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Demise of the Ngobe Tribe

AES Corporation Participating in the Demise of the of Ngobe Tribe

— La Amistad Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO-designated site that provides habitat for hundreds of rare, endemic, endangered, and migratory species, and is also home to members of the Ngobe tribe. It is currently threatened by the plans of AES Corporation, a Virginia-based transnational company, to construct three hydroelectric dams on the Changuinola River , the lifeblood of the park. The dams will flood Ngobe villages and create insurmountable barriers for numerous fish species upon which the tribes rely.

AES is moving forward despite this while maintaining it has a “commitment to environmental and social responsibility.” Center for Biological Diversity Conservation Director Peter Galvin attended Thursday’s annual shareholder meeting to make sure AES leadership and shareholders are aware of the irreversible damage the dams will cause.

Galvin spoke and distributed a letter to AES President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Hanrahan and AES shareholders highlighting the developments that have occurred since Galvin last wrote Hanrahan in August 2007, including:

  • March 2009: The Ombudsman Office of Panama issued a special report on human-rights violations and the construction of the dam.
  • October 2008: The InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights held a public hearing on the legality of the displacement of the Ngobe tribe and the alleged failure of AES to obtain prior, informed consent.
  • August 2008: Mr. James Anaya, a UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, issued a declaration expressing concern about the Ngobe affected by the dam.
  • July 2008: The World Heritage Committee found that there is an “absence of any planned measures to mitigate the impact of the hydroelectric dams…and…absence of an effective participatory management process involving civil society and government authorities,” and requested that Panama develop and implement measures to monitor mitigation, ensure the needs of the community are met, and carry out a cumulative-effects analysis of the dam construction.

Having first attempted to deny Galvin entry to the meeting, AES management relented upon Galvin’s insistence that as a shareholder, he was fully entitled to enter and address the shareholders and management. At the meeting, Galvin announced: “The Changuinola dam project includes the highly controversial forced relocation of Ngobe indigenous people and is causing massive destruction inside the UN-designated La Amistad Biosphere Reserve.” He pointed out that in addition to the destruction of the environment and biodiversity, AES is endangering shareholders by conducting activities that are resulting in massive citizen resistance and protracted litigation and will serve to further stain the reputation of the AES Corporation. He urged AES to withdraw from the ill-fated project.

Many AES shareholders and investment-fund managers appeared eager to receive the information packet on the issue Galvin handed out at the meeting. Said Galvin: “Many of the shareholders appeared surprised and dismayed to learn of the environmental and social atrocities being caused by AES’s Changuinola Projects. With our Panamanian and international allies, we intend to keep up the pressure on AES until the company finally comes to its senses and halts the further planning and construction on the Changuinola River dam projects.”

Galvin further noted that, “Studies have shown that these projects will actually increase greenhouse gas emissions due to the massive amount of methane released from tropical dam reservoirs.”