Tag Archives: Panama

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.
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Sr. Melinda Roper: From Death Squads to the Web of Life

By Tracy L. Barnett
For Global Sisters Report

In February 2017, while researching the impact of hydroelectric dams on the rivers and rural communities of Panama, I happened across Melinda Roper, a Catholic sister who had played a part in history as the leader of the Maryknolls at the time the four American churchwomen were killed by US-sponsored Salvadoran death squads. Roper became an outspoken critic of US policy in Central America, helping turn the tide in that bloody war. I found Melinda three decades later in a Panamanian jungle, organizing an ecospiritual retreat and working to raise consciousness with an ecological community of women religious. Here’s her story.

From her mission deep in Panama’s rainforest, Sr. Melinda Roper embraces a human rights focus much broader than the one that thrust her into the international spotlight nearly four decades ago.

Roper was at the helm of the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic on Dec. 2, 1980, when four U.S. churchwomen — two of them Maryknoll sisters — were murdered in El Salvador. She was just 40 when elected two years earlier to lead the congregation, which had missions in Asia, Africa and the Americas and traced its history to 1912.

Under her leadership, the Maryknoll sisters fought for justice, for the churchwomen and for those they represented. At a time when Americans were mostly unaware of the U.S. role in training and financing right-wing death squads terrorizing much of Central America, the Maryknolls awakened the faith community in particular and the country in general.

The churchwomen became a symbol for a system that was repressing and killing tens of thousands of innocents, many simply for the profession of their faith. Their deaths helped inspire Central American solidarity groups throughout the U.S. and a sanctuary movement that gave shelter to refugees fleeing the violence.

Global Sisters Report sought out Roper in Panama, where she has spent the past 32 years building a pastoral community in the remote tropical wilderness of Darién province. Her human rights focus and spiritual growth have expanded to encompass the connection between environment and spirituality.

“I encourage all of us to try to understand more of what science is telling us today. … Science and spirituality are not contradictory but complementary; they’re the principles on which the universe functions,” she told GSR. “In all of nature and all of the universe, everything tends toward interconnecting and interrelating. Another word would be to be ‘in communion’ with everything.”

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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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