuta Defense Front, the civil society coalition that is supporting them, came forward in a Mexico City press conference recently to give an accounting of how the money was spent – an example of innovation in the face of daunting challenges.
Continue reading

Evo Morales, the plurinational president


Forget Barak Obama – he’s so 2009. Evo Morales is the new rock star president, as I learned in Coyoacan this weekend. A sea of enthusiastic people of every ethnicity waited for hours in the hot sun to hear his plea for a more just society, one that provides a dignified life for all and respects the rights of the Pachamama, Mother Earth. His rousing speech was preceded with performances by indigenous dancers and musicians and a Four Directions ceremony.

Here are a few scenes from the rally on Sunday.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.