Julio Yao

Interviewee: Julio Yao
Interviewer: Karis McLaughlin and Martin Mowforth
Location: Panamá City, Panamá
Date: 3rd September 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
Notes: Please note that … denotes that the recording was not decipherable at that point..



Julio Yao (JY): Just imagine, it’s a cattle ranching concession – they say that they registered the finca in 1960. The indigenous people claim that they have lived there for a long time. The fact is that they have always been there. The problem you have to see is with the illegal registration of lands. Here anybody can register a property and everything inside it if nobody has already registered it, especially after you pay some official to put an earlier date on the registration. That happens a lot.

So I founded a movement, called the National Coordinating Body for the Defence of Lands and Waters, to address this issue. It began with a concern for the defence of dolphins. A company called …???… arrived here which wanted to build a huge hotel on the San Carlos beach with three dolphinariums for tourists in Bocas del Toro, in the Gulf of Pearls, and we opposed it. I founded the Front for the Defence of Dolphins. The business was well thought out because in Latin America there are no dolphinariums, so all the Latin American tourists go to Miami; but we had strong opposition and we defeated it.

There are lots of environmental groups here. I started on the Petaquilla issue because of an incident that there had been with an indigenous person, whose house was not only destroyed but also he was thrown off his land. He and I joined forces and I took him onto the television to make his denunciation – he came on Thursday and on Monday his home was destroyed. That was a long way off from here, in a place called San Benito, in the Petaquilla area. He made his denunciation and we got involved and now we are active on the Petaquilla issue.

I realised when I went there that there is a massive problem because the land concession is enormous. Also, the type of people they’ve got there are really dangerous, very dangerous – these are the people of Richard Fifer, a really dangerous person who has a bad background. Fifer is the President of Petaquilla Gold S.A.. That has changed a bit – the company is complex because there are various things which they don’t make public. They’ve got lots of divisions and they make sales and transactions amongst themselves, and it’s apparently legal, but they don’t make it public and you have to discover it.

Karis McLaughlin (KM): I have some questions which I sent to you. I’ve read a lot about this, but I’d like to hear in your own words, what are the environmental effects of the Petaquilla project?

JY: I always give the opinions of the communities directly. I’m very close to the communities, we defend the communities, their independence and their way of doing things.

We think that the resistance movement, the rejection movement we conceived as a non-violent resistance movement, and it’s given us excellent results. There are other people who recently have been trying to get into and take control of the movement of the communities through various members. They haven’t managed to do so yet, but it’s a very strong movement, like a strong union movement in Panamá. But they haven’t had much success. Previously they had problems with some other campesino coordinators, and they didn’t allow them to take control …???… So we are in line with the biggest campesino coordinators in Panamá, called the Campesino Coordination for Life (CCV). In Panamá there are two large campesino coordinating bodies. The CCV works in three provinces. Previously they were called the Campesino Coordination Against Dams. They campaign against dams and reservoirs that …???… they’re with me. I’m with them. But there’s another large coordinating body which works to the east of the Panamá Canal.

Petaquilla is on the coast, below Colón – it’s a place cut off and distant from Colón because there’s no road. So there are many campesinos there – they are mestizos – and there are more than 1,000 indigenous people who live in three communities. They’re also completely with us.

So the Campesino Coordination dominates three provinces: Colón, part of Coclé and part of Panamá. Here they are going to create a large lake and inundate the lands of and expel 50,000 families. So the people joined the Campesino Coordination. Then there is another Campesino Coordination that’s east of the Canal which is called the Campesino Coordination for the Rights to Life and Land. They’re also with us and I’m with them. We are on the point of merging completely. And then there’s a big association of La Pintada farm producers which is in one district of Coclé. They have done …???… to the Petaquilla project. We are also unified with this association.

We’ll talk about whether we’re going to make a campesino union or a national campesino movement from these three organisations. It’s an idea that’s maturing now.

Unfortunately, the people who live in Petaquilla are different from the people who live in Colón. In Colón 95% of the people are of African or Caribbean origin and there is a complete disconnection between the culture and economy of Colón. Donoso is the name of the district where the Petaquilla project is found. The link with Panamá [City] is by road rising up to Penonomé to …??… This climbs the central cordillera and goes through the Mesoamerican Corridor, more or less comes here and ends in Colón. Petaquilla is in the Corridor and beyond that you have the Caribbean Sea. It’s not connected because there is no road [shows map]. There is a road planned, but they’ve not started to build it yet.

This mining project is creating an extra problem of the pressure brought by land owners and land speculators coming here because these are virgin mountains. It’s in one of the most forested protected areas of the Republic of Panamá, and the most preserved. So people who are greedy for land are trying to get in there – some support the Petaquilla mine and others are there just for their own account. Some leave the land to the campesinos or register it and then sell it on to the mine, or maybe even work indirectly for the mine. They are people from the oligarchy, and they’re very corrupt. Some of these people are linked to drug trafficking. Even, in my opinion, although we haven’t said this publicly – it’s a carefully guarded opinion – but we have indications and suspicions that the Petaquilla mine is itself linked to drug trafficking.

I’ll tell you one case. Last year (2008), in the month of March, the Panamanian police of Colón carried out a drug seizure. The mine is in the area which comprises Coclé and Colón. That’s the initial project because the complete area is much bigger. The contract originally talked of 13,600 hectares but if you look at the Petaquilla web page it talks of 79,000 hectares, that’s seven times bigger than the original size. Now, Minera Panamá is the new name of Petaquilla Minerals Ltd, which was the company composed of Canadians and Panamanians. Fifer sold off the copper part to the Canadians because the Canadians decided to separate themselves from Fifer because of his villainy and gangsterism and many other things – so they separated. So the Canadian interests are now called Minera Panamá. Before that Minera Panamá was Teck Cominco and Inmet Mining.

When we held a protest outside the Canadian Embassy – I have here the letter we sent to the ambassador – that was on 12th November [2008]. On the 13th November, the same day that we held the protest outside the Canadian Embassy and sent the letter, that same day there was the annual [general] meeting of Teck Cominco in Canada, in Vancouver, and Fifer had to present a report. Also in Canada at the same time, Mining Watch Canada strongly denounced what was happening in Canada and described Fifer’s company as a company without international support and which lacked any seriousness, etc.. This prompted the Teck Cominco people who were there to leave and then Teck Cominco sold everything to Inmet Mining. For us that was a triumph because it was one enemy less because everything was now with Inmet Mining. So, Inmet Mining is with Minera Panamá and Fifer is with Petaquilla Gold.

In this Petaquilla concession there are three rivers: the Río Caimito which flows out to the Caribbean Sea; the Río Petaquilla which comes down from the Petaquilla Sierra to the sea; and the Río Palmilla which partially crosses the concession. They are all affected. A curious thing is that there are three indigenous communities here: Nuevo Sinaí, Nueva Lucha Petaquilla and Río Palmilla. The cargo of drugs was cocaine – there were three tons of cocaine in 7,000 packets. They were found in the Río Petaquilla, inside the mining concession, because I compared the police map with the one that we have which shows the Petaquilla mining communities. So I said: how curious. From the Río Petaquilla, the nearest people are the indigenous groups and they are loyal to us, and trustworthy and disciplined. I asked them how it came about that 7,000 bags were found in the Río Petaquilla – more or less 7,000 pounds. It happened on 21st June 2008. Now, in my opinion, that’s the biggest seizure there has been in this country, but the indians didn’t know anything about it. But the map says that it was inside Petaquilla, and there was an armed confrontation between the police and drug traffickers. I know this because one of our campesinos has a finca very near this area which is called the Río del Medio and he told me that he heard the firing for several hours and he saw the dead and wounded who they took out of Petaquilla.

I suspected that Petaquilla was involved in this for obvious reasons because the only company around that has planes and helicopters is Petaquilla and nobody controls it, nobody registers anything for Petaquilla. They come in and leave by the river, by land, by sea, by air as they wish and nobody says anything. The news was only in the papers for two days and then it disappeared. I checked who was in charge of the operation and it was the Drug Tsar at that time who was called José Abel Almengor who a month ago was removed, supposedly sacked. But I suspect that he knew something and that he was being silenced.

Three weeks ago I went to a morning TV programme and he was there and I was going to ask him. He’s now something like the Minister of Security, it’s a new responsibility. I said to him: “I heard last year that there was a very important drug seizure in Donoso, very near to the Río Petaquilla, three tonnes worth, and I was very curious because the news disappeared after two days. What do you know about it?”

He was really nervous and said: “I don’t remember anything about that.”

I said to him: “You don’t remember anything about it? That can’t be.”

And he said to me: “I don’t remember anything about it” and he looked at me and asked: “And who are you?”

I told him: “I’m Julio Yao.”

Then he said: “Ah, yes, I don’t remember anything, but I’ll check it out. Call me at the Presidency of the Republic and I’ll fix a meeting for you.”

I told him that I would call because we were very interested in this.

I think that he was involved in some way or is part of the business or they threatened him or who knows what; but he knew something because three tonnes of drugs can’t just appear and disappear as if it didn’t exist. For starters, it’s never been known what happened to the drugs. Then as far as what happened, well it happened, like I told you, in a zone next to the Canal and to the east there are nothing but campesinos. The indigenous are to the west. The Caimito campesinos who are here beside the sea are constantly complaining that they are being thrown off their land and that the people who are throwing them off their land are armed with heavy arms, and they’ve told me that these people are involved in drug trafficking. The narco-traffickers even …???… to people who live here. I’ll give you a name: Benjamin Boyd, he’s the son of a famous Panamanian ophthalmologist who is the first cousin of the wife of ex-President Ernesto Pérez Balladares who was the one who awarded the contract to Petaquilla in 1997. He’s one of those who have land there. There’s another one whose surname is Vallarino, also a member of the oligarchy, who has monopolised large land tracts. I think that what they want to do is to take over the best lands, because they’ve got a huge tourism potential because they know that the road is going to be built – this coming year they are possibly going to build it.

So, as well as the problems associated with Petaquilla there are extra stresses on the communities. It’s very difficult to go there. To get there you have to go up to Penonomé, go up to Coclecito, go down the river, it’s seven hours getting down to the coast, and on the coast you take another boat to go by sea. It’s a really big problem and it’s dangerous because there are dangerous currents along the coast. Those boats are not at all safe. So I’ve told the campesinos that they should form a committee to defend their lands against the monopoly of land. The indigenous groups don’t have these problems because …???… they have to respect all interventions, and they’ve been cutting wires designed to mark private property because this land is theirs.

It’s a complex struggle and we suspect that drugs are part of it because the people who live there talk of those things. For example, containers come in every day, loads of containers, with no registration and nobody knows what’s in those containers. And if they are authorised, they are not in the exploration nor the exploitation phase but they’re in a phase of preliminary prospecting. A cargo comes in with many quintals of coffee in the container and people wonder: OK, how many people drink coffee and what quantity of coffee? How much coffee do they drink in a week? 20 pounds, and that’s not much, and yet there they see containers full of coffee coming in, because the employees tell us.

Then there is a question of deforestation. Look, Petaquilla began its operation in 2004, the contract was earlier, without an environmental impact assessment, without consulting the communities, and without being authorised – totally illegal. Why did they do that? First, because Fifer is considered to be a very important man – he was governor of the province of Coclé. When he was the Coclé governor, he was also a member of one of the most prominent families in Coclé, because he is Fifer Charles, and the Charles is one of the most powerful families in Penonomé; within the Penonomé oligarchy is the Carrizo family, the Arauz family the Charles family and others. They are all completely a part of the Petaquilla system, with soft jobs / sinecures. For example, one of them who is a secretary gets $10,000 per month. And that was what the Canadians found, and so the Canadians distanced themselves somewhat from it. They join forces on many things because the two were involved in the same contract; so the Canadians are jointly responsible, at least in some way, for what is happening. The Canadians have tried to be more careful – in inverted commas – in this country.

They began clear felling in 2004 and on 28th April 2007 the Regional Administration of the National Environment Authority (ANAM) said that they had seen 28 hectares deforested. We’ve seen more than 28 hectares, because we see what the campesinos see, and the campesinos are all over the area. And ANAM has no capacity to supervise anything inside Petaquilla, not inside nor outside.

The ANAM Administrator, Dra. Ligia Castro, is a member of the PRD [Democratic Revolutionary Party], but everybody says that Martín Torrijos is interested and active in Petaquilla. In fact, Fifer’s people always said to the communities: you have to move from here for better or for worse because President Martín Torrijos is the boss of Petaquilla, perhaps not the boss, but for sure he’s a very active supporter even though his name doesn’t appear. The fact is that Torrijos has protected Petaquilla 100 per cent, he’s been complicit in the devastation of the forest. The most recent report I saw last year talked of 150 hectares which have been deforested.

The deforestation is one thing, the other is the contamination and another is the destruction of the rivers and streams. They have destroyed hundreds of streams and important lakes. The Río San Juan, which is one of the most important, they destroyed; they dredged the channel and built a road in the centre of the river. It’s an abundant river, big and very pretty, and these people built a road all along the side of the river which was the deepest part, dredging its banks and filling it in; and why? So that they could move their machinery and get building material throughout the length of the river for their plant, to build their own site. I’ve been there, in July I took my car, and drove along the centre of the river, and realised what an enormous destruction it was. Then all the water stagnated – it was horrible. I was in Petaquilla and Coclecito quite a time before, in the 80s, because General Torrijos had a house near Coclecito. I had to go there for official reasons. And when I went there, there was no Petaquilla, it was a beautiful place with plenty of water and big rivers, one which goes to the Pacific and others which run down to the Atlantic; but they are near one of the others. It’s a strange phenomenon.

But the deforestation is huge, they make loads of explosions without any control, frequently, day and night. They don’t give any warning to the communities; they place childrens’ lives in danger when they walk to school, and they pollute the waters. There are multiple effects: the explosions, the dredging and the illegal felling. They say that as the Petaquilla contract is from 1997 and the environment law came some months afterwards, they are not obliged to comply with what the law says, so they keep on doing this. ANAM publicises it but at the same time it gets hidden, because a long time ago they had to suspend their operation and were called to account because they violated their contract from A to Z, they violated everything about it. The contract had been violated substantially.

I’ve got here last month’s resolution of the Ombudsman – it’s completely favourable to us. The Ombudsman finds 100 per cent in favour of the communities and asks …???… This document is very important because the Ombudsman made a resolution of five pages of serious points, and in considering those …???… it has three, but it’s very clear. In this resolution, the Ombudsman asks the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MICI) to annul the Petaquilla contract because of its substantial non-compliance, and it says that the same contract actually makes allowance for this possibility. It asks both ANAM and MICI to be more rigorous in order to oblige it [Petaquilla] to pay the fines, because there is a fine of almost $2 million which they of course have refused to pay. Because the legal question is like that, when they responded to ANAM’s administrative processes, they claimed that it was a matter for the Supreme Court. But the Court decided that the laws can indeed be applied to Petaquilla, and I think the argument is correct, by reason of special public order / interest, when it is thus, it is retroactive. So they have already begun to lose. That was in November last year (2008), when ANAM fined them $2 million, it was ordered to suspend operations and to pay a very small sum of $900 in costs for mitigation of the damages. Notwithstanding that, ANAM approved an environmental impact assessment, one month after, under pressure, but conditioned on the insistence that the mine must comply with it – but the mine didn’t accept any of it. So they are in rebellion against the state and in contempt, or perhaps they’re in total non-compliance. It is totally illegal.

KM: And the money for the fine – where did it go?

JY: In that case, all the money goes to ANAM, because ANAM argues that it depends on an administrative process by which they opened the mine in 2004 or 2005. We, the communities, looked for a lawyer in 2007, and she [?] also made a claim, but they said that this argument was later and that therefore the earlier demand was the one that applies and that all the money would go to them. We had hoped that if the argument failed that it was well made and that legally half of the fine would go to the claimants, the communities. That would have been good because it would have been useful for the struggle against Petaquilla and to close it, but it didn’t happen like that. So ANAM should have surrendered the same amount, but they didn’t pay either. In any case, the fine was very small.

KM: I want to ask about the issue of sustainability. Is there a sustainable way of mining?

JY: No there isn’t. Sustainability implies that in all ways a mode of production can continue permanently; or perhaps that the raw materials, the natural resources that are destroyed must be replaced in an integral way, in a way that ensures that our children and grand-children can continue to make what we made. But that’s impossible because the damages caused by Petaquilla cannot be mitigated in any way. What we’re dealing with here is, well, we’ve destroyed 150,000 trees here and we are going to sow 300,000 trees elsewhere – no, that is not the same. First, there’s no place where you can sow 300,000 trees. In their case [Petaquilla’s], they have felled, I think, millions of trees, all illegally – there is nowhere you can put all those trees. The problem is not the trees, but the people who live there. The people who live there now are not as bad from the point of view of …???…

JY: …???… they still haven’t started their work, but it’s what they are going to do. Suppose they give the total, everything. Fifer more or less has this now, but if it develops fully, they are going to take everything. If the new lands which they have asked for are approved, seven different sites will disappear, and it’s known that these seven new sites amount to 75,000 hectares. These 75,000 ha. bring what they already have to 78,000 or 79,000, and then we would be talking about an area of land of about 1,500 sq km, a figure greater even than the area of the former Canal Zone which the US had. You can see the area of the Canal on the map. It was 16 km by 86 km, the Canal Zone, plus the hydrographic basins of the Canal.

To say that this area is going to be given to Petaquilla in exchange for 2 per cent is totally ridiculous, absurd. It’s 2 per cent that they give to the state, it’s nothing. To give you an idea of what it means, when there’s income from the mine, providing that other conditions are met, then they’ll give 2 per cent to the state. They are paying 50 cents per hectare p.a.. That means that for the year 2008 they paid the district of Donoso the grand sum of $318, for the whole year. So, I don’t know what this really means – it’s a pillage; the government has presented the Canadians and the Panamanians with the best metallic resources, because this is a zone that historically has always been very rich. Christopher Columbus arrived in Panamá in 1503 – Panamá was discovered, in inverted commas, by Rodrigo de Bastidas in 1501, but Christopher Columbus arrived in 1503, buying gold. He journeyed round Central America and then went to Venezuela, but he came back to Petaquilla. It wasn’t called Petaquilla at that time, but it was on the Río Petaquilla. He arrived there with his brother Bartolomé. They asked the indigenous who were living there in Petaquilla – because they brought interpreters with them – where was their king, and they said: “quibián/sleeping”. Quibián means sleeping. And at that moment the king was asleep in his hammock – I suppose it was his siesta. They said to him [Columbus]: “Quibién”. But they thought that he was called Quibién, so they referred to him as Quibién.

He [Quibién] was a fierce warrior, so they began their diplomacy very delicately offering little mirrors and other trinkets and at the start they had very good relations. But when he saw that they wanted gold, because there was a lot of gold in Petaquilla, they began to apply pressure. They kidnapped Quibién’s family and took them away in boats, and they kept them on the boats. They also seized Quibién and tied him up. But when they took him by boat along the Río Vera – now it’s called the Río Veraguas – he threw himself in the river and swam away. Then he made an alliance with the neighbouring indigenous peoples and routed Christopher Columbus. He burnt the town of Santa María de Belén, today called Belén and it’s by the side of the Río Belén. It’s a river with a Ngobe name. So, Columbus is defeated and Bartolomé fled. That was the first defeat suffered by the Spanish in the whole continent. But when they went to find Quibién’s family, most of them had been killed in the boats or had been thrown into the sea and drowned. Christopher Columbus never returned. In my opinion this was an important moment in history.

Five decades later the Spanish returned and encountered another warrior called Urracá. He was more famous and in the same region, between Colón and Veraguas. In Veraguas there is also a lot of gold, but the gold is really in Petaquilla. So the communities which are living in the area must know the history and I told them that if they want to defend their indigenous rights more strongly they must unite into one single entity, and they must get the services of a legal person so that they can make claims on the state and in the case of the state failing them they can make appeals to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) – and if necessary to the UN Commission for Indigenous Affairs.

We are going through the legal proceedings and the association is called the Quibién Association, in order to recover the history and identity. In the history books it’s written as ‘Quibián’, but I’ve been correcting it to ‘Quibién’, with an ‘é’, because I asked what that meant to an indigenous person, and I was told ‘quibién’ means that he sleeps, and that it’s not ‘Quibián’. So the Spanish copied it wrongly. Now we’re always doubtful about whether to correct it or to leave it as it is because to the warrior known by the Spanish as Quibián, the lord of the lands, he had sovereignty there. The tribes were from all over Panamá – they came from Coclé, and they came to fight at Petaquilla. They made a statue of gold to Quibián but the Spanish stole the statue and took it away to Spain. They became mad because they saw so much gold. There’s actually a part of Petaquilla which if you go now you will see gold in the road. The campesinos and the indigenous people collected it but it took them a long time because they use artisanal methods, but they always earn a little money from it. It’s preferable that they get it than that the Canadians take it.

The Canadians and Petaquilla Gold blame the artisanal miners, who are very few, for the contamination, the explosions and the deforestation. It’s incredible. And that’s totally false because the artisanal miners don’t use cyanide.

KM: It’s been mentioned that you’ve been threatened. Can you comment about that?

JY: Yes. I’m used to driving in a 4×4 – to get here you have to go in a 4×4, full traction. At Penonomé there’s no problem, any car can get up to there, but from there you have to use a 4×4. One time I came in a double cabin pick-up with my son and another member of the team. In the afternoon we had been …???… and that road is almost exclusively used by the mine. But listen, the mine says that they built the road, but that’s false; the road was built with a loan of $23 million from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The company boasts that this is part of the social development that they have brought to the communities. The thing is that we came by that road and my son was driving – he was driving very well. Five minutes after the village of Villa del Carmén, there was a white pick-up truck – vehicles belonging to the mine are white, but there are others which are black and with darkened windows. Strangely the black cars arrive at night, and they belong to the top brass. Why do I know this? By one of life’s chances/coincidences.

One of the mine bosses’ drivers was the husband of the leader of the Coordinating Body of Campesinos for Life which works directly with me every day. He works there. So the information came through their daughter. We have many sources.

On that day, that car got itself in front of us, but it seemed perfectly normal to us. We were going at a normal speed along an unsurfaced road. Strangely it was increasing its speed, but we did the same, increasing speed because it was still within the normal. But when we arrived at a place called Molejón they increased their speed but we kept our distance. Suddenly the other vehicle braked really fiercely, without showing its lights, without hand signals or anything, and we had to break sharply. He braked, and he turned round 90 degrees really sharply, and it seemed we would hit it. This was all very sudden. We didn’t suspect anything, we didn’t see anything strange. The car in front braked, but my son avoided it, then it swerved so that my son would hit it whatever he did, but my son swerved again to avoid hitting it. In the end the car did hit it in the back bumper and it was left hooked up to it. We took photos of the prints of the tyre and all, and a tall, white, young man got out – he was alone in the car. The car was a white Toyota Land Cruiser. We also got out and said, “Listen, you brake like that without any lights and without any hand signals or anything – how come? We didn’t suspect anything.” Now the police don’t operate in that place, they just don’t get there because it’s too far out. There was no way of making a report of what happened. The thing is the two people with me said something, but it didn’t get to anybody. So I thought I’m going to do something. So I went up to him and said: “Listen, neither you nor I are going to stay here and wait for the police to arrive the next day. But why did you do this? There are five of us, five leaders in the car. We think that it was totally irresponsible of you and I don’t see why you did it.” He didn’t say anything, he left the car and moved back slowly and I went over to him. “I’d like you to tell me how you’re going to answer for this.” I said to him, “What’s your name?” “Álvaro Tejeira.” The Tejeira are a powerful family in Penonomé.

I remembered that in Petaquilla at that time Dr Marcel Salamín was working. Many years ago he was allied, for a short time, with General Torrijos after the Torrijos-Carter Accords. I used to be an advisor to General Torrijos. And this Salamín was a professor of rhetoric. But at that time, Salamín, who had been ambassador in Venezuela, was a member of the Security Council. He had been nominated to it a little while before. I said to him, “Listen, do you know Marcel Salamín?” He told me “No.” “You don’t know Marcel Salamín?” “No, I don’t know him.” “Look, you do know him. Stop this foolishness. I’m going to give you my Peace and Justice Service card and tell Marcel Salamín that I’ll give him two days to call me, to answer for this and to pay me the damages. Tell him that I’m Julio Yao, and look at my face, I’m public enemy number 1 in Petaquilla.”

After we got to Penonomé I was reflecting on the night and what a strange accident it was. My son and the others said to me, “Dad, that was no accident; it was an attack.” I think it was because there was no explanation for what he did. He made two manoeuvres. Fortunately, the photos we took show their tyres and our tyres clearly – technically, they demonstrate that.

That was one incident. The other was worse – it was afterwards. The other was on 19th March 2008. I was in a 4 x 4 Jimmy Suzuki, a 2008 jeep. There were three of us: a journalist and the President of the Campesino Coordinator. We left a meeting at night from a community called Loma Blanca which is almost inside the [Petaquilla] project.

Obviously when we have meetings in the communities, they can pass by to see which cars are there – all their cars are white, and ours are all sorts of colours. I was driving and when we got half way along the road a white pick-up truck came up behind me with large lights, and then it came up beside me. As I was suspecting that it could be an attack, I tried to prevent it by putting some distance between us, I was shifting. Then it came up beside me again. To drive in these mountains at 120 – 140 km per hour is very dangerous. Well, I was speeding for a good while and he didn’t catch me. But we got to an area called Loma de Volteaver which is a very big hill that we go down. I’ve never had problems on that road because I’ve done it hundreds of times, but that night I’d gone the whole distance when a moment came when I was going downhill and saw that he had stopped, strangely, as if he was watching. I had the double traction on and I was in third gear. So the car was driving well. But the road was full of a fine dust, because it was summer, and at one curve the road was totally black because it had been sprayed with a hosepipe which made it like a bog. Well there was no way of controlling the car because the mud was very fine and the car did various turns and left the road. It ended up lying in a gully facing upwards and in the opposite direction. Everything was too quick. The gully prevented the car going further down towards a precipice. The car was a write-off along the right-hand side. It cost me something like $3,000 because the insurance company didn’t want to acknowledge the damage. Fortunately, nothing serious happened to us. In that part of Volteaver there were various machines from the mine and there was a man who was looking after the machinery. I couldn’t see the wet part, I didn’t see it till we got into the bend. Obviously I failed to control the car because the mud was so extensive. Anyway, finally, some passing cars tried to help us.

On another occasion we had a meeting in Coclecito, in the church, with indigenous people and campesinos. They had walked for a day to get to Coclecito. There was one lady who was listening. Our meetings are always open. One of the residents tells me: “There’s a lady who is a friend of the mine and doesn’t like what you are saying.” I said to him, “Very simple, tell her to come in and to sit and listen and then tell us what is her concern.” She didn’t want to come in, but her daughter works for the mine and that lady lives alongside and behind the church, opposite the offices of Teck Cominco and Inmet Mining. When the meeting ended we went to the car and one of the campesinos on the committee came running to us: “they told me to stop you and that you shouldn’t go. Don’t go professor. Don’t go because it’s very dangerous if you go right now.” “But why?” “Because I saw what just happened. The lady, that same one who was here, when she was going to her house we went with her because we were going in the same direction, and she asked my son, who works in the mine. She said to him. “Listen, that Doctor Yao, which car did he come in? Where is his car? What colour is it and how many people did he come with? Is it double traction?” The boy told her because she was asking. The miners are waiting on the road.”

I have two testimonies, one from this man who gave me the name of the woman. He told me that this had happened and that the miners were waiting for me on the road. So he told me not to leave and that I should stay and sleep there. I told them I was going because I had to get to Panamá and that I would go very carefully. They were shocked. The boy’s wife, the boy and his father came here and made declarations which we recorded.

But also another campesino who is a member of the Petaquilla Committee, called Jeremías Pérez, he called us to a meeting and took us aside from the meeting to tell us something very confidential. I asked him what happened. Fortunately with me was a journalist, and I told him: “Record this, whatever it may be.” The campesino told me: “Look professor, there was a meeting of the bosses at the mine with a group of campesinos who worked there. They told them that in that meeting they were going to speak about something very confidential and that nothing of what they would talk about there should be spoken about outside, and that if anyone did talk about it they would be fired and their loans would not be made any longer.” There was a cousin of his at that meeting who told him that the boss who was speaking told the campesinos that the mine was failing and that Professor Julio Yao was to blame. And if they wanted to keep their work, the meeting was to discuss the best way of assassinating Professor Yao.

So we made a formal declaration, which we still haven’t presented, but I have the recording.

Perhaps it’s the woman’s testimony who said they were going to kill me on the road and the campesino’s testimony that a special meeting was called about a way to kill me.

What happens is that the campesinos, bit by bit, I helped them to get over their fear, because they’re very afraid of the mine. For example, on one occasion we were meeting in a church and it was really hot. So they said, “Professor, we’re going to go by the church door because it’s a bit cooler there.” I went behind them, and they said, “Professor, look behind you.” So I looked. There were three cars from the mine and, like, there were five persons filming us whilst we were inside. They take reprisals against the workers. I got angry, so much so that I said to them, “This is going to stop.” I got up and went, with nothing to hand, I ran down the stairs and confronted them. The campesinos and indigenous came behind me to see what was happening. I said to them, “What are you doing here? You have no right to be filming or spying because it violates our constitutional rights.” They were there with people from ANAM. I asked them, “Are you collaborating?” Yes they were collaborating. Then the people who’d come up started making a big racket. I have told them that I don’t like violence, but they pressed very strongly and there were more of us, and they left running, jumped in their cars and set off quickly. In the nervousness of the situation one of the cars didn’t start, so we grabbed onto it. I held onto it and said, “Who are you? What are your names?” Then we let them go. That helped the campesinos to get rid of a bit of their fear because they saw that I’d done that without anything. (I had a machete elsewhere.) So the miners didn’t like me, but they respect me a lot.

Those are the three or four things that have happened. They really have serious problems with me for one simple reason. For them it would be very easy if we were given to violence, but if we were given to violence we would lose. The people do want to do that, yes they want to use violent means, they want to burn tractors and houses. But we cannot do that because it doesn’t bring results.

Who is it that supports us, the communities? The University of Panamá. I’ve got here a paper of the University of Panamá in which the General University Council, made up of employees, teaching staff, and administrative staff, is 100 per cent in favour of us and against the mine. They have formed an important team of scientists and technicians who are studying the issue of Petaquilla from all angles: the social, the pollution, health, technology, everything.

Also, the Ombudsman supports us, 100 per cent.

But, what have we achieved? We’ve carried out a very intelligent struggle/campaign. We’ve tried to avoid violence. One violent situation which we had was the fault of various elements from SUNTRACS (Unique National Union of Workers in the Construction and Similar Industries) who gate-crashed our encampment. For more than two weeks we closed the access road to the Petaquilla project. They wanted violence, they wanted to burn the ranchos, the houses and everything down. We said that we couldn’t do that. They were the ones who burned the ranchos. They were the ones who set fire to and destroyed nine indigenous ranchos and everything in them. Some of these characters fled, but others stayed put. We’ve started proceedings against the mine for these things, but the process has been too slow and nothing has happened. I have the names of the persons involved. That happened on two occasions, between 2006 and 2007.

On the 22nd April 2007, the Day of the Earth which was a Saturday, by pure chance, all the campesino and indigenous communities had a big assembly and invited me to be there. They were supported by claretian missionaries. [Note: this sounds like they must be missionaries who are keen on their red wine! I’ve never heard of misioneros claretianos.] The claretian missionaries have been there for many decades, supporting the poor. Well there was one missionary, a Spanish woman called Ito Manred [transcriber uncertain about name] who advised them and accompanied them. There were about 400 people from three indigenous groups that had a resolution where they request an interpretive action. The campesinos had interpretive resolutions. We discussed throughout the day, until the afternoon. And finally one of them said to me: “If everybody wants interpretive actions, we’ll organise ourselves and form a committee to close the Petaquilla mine; and they did it, they got themselves organised and also created a directory in which each community had two representatives. It’s growing because those who participate are not just from the affected area but also from adjoining areas. We have a campesina coordinator who is …???… and it’s a big organisation and stretches even down to Kuna Yala on the other side of the Canal. There are thousands of communities, not just three groups.

Martin Mowforth (MM): In your testimony about the threats that you have received, do you want us to change the names of the people mentioned?

JY: No. What happens is that a lot of people have told me that you can’t legally make a denunciation if I don’t have any proof and the problem is how I can prove those incidents on the road. The other, yes because they are threats, they gave their testimony that they were waiting for me on the road to kill me. I thought that there wasn’t sufficient strength to take it to the legal field. One of my friends who was a minister during the time of General Torrijos, Fernando Manfredo, he’s against the mine and he’s studying for a way to annul the contract. He told me not to do anything until I have solid proof. The truth is that the most solid proof was what the campesino had during the meeting but he didn’t dare to speak – he told it to his cousin and the cousin told me, but I think it’s not the same. They’re very afraid of the miners because the miners there, like the communities, are very dispersed all along the road. They’ve raped girls of 12 to 14 years old, of primary and secondary school age; they’ve made them pregnant and abandoned them.

The other bad feature is that within the mine there’s a type of sexual exploitation of women. People work there for two or three weeks and stay within the mine during that time, [{they leave and they return} – Note: I’ve put this in italics because it directly contradicts the clause that preceded it]. They have different encampments, but the rule is the same, that is to say, the layout of the houses and the installations is the same. They have a house where all the bosses and trusted employees live. The workers live in a barracks some distance away, about 500 metres, very far; and the women live beside where the bosses and engineers, etc., live. These women are exploited, abused, harassed, mistreated; they rape them, some they sell for money or for …???… it’s a disaster. It has brought about family disintegration all over the area of the project which wasn’t known before because the area is a very tranquil one. Now there’s prostitution, drugs, social disintegration. That’s the other aspect of Petaquilla. A woman gave her testimony to all that, but she doesn’t work in the mine, but she’s the mother or mother-in-law of someone who was working in the mine, and she told everything. This is an aspect that I’ve tried to see if women’s organisations would get interested in, but they haven’t been interested because some womens’ organisations are supporters of the government of Martín Torrijos and they don’t want to rock the boat on this issue. Women undergo a very special suffering in mines in Panamá; women are more affected than the men for many reasons.

KM: Are you optimistic about the future despite the problems?

JY: I feel optimistic. My only worry is SUNTRACS because they’re very aggressive and they consider themselves to be an organisation of the left with a union base. They’ve created a thing called FRENADESO which hasn’t resulted in anything, but they are very strong because they get many millions of dollars in quotas because they’re construction workers and that is the most productive sector of Panamá. So they’ve got lots of room for manoeuvre. Our worry is that they are trying to infiltrate the movement to raise it up and turn it into a mass movement. And why do they incite violence? Because they need to gain attention to make it grow into a national organisation. We think that’s an error because the workers cannot lead the campesinos; the campesinos must have their own leadership. There is a kind of worker aristocracy. They are determined to obtain control, they still haven’t achieved it, but they are using some well known ways to get it – on the basis of individual personalities, personal protagonists, that type of thing. We have left in place there a coordination based for the moment on three people who are the most important that are there. One is a delegate of the word (who replaces the priests, officiates at the mass, as if he were a padre) who is called Carmelo; another is a representative of two magistrates who is called Toribio; and the other is a leader of the site most affected by the mine who is the teacher in the place and who is called Ramón Vergara. I told them: “You have to take this on. As always we will continue supporting them; I’ll now take a step back so that you can take one forward. Your own movement must mature now, but we will always accompany you.” Those three are the ones who will take decisions; they know that this is a threat. They are the ones who will lead and who will broaden things out.

I’m very optimistic because it’s very difficult to say no to the Ombudsman, it’s very difficult to tell him …???… that the Ombudsman is wrong, it’s impossible to say to the University of Panamá that it is wrong. So the action of the communities is not like it could have been, but we would have had the support to call [public] attention. We have not had to call [public] attention – our reasoning has enabled us to go higher up. Now what we want is to draw the fight to the attention of public opinion and to bring it to the institutional level, to demonstrate that there is a serious contradiction within the government with regard to the mine, for a very simple reason. Because the central government does not understand what sustainable development is and is not interested in understanding it, and possibly President Martinelli does not give any attention to the environmental claims of the communities.

We have tried to get a meeting with Martinelli’s government when it was still Martín’s [Torrijos]. In the end, the Vice-Minister of Commerce and Industry received us. He’s called Ricardo Quijano. That man is a really backward person.

JY: We’ve had two provincial coordination councils. The provincial coordination council is all the authorities of the province who meet to consider the issues facing the province and already we’ve had two councils where it has been impossible to talk about Petaquilla. First because the quorum was broken and second because they cancelled it …???… and they moved it perhaps so that we weren’t able to talk about it. The communities have not been able to talk about the Petaquilla issue, but the company is feeling the pressure. Now so that the president and the deputy …???… invited Carmelo. Carmelo is one of the three leaders …???… something we have to say. In effect he says yes, there is an attempt by SUNTRACS to promote violence to see if they can wrest control from us, but it’s very difficult. They are mad, they are real extremists, very dogmatic, very sectarian and very authoritarian. They are people with whom the left has problems. But they have a lot of money.


Osvaldo Jordan

Interviewee: Osvaldo Jordan
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: Panama City.
Date: 14th September 2016
Theme: A conversation with Osvaldo Jordan, regarding the construction of the Barro Blanco Dam in Panama.
Key Words: Ngabe Indigenous group; Barro Blanco dam; land demarcation; militarisation.

Notes: the ACD is the Association for Conservation and Development and ENCA is the Environmental Network for Central America.

Martin Mowforth (MM): Recording on the 14th of September in Panama City with Osvaldo Jordan of the ACD. Just a short explanation by Osvaldo of the situation at the moment and over the last few months of the Ngabe Indians and their struggle against a range of development projects, particularly Barro Blanco.  Osvaldo, many thanks.

Osvaldo Jordan (OJ): Thank you. Yes Barro Blanco is the latest in a series of complaints between the government of Panama and the Ngabe people that began rising about eight years ago with the construction of the Changuinola dam or the Chan 75, and there were many human rights violations and abuses and manipulations during that project. There are several legal actions which are still pending, but there were several reasons that some of the Ngabe thought that Chan 75 was a weaker defence; one was that they did not have any land tied down or dedicated and the other is that some of the other people had accepted it in a very desperate way – they had accepted reparations and they thought, you know, they had weakened the common front. However, we get into Barro Blanco and the land is perfectly demarcated, nobody has accepted any reparations, and still after years and years of dialogue, the government closes the gates you know, and they see a plot of land – I would say technically not the government, but a company and then the government doesn’t have any regulations to stop the company from doing it. So basically that demonstrates that it’s not about having land demarcated; it’s not about the people not being decisive to defend their territory; it’s about greed; it’s about the desire of investors to seize land that is viable and to turn what is a sacred land or what is their home and their lives, and turning that into money. Because basically the land surrounding Barro Blanco flooded again on May 22nd and stopped from about June 9th until August 19th .

MM: This year?

OJ: Yes, this year, on August 19th the flooding was resumed and now that a lot of the territory has been flooded, it demonstrates that it doesn’t have any value, not to the government, not to the investors; you know those lands were simply flooded. Not even rescue happened to biological artefacts or flora and fauna; no it was just a case of closing the gates and letting the waters rise.

MM: Let’s see, the forest cover which existed, was that cut down beforehand?

OJ: No they didn’t, they just left it.

MM: So that’s suggests then, that all of that vegetation under the water is going to release all of its carbon over the next twenty to thirty years?

OJ: That’s right.

MM: Which will be released into the atmosphere. Can you tell me whether this scheme has got any carbon credits or carbon emissions certificates from the CDM [United Nations Clean Development Mechanism] for the Clean Development Mechanism?

OJ: That’s a case where Barro Blanco is a CDM certified project. We fought together with the appropriate committees through a process of validation but they still proceeded. Basically they launched the first consultation online in 2008 in English and we managed to send comments and then they sent a second consultation in 2009 and we couldn’t get the comments on and then we asked the executive board for the CDM not to approve the validation, but they completed all that paperwork by 2011, And then when the conflict escalated, and if you read that first submission from November 2008, you can see what happens later. It said see that the project doesn’t have the support of the local communities. There is a history of mobilisation and clashes over the project and the project is going to harm the environment on which the communities live. That’s all there. But they still approved all the CDM registration by 2011. As far as we know they have not been able to attain CER’s [Certified Emissions Reduction certificates] because they are not on the reparation yet so that cannot begin with. We really would consider re- ?[inaudible, 5:34] if this kind of certificates are issued, since we have been writing again together with solidarity organisations in Europe and the US. We will be writing again to the executive board of the CDM. The only way out they gave us, in a very legalistic way, is that the Government of Panama retrieves the letter of approval. The Government of Panama, this new Government in 2014, well they stopped the project for some periods and they issued a fine, and we said OK if you issued a fine, that  demonstrates that there is non-compliance, please be consistent and take away the LOA [Letter of Approval]. Well there is currently a campaign – you can see it online – because the Government of Panama is trying to portray itself as a global leader with carbon mitigations and fighting climate change, so we really want them to demonstrate with this what they are saying.

MM: For me, whether the CERs are issued or not, is an enormous contradiction in the fight against climate change with schemes like this that are going to be allowed to go ahead when in fact they’re just contributing to instead of saving carbon emissions. It’s amazing. Anyway, do you have anything else to add about the project as this was only meant to be a very short interview? Do you have anything else to add about the current situation here, particularly the problems being faced by any other indigenous groups in the chase of development projects on their territories?

OJ: Yes, one thing we are clear, this is not solely to do with Barro Blanco and this is not only about the Ngabe. It’s the global prowling of the indigenous peoples living under pressure in terms of natural resources, which they also call their homelands. If they didn’t think the way they did and that they cheered and thought that was part of their lives and they sold everything, a lot of investors would be happy. However, that’s not the way they think, and since they are not going to give it up voluntarily, that’s where the use of the violence of development happens with the use of force. So we are deeply concerned about what has happened at Barro Blanco. We’ve been talking to some of the leaders and the consensus is that they are going to continue fighting, because they realised that if they don’t continue fighting this is going to repeat itself in different parts of the territory with different people, so that’s the consensus and that’s the reason the Barro Blanco mobilisations have not only happened in the area that is regularly impacted, but in other areas, and that’s the reason why I wish you could actually visit over there, but the whole region is militarised. They are policed really, but police with military training sadly all over the roads and it’s very shocking for the community. They feel invaded by all these people there, with shields and tear gas and they will not allow them to protest, so that’s the reason I told you some of the leaders are here in Panama City because they want to bring some visibility to the situation.

MM: OK. Many thanks Osvaldo, thanks for your company and your words, and I’ll try and get some of your words into the next ENCA newsletter or the ENCA website, and onto the website for The Violence of Development. We look forward to more cooperation between ENCA and ACD in the future.

Geodisio Castillo

Interviewee: Geodisio Castillo
Interviewer: Karis McLaughlin and Martin Mowforth
Location: Panamá City, Panamá
Date: 3rd September 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC



GC: Resuming, what happened is that the PEMASKY programme depended a lot on the Association of Kuna Employees who were labourers who worked on the military bases at that time. The military bases were closed in 2000, so many members [of PEMASKY] were left without work and many returned to their communities. So logically the programme also came to a halt. But before transferring the protected area where PEMASKY worked, on Narganá, the Association transferred all its activity to the Kuna General Congress (KGC) to administer the protected area of Kuna Yala, from the Narganá administrative area. Since then, the PEMASKY programme has not taken off again. Many work plans and management plans for the area were taken over by the Congress.

So what’s happening now to the protected area that we left under the administration of the KGC? Well the Congress is having problems coping with the area’s administration and also therefore with its own finances. It doesn’t generate funds for the administration of the area. The Congress generates funds only for the administration of its offices and not for their reasonable distribution to the area of the comarca.

Nevertheless, the Congress is making a lot of effort to be able to seek technical and collaborative support from the National Environment Authority (ANAM) which is the environmental body of the government. It’s undergone various processes on how to manage the area jointly, but it’s not established itself. The Congress has agreements with ANAM, as it used to have with the Association of Kuna Employees – an agreement of mutual work, of projects, but it hasn’t managed to get to a co-administration because ANAM is [still] set in its management plan drawn up between 1983 and 1987 which has still to be carried out. Honestly, it still has to be made operational because there have been so many changes. The time when the plan is made operational will be when the government adopts a continuous fund for the protected area’s administration; but for the moment, no; and the management plan has not surfaced for a revision and operationalisation. The government has the funds for this, almost $60,000, but nobody has taken on the responsibility, neither in the government nor the Congress.

In that way, PEMASKY has disappeared. Many professionals from PEMASKY are willing to work on the plan, but nobody has yet made use of it.

MM: So what’s your work at the moment?

GC: After PEMASKY disappeared, I came back to work with the Congress to try to keep PEMASKY’s programmes going, but it wasn’t easy because my people had other ideas regarding the protection. These were based in their cosmovision, of what was protected by nature. But it’s not really like that – there are settlers invading the edges of the protected area and there are problems of felling and many other things.

MM: The comarca includes the narrow part of the territory on the mainland?

GC: Yes. For example, the protected area which is the Narganá administrative area has 100,000 land hectares and the marine part is where the communities are found. After 2 or 3 years of work there, I left the Congress and began working independently in our foundation. In 2005 I carried out a consultancy for ANAM and in 2006 they hired me. One month ago I finished with ANAM.

Karis McLaughlin (KM): What did you do with ANAM?

GC: First, I did some consultancy work on how the institution could improve its environmental programmes with the communities and then a lot of planning and promotion for institutions. In the last years I became ANAM’s regional administrator in the comarca. Then it changed with the new government.

Now I’m working independently and I’ve just done a consultancy on the extended programme of work on biodiversity, on the biodiversity agreement, which is being applied here in Panamá but not with the indigenous peoples.

I’ve already finished that and now they want to contract me for some work on the reduction of …???… for deforestation and woodland degradation. It’s a big UN programme on the framework convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC]. But in Panamá it’s not even been approved; it’s in discussion with indigenous peoples and others – it’s hardly in process.

MM: Do you have any information on this programme which you could send by email?

GC: Yes, I’ll send you it and some work I’ve done.

KM: What do you think about the DAR programme?

GC: Well, it’s hardly discussed in Panamá. I think that in Panamá there is still time for the government to act, because the previous government was beginning to promote the programme. It began with the Torrijos government which started to push for community participation, but only in inverted commas, not fully. It was a type of participation as if it was just to attract funds; they didn’t really do it. This government is studying how to get the communities to participate, but we’ll see how they get on with this.

My opinion is that if the participation of indigenous peoples is not taken into account, then the programme is not going anywhere, because almost the majority of the forested areas are in indigenous territories here in Panamá. Elsewhere I think it’s the same. So they want to work with the forests, but they’re indigenous comarcas – and they can’t impose it.

MM: What do the Ngobe-Bugle think of the Panamanian government? Perhaps there are changes from government to government. During the Omar Torrijos era many of the comarcas were created.

GC: Panamá is a small country in comparison with other countries and it has many problems. Since the 1890s when the Republic was created, the National Constitution of Panamá has had an article which says that it recognises indigenous territories, the indigenous comarcas, but each government has applied it in its own way. With [Omar] Torrijos it was then that the indigenous movement assumed the concept of the comarca, of territory; that was when the concept was strengthened and more comarcas were created.

The government of Torrijos’ son [Martin], however, talked of no more comarcas, and this current government is seemingly going to follow the same line, or rather doesn’t want to yield any more territory to indigenous peoples because the Naso-Teribe people are claiming that their territory is recognised as a comarca. That’s currently under discussion.

MM: It’s a problem for them. As far as the Kuna go, they have their comarca.

GC: What happened with the Kuna of Kuna Yala – because there’s Wargandi and Madungandi as well – is that the comarca is very questionable. What happens now? is the big question, so the leaders say. We’ve got the territory and defined it as a comarca, but now the process of development isn’t happening in the comarca. There are 49 communities; it’s like an independent world; they develop their community, but only at the comarcal level. The leadership has no vision of development, or perhaps they have one but they don’t apply it. They generate income but they don’t distribute it. So what would be the outcome of the comarca …???… because many young people are emigrating to the city because of the lack of job opportunities for generating income within the comarca and for developing agroforestry and traditional agroecology. There are many professional people working in the different cities of Panamá. It’s really serious. The majority of professionals want to be teachers/educators because the Ministry of Education is the only entity which provides work within the comarca in primary and secondary education. That’s the situation. There’s no means of working. The comarca is maintained, the woodland is maintained, ….

MM: But, are there threats to the autonomy of the Kuna Yala comarca on the part of the government or mining companies or other plantations?

GC: The great thing about Kuna Yala is that faced with a problem the communities unite to defend the territory. Moreover, every six months the Kuna General Congress is held and everything is discussed there. So the big government projects have to pass through this Congress and there is our own fundamental law of the Kuna people on which the Congress is based and which is recognised by the government. So, for any project, such as for example the last one which involved the laying of the electric line from Colombia to Panamá – well, the Congress rejected it. That’s the cohesion of the Kuna people; there exists that union, that territorial defence; but the issue is that there is no development in their own reality.

MM: Are there still many people who have a house in the comarca where they have their family, and they have another place in the city?

GC: That can also be a strategy, that the Kunas are emigrating to the city and there are various Kunas here in Panamá City. There are three kinds here in Panamá City, three kinds of Kunas in Colón, all with their own modes of living. It seems to me that they are spreading. In Bocas there are also various kinds. But always they keep contact with their communities. What happens is that it is the older people who live in the community and the youngsters who don’t want to stay in the community – they’re living here, they have work and dedicate themselves to a company. That’s what’s happening at the moment.

MM: We’d like to know more about CENDAH, the Foundation of Environmental and Human Development.

GC: I’ll tell you my own history. I studied in the Soviet Union. When I went there in 1980 I worked as a teacher in Kuna Yala. I studied Agricultural Sciences. Then I organised what was PEMASKY, because the Association of Kuna Employees wanted to develop that programme. The aim was to halt the invasion of colonisers and to defend the boundaries, because they were opening a highway. I worked until 1990. In 1991 I founded what is today the Noboyaga [???] Foundation, until 1994. In 1995 and 1996 I began to work again for the Association of Kuna Employees, in PEMASKY, till 1999. In 2000 I began to organise the Environmental and Human Centre (CENDAH). I founded it, but left it after a number of years to work with the government as a demonstrator; then I began to take on consultancies and went back to CENDAH. CENDAH’s aim is to develop an agroecology project and various environmental projects. It continues to exist, and now I’m going to dedicate myself more to it. It was only functioning at a low level, but now it’s on the up again.

MM: As far as deforestation goes, are there any woodland certification programmes?

GC: No. there have been some attempts at certification in Panamá, but the government – that is to say, ANAM – hasn’t taken it into account. Private companies have to look for certification schemes outside the country. The government hasn’t put certification into law, so there are independent certification schemes.

KM: Is certification a good way of moving towards a sustainable management?

GC: Yes. There’s an experiment that’s being tried with indigenous peoples with the Tupiza project in the Darién – with our Emberá-Wounaan brothers. It’s a project sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). They’ve had this project of sustainable forest management for a year now. I don’t know if they’ve managed to get to the point of certification yet, but they’re talking about one of the aims being to certify the forest. I have the name of the boss of Tupiza, he’s called Franklin Mezúa – his cellular is 6538 1005. He’s an Emberá.

MM: Would you like to tell us any more about the problems of development, specifically the problems of reforestation or problems which affect indigenous peoples especially?

GC: According to the latest data on the forest cover of Panamá for 2008, deforestation has decreased. It’s been tested scientifically by means of satellites. Within the indigenous comarcas, the greatest deforestation is in the Ngöbe-Buglé comarca. There are reforestation programmes, but there is certainly a high deforestation rate. The majority of the remaining indigenous comarcas (Emberá-Wonaan, Kuna Yala, Wargandi, and Madungandi) have maintained a coverage of almost 80 per cent.

But there’s a problem in Wargandi and Madungandi. For their economic gain they hire and pay companies to extract the timber, but they have no control over the activity. They don’t pay them much. For example, in Madungandi there’s a project with a Dutch company, Ardan International Group, which is extracting timber submerged in the lakes. The company is also working in Lake Gatún in the Canal. They are having problems with the Kuna of Madungandi.

Meanwhile, the Emberá are looking for other alternatives to this project.

GC: Letters from the Ngöbe-Buglé comarca, cheques to pay the Ngöbe-Buglé and the Kuna. Where is Kuna Yala? It’s incredible that a government functionary doesn’t know his country, isn’t it? That’s a functionary who believes that there are roads all over the comarca. They ask for information about petrol, how much it costs; but there you need an outboard motor. This is a problem which we have faced. One asked to carry out an activity there and they said no because of the gasoline. How much gasoline does it need? Distances in Kuna Yala are great, and so they began to discuss it.


Geodisio Castillo (2)

Interviewee: Geodisio Castillo
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: Panamá City, Panamá
Date: July 9th 2014
Theme: TBC
Keywords:Kuna Yala, Kuna General Congress, COONAPIP (National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples), Development projects, Tourism, Carrying capacity, Cacao production, Agroecology, Lobster conservation, Climate change, REDD Plus


Martin Mowforth (MM): Good, recording. So, firstly, the 9th of July 2014. A short interview with Geodisio Castillo, to update me on Panamanian matters referring to the environment. Firstly, Geodisio, thank you for the interview. The first question is, I remember in our last interview you said that the Guna General Congress was experiencing difficulties with the administration of Kuna Yala – so I am asking if there have been any changes in the last five years, and if the Congress is still having difficulties.

Geodisio Castillo (GC): Well, nothing much has happened since you interviewed me in 2009, until this year when there has been a change, a first exchange of Caciques [a lot of noise, unintelligible]. Now they have just had two and a half months, between May and July, to have taken control: Cacique Guayaquile Feder of the Nargana sector: Cacique Belisario López from the sector number 3 from beyond Dubwala: and Cacique, which had already changed, but is new: the Cacique from the Alligandi sector is, I don’t remember the name now.

MM: No, the name doesn’t matter, I understand.

GC: Well, it happens. But the same structure hasn’t changed much, lately they were in discussion two months ago – the two new Caciques [bosses] were requesting information about their employees, their programmes and co-ordinators. Because these two last new ones who came in had seen there might be problems. So, yes, they wanted to change the structure a little or the communications between the officials, which really didn’t exist inside Congress. Concerning Congress matters, responsible officials didn’t exist. We have an institute of research and development, the SIGLA, but it is a powerless structure. It has a board but it doesn’t have an executive director. In my time I was the executive director, but I’ve left now. Since then they don’t have one, so it’s a problem. Programmes were stopped and some projects were stopped and they didn’t know how to carry on. This is the current situation, which really is a problem and needs to be resolved now. We hope they can do so soon.

MM: OK, thank you. I imagine that tourism is still growing in Kuna Yala, in the Kuna Islands. Is that right?

GC: Tourism in Yala is growing massively, it’s booming, as they say, but the standards Congress asked for are not being applied – they’re being lost. There aren’t any supervisory people who really apply the standards. The communities are also involved because they have economic interests in tourism. So, it’s not clear who is in charge. So, standards exist but no-one is complying with them. There’s no real control. Tourism is coming in from everywhere, by land, sea and air.

MM: I understand. Belonging to foreigners too?

GC: Foreigners are coming in by land, sea and air, they’re coming. There is no control, Congress appears to be concerned solely with itself, as people in the last Congress say, they seem to be concerned just with the office of Congress, just gathering dust and not reacting. It’s really a problem [unintelligible, both talking at once]. What’s more tourism is going to bring, and we are sure of this, it’s going to bring an environmental problem. Because each island is small. The carrying capacity for tourism has not been studied. There was a plan to study it but it was never implemented. And it was noted that in one island, for example Icon [?], which is the closest to the coast down the road from here, one weekend it was inundated with people, well I took a photo, too many people. It’s a big problem of tourism.

MM: OK, moving away from tourism, to another issue, something you mentioned to me the last time was climate change, and I think you were working on a programme about climate change in or at least referring to Kuna Yala. Could you tell me a little more about your work in climate change?

GC: Yes, lately the communities are conscious that these things are going to change, that the climate is going to cause islands to flood, polar caps [to melt]. Because we have had many talks, a lot of dialogue with organisations. There are small programmes that Congress has, but it has rejected some. I don’t know why. For example, Congress has a programme right now, with Massachusetts MIT, the Institute of Massachusetts. Is it the Institute of Massachusetts?

MM: Yes, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, yes.

GC: They have a programme about recycling, which reduces the impact of climate change. And there are communities like Carti which already have a plan to transfer it to their own community, on the mainland. There’s another community, in the Claudio Chico [?] sector, which already has [the programme], but from which, when this project started, they had barely cleaned up land which will separate [a lot of noise, unintelligible]. The government has said before that they would support it; but I don’t know if they are going to support it, I don’t know. But our work was more educational. I believe it was the basis for re-assessing knowledge. And recently, what we are doing with this question is trying to make it understandable, also within the framework of climate change, especially about the damage which is being done to the reefs. We have a conservation programme for lobsters – we’ll send you a copy of this.

MM: Yes, it would be very interesting.

GC: It has been the common fight, but Congress has a programme, but are afraid to accept it. It has opportunities to do it but does nothing that’s what is really happening.

MM: Could you get funding from ENCA, the Environmental Network for Central America? We aren’t rich and we are not powerful and our funds are very low, but, for example, recently we have granted funds of $1,500 to a Salvadoran organisation. Others, for example $1000 to another grassroots organisation in Nicaragua. In the past we have made numerous grants, scholarships, all small, but we’re always willing to receive requests of this type. Normally with our funding we can distribute donations between $200 and $2000, depending on funds. They are always small.

GC: I think we will look for that, as someone said, small is beautiful.

MM: Yes, absolutely.

GC: That’s right. Because the Kuna Yala region has had permission for large projects which haven’t been successful.

MM: Yes, exactly.

GC: They haven’t been successful.

MM: I believe it’s one of the conclusions of the book ‘The Violence of Development’. So, OK, it’s something for the future, maybe for you. Another question was about the invasion of the Kuna Yala territory. Do you still have problems and difficulties with settlers causing deforestation?

GC: Well, the border problem continues but not like before. Yes, there has been some control of the southern border, but there is always invasion. Because what happens is the Congress, I should say the office of the Congress, does not do follow-up on the patrolling of borders. So the settlers know already if they were coming today, or in one or two days and … [unintelligible, two talking at once].

And after they enter, and they want to remove them, there is always someone who says they are not going to come in and then leave; recently, but not like before, because they know that if they enter with the police there, they are going to be removed. The main problem is on the borders of Santa Isabel in the province of Colón on the Caribbean. This problem is historical, because according to our history, Kuna Yala extended further. Except for the Republic, the division of provinces was not allowed, it is a historic claim, but there are always problems, that is, more meetings, or whatever. We have also talked with you about opportunities, that there is an opportunity, that there would be an opportunity in time to have been able to fix this with a buffer zone, but that the community, maybe did not receive the message well. We did not understand it, we did not want it. Also it’s a political division, it’s not going to be possible to extend the territory politically, but, as an environmental area it is possible. Like any area, with a protected area there is a chance to review and extend it, probably not politically. I think it will be something. But then, because the communities understand a little, a little green, it’s not clear – they want this division but want it as a political division.

MM: OK. In England we hear about the problems experienced by the Ngobe, maybe the Naso too, referring to the big projects like mining in Barro Blanco and hydroelectricity, Chan 75, for example. But, does Kuna Yala also have problems with the invasion of this type of project, mining, for example, or loggers, or hydroelectric businesses?

GC: Well, Kuna Yala has been capable of controlling all this. These projects, you see, in principle all these projects, government or non-governmental, have to approach the General Assembly of Congress to get its permission. Projects are discussed in two or three Congresses, and they refuse most of these types of project: mining, hydroelectricity and logging. They have all been completely rejected. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t jump the border, furtively, secretly; as explained before, there are patrols but where they can enter, they take gold, cut a bit of wood, hunt animals, but there is some control, but not much. The government knows not to start a project in Kuna Yala.

MM: Good.

GC: It’s not, for example, a big project that we want. If they had listened, Congress rejected REDD, the famous REDD Plus.

MM: REDD Plus, yes.

GC: A private business that has experience in Kenya, if I’m not mistaken, that is managed well; Congress accepts, in principle, that it will present the proposal. Almost a year of Congress to completion, there are enough, enough ….

MM: Do you have information about this?

GC: I could tell you about it!

MM: Good. Could you send it to me, if you have a summary or a report or something?

GC: No, I have the report, the last report presented to Congress, the document which was rejected.

MM: Yes, it would be very useful. Yes, thank you very much; yes, especially to see the focus on REDD.

GC: Our idea was that we work to make a small report and put it in the public eye, but we have not been able to do it because we don’t have a contract to support it from any public organisation, somone who can give that support. But the document is there, we were asked for it, we sent it, many are interested, and there are the documents. But I’ll send it to you, don’t worry.

MM: Good, and just one last thing. The development of organic agriculture and CENDAH, the organisation called CENDAH. Can you update me on developments, if there have been developments?

GC: Yes, in the last three years, we have done a lot of work with the administrative communities of Nargana. I am not of the idea to extend the whole comarca, because there isn’t any money. We work with various Nargana communities, and also the community of Niadup (the heart of Jesus), Akuanasutupu, and we work with the people of Molaquedup. Mandiala, Carti. Mandiala is a community found in Canga, these are two forgotten communities. Everyone there is always interested in developing traditional themes including agroecology. The problem lies in getting the prodct out, and there are always people in the community who think they must commercialise everything. We say little by little, it’s a [?]. Within this framework there is a lot of support for the programmes of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, as they are. We help, we facilitate these programmes too, as projects. But what happens is that the Government does not have technicians. That’s the problem here. You have to live there, and afterwards no-one follows up and it’s forgotten – that was the problem. In our case, we involved two communities, three specific communities: Cangandi, Mandillala and Nargana – everybody has an experience gained there. We have plots of land in Nargana, banana plots; in Mandillala we have plots of pineapple combined with rice, and in Cangandi we have plots combining cocoa and plantains, which are maintained but there have to be some people to provide the follow-up. I think it’s almost two months since I’ve been there, but they always say to me:no, all is well, we are still eating.

MM: Yes, but the problem is to keep the product fresh.

GC: The problem from there is how to get the product out

MM: Yes.

GC: Now, there is going to be a problem, for me, a problem. Not long ago, the American-owned CocoaWell business.

MM: Cocoa Well?

GC: There was an agreement with the [Kuna] Congress about cocoa production.

MM: OK, cocoa what? Could you write that for me? Cocoa Well.

GC: CocoaWell is the name of the business.

MM: OK, good, thank you.

GC: It’s a North American company, it has a web page. They had an agreement, and they are providing monthly support with 1500, 1200 photos, images of cocoa; within the agreement they have to donate 3% of what they make internationally, that’s about 75,000 dollars, to the Congress, in order to begin work in the production of cocoa. But what happens? Congress has the problem that the institute has failed to advance for the last three years. Until now they have not appointed a technician, they can’t agree about the level of investigation. As I said, that’s the project and we suggest that if things don’t get better we will have problems. They are going to be putting money in because they want to work with the clones. As they already have in Bruja (?), Bolivia. So the Tropical Agricultural Centre (CATIE) of Costa Rica [two talking at once, unintelligible] were working with me on soil analysis and monitoring the water and the state of the cocoa. They recommended cloning (GM), the only form of improving production, because it is the best way. In general as CENDAH we have been part of all this, although our part is small.

MM: OK, that’s the end of my questions, but do you have other things for me here to bring me up to date with Panama themes and developments? Maybe, one more question: are you expecting any changes from the change of Government – from the current Government?

GC: Well, I hope there will be changes, even though I doubt it. And, if we are talking about the indigenous peoples, worse; because I am convinced that the governments which get to power don’t take into account indigenous peoples in these changes. They are political and more of our people have become politicized. I mean when there is a change in Government, for example the QRD [unintelligible, a lot of noise in the background] that says that it was revolutionary at the time, to name an executive at the level of xxxx [unintelligible – a lot of noise]. This, after never having appointed an official, it has always been an unknown politician. The previous Government changed the director of the ANAM (National Environment Authority) who was a military man, an ex-military man, a policeman who did nothing.

MM: That’s the head of ANAM, isn’t it?

GC: Eh, of Culallales (?) I’m talking about him, no, Emilio [unintelligible, both talking at once].

MM: Ah, yes.

GC: So, currently as the Government has not appointed capable people at the national level they still haven’t appointed anyone. There hasn’t been, we are waiting for someone to be appointed, but the politicians are disputing the post. So nothing changes.

MM: Yes, more of the same.

GC: Yes, but at the national level it’s happening, they’re appointing people who have already been, like ministers in previous Governments in the same guise, even though they might put on new faces – it’s the same face.

MM: Yes. One more thing, You remember the Ngobe protests, two or three years ago? Were they supported by Kuna?

GC: Yes, the Kuna have always supported the protests and this problem still continues, in mining and hydroelectricity. The problem continues and the Government still says nothing about it.

MM: So there is still solidarity between the indigenous peoples?

GC: Yes, but Congress has already left the National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples (COONAPIP); it has left, is no longer a member. COONAPIP now has no say, they aren’t present there; it’s a coordinator with no teeth. They left because of the problem with REDD, the townships were in agreement with them leaving.

MM: And this is governmental, a government coordinating body?

GC: It’s not governmental, it’s a bringing together of the indigenous townships, an administrative division of municipalities.


GC: It’s an entity which is the political entity which should guide us, but there are internal conflicts too. Like the programme REDD, some want it, but, as I’ve already said, others don’t, and they left.

MM: OK, interesting. So, thank you very much.

GC: Also, I might add finally, something about the famous Plan for the Integrated Development of the Indigenous Peoples. This arose at the level of the United Nations – it’s a policy of the United Nations, and three years ago, yes 3 years, we made a development plan, in our view, from our position. But the Government has said that it must be integral, only one integral document. It’s a problem because each culture has its different vision and how it wants to develop. So, this is what we have been talking about lately, because the last Government did not approve. This Government wants to approve it, because it is going to create a Ministry for Indigenous Affairs. Everyone talks to the Ministry and the people ask ‘Why is there a ministry?’ ‘What is the purpose of the Ministry for Indigenous Affairs?’ So this plan is going to be problematic, it’s going to be the strategy, but it must be discussed further. Each culture, each community has its own identity.

So that’s the latest thing, and this weekend there is a meeting, the first meeting and I don’t know if I’m going to be invited. My friends told me about it but nobody has called me.

MM: How strange!

OK, Geodisio, thank you very much again. I hope we are going to meet every five years. I’m sorry it can’t be more frequently, but it depends on my visits to the Central American countries. But it is always very, very interesting for me, and I like to hear and listen to your perspectives. It’s important not only for me to understand but also others, for the readers of ENCA newsletters, for example.

Thank you very much. I am very grateful.

GC: You’re welcome. A little observation for you. When, in this work, there is always something difficult to understand in the Kuna dialect, for example, when you are reading, there are some little words, but it’s no big deal. If there are other interviews, if there is something you don’t understand, ask me, so I can ..

MM: Yes, so add your email address.

GC: Yes?

MM: Yes, thanks very much. And, can I have your permission to include this on the web page?

GC: Yes, yes.

MM: Perfect. Thank you, thank you. Well, that’s the end.



Geodisio gave his permission to include his email address at the end of this interview in case any reader wishes to contact him for more detailed discussion on the issues covered in this interview. His email address is: geodisio@gmail.com

 One year after this interview, ENCA provided $900 (USD) of funds to CENDAH for a programme of monitoring and education about the lobster catch in Kuna Yala.

Alida Spadafora

Interviewee: Alida Spadafora, Executive Director of ANCON (Asociación Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza de Panamá
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth and Karis McLaughlin
Location: ANCON’s office in Panamá
Date: 4th September 2009
Theme: Panama’s environment; the inappropriateness of mining in Panama; mining protests; deforestation; ANCON’s programmes
Keywords: TBC


 Martin Mowforth (MM): Gave intro. to the book.

Karis McLaughlin (KM): First, I’d like to ask about the Petaquilla project because we know that ANCON is against it. So we’re interested to know what can be done against mining, to get to know your opinions and if you are optimistic on what can be done.

Alida Spadafora (AS): Two years ago ANCON began to investigate the beginnings of the construction of the Petaquilla mine, especially with reference to gold mining; and we began to realise that they were carrying out an Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA). Since then we started to learn about the company. The company came to ANCON. It understood that we were investigating. They came to ANCON, met with the organisation’s directors and invited us to go there. I went with a team from ANCON. Outwardly there everything looks OK; they were working on the erosion, explaining the whole mechanics of the operation, the closed process they have for the use of cyanide; but also you realise the amount of deforestation that is occurring and the sedimentation too, when they had scarcely begun operations.

When we arrived [back] in Panamá [City], we began to learn and to investigate further into the impact of the open cast mining of metals; and from then we began to publish and to meet with other NGOs and to talk with the media. We tried to take the media people to Petaquilla, and they wouldn’t let us enter with the media. So the Canadians who were a part of this concession of 3,600 hectares came to ANCON to explain. At that time it was Tecominco, a very powerful Canadian company, … , who were the associates. They explained their motives, the seriousness with which they wanted to work this concession, to the highest standards.

Then when we asked about mining projects in tropical areas which had been successful without causing environmental problems, they couldn’t give an example. What we were understanding is that perhaps it’s possible to control and mitigate a few of the environmental impacts in desert areas which don’t have forests and which are not rich in water; and that, given the enormous impacts which mining has in terms of acidic drainage, the use of colossal quantities of water and the large-scale erosion, our country was not appropriate for mining.

We tried to communicate with the press that the directors of ANCON are not convinced that it’s an activity for Panamá, that it may compete directly with the tourism which we want to promote, with agriculture and cattle ranching which have traditionally always been important to Panamá, and that we want to promote something more sustainable. Also it runs against the idea of a sustainable forestry management which we want to promote for the area, and it contradicts the strategies and biodiversity agreements which Panamá has signed as well as the climate change and forestry policies for mitigating and stabilising the climate. We’ve tried to communicate all of these issues.

We held a forum on mining last year with many organisations from civil society, and we demanded a moratorium on mining. That is to say, we couldn’t ask that they stop, but we wanted to begin to analyse a bit more deeply because we considered that many people still did not understand the magnitude of the impacts of open cast mining, and that it was important to stop and to begin to analyse and to understand the significance of mining and to determine if Panamá would want to continue down this path.

We are talking of an investment of $4 billion, when the widening of the Panamá Canal was some $6 billion or similar. For that we held a referendum and did many serious and responsible studies on the widening of the Canal and on the huge investment being underwritten by a contracted law of the Republic; and there were different interpretations about whether it was complying with environmental legislation or not.

Thus we began to act legally with other NGOs. There were many accusations [denuncias] put to the Attorney General and to the administration of the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) on our part and also from the ANAM itself because they had not started the Environmental Impact Study. They presented an appeal to the Supreme Court and this said that a contracted law is not above the laws of the land and therefore there would have to be an Environmental Impact Study.

Although they carried out an Environmental Impact Study – a very deficient one which doesn’t fulfil the role of an Environmental Impact Study nor does it even fulfil the resolution required for the series of studies and plans – in our view, it is completely illegal what they are doing and the government should suspend it, but they haven’t done so. Moreover, the contract is damaging for Panamá given that the gains are extremely low, 2 per cent; what they pay for the concession is very low, they’re exonerated from paying almost all taxes, and the guarantees against environmental and social damages are undervalued – that is to say, if something occurs there, a disaster, the State is going to have to pay, and that means all of us. The contract law is damaging for Panamá and that is in accord, in part, with a cost-benefit study made by The Nature Conservancy called ‘Economic and Distributive Analysis of Mining Activity in Panamá’.

ANCON’s position has solidly been for a moratorium; we maintain that exploration and exploitation concessions must be suspended in Panamá.

MM: Do you think it’s possible to have sustainable mining on a large scale?

AS: Not in countries like Panamá because we have very vulnerable soils, a high precipitation, and even in areas where the rainfall is not high the storms, rains and showers which we have in Panamá mean that areas are vulnerable to landslides and loss of soil which is essential for agriculture and food security in these areas.

Further to that, open cast mining signifies large-scale sedimentation would have impacts in the coastal and marine areas, especially in areas of coral reefs which are susceptible to erosion, and it would be completely damaging to them. That would also affect fishing and the food security of artisanal fisherfolk, as well as the tourism which we are promoting in coastal zones – there are some marvellous areas in Panamá.

KM: Is that the same throughout Central America?

AS: Yes, it’s the same, because all of Central America has those vulnerable soils, those forests – it’s the biological corridor. There are slightly drier areas, but also areas important for fishing or for tourism, as are the coastal areas. Because it’s an isthmus, everything is related. Moreover, there’s a problem of vulnerability to climate change. The mining industry is really aggravating our vulnerability.

I don’t think that countries like Panamá and other Central American countries are appropriate for the development of mining. What happens is that resources are already being exhausted in industrialised countries and now they want to come here with a technology that can still make their operations profitable even in areas where there’s a lower presence of metals. And for that to happen they have to destroy thousands of hectares. We already know what type of vegetation has a big impact in Central America, also rainfall levels, and poverty too in our region. It’s been shown by studies in Perú that mining does not resolve the problem of poverty – it’s a fallacy. The mining companies want to convince everybody that they have to operate in areas of poverty for the good, but in reality the impact is precisely the opposite, they are impoverishing people, and the other big and serious issue from mining is the health issue – not only because of the risk of cyanide management, which we are not prepared for in Panamá, but also because of the acid drainage. Acid drainage leads to the solidification [chemical solution???] of water, and worse it leads to the release of heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and others. So it gives rise to serious public health problems and ecosystem health problems too.

So from all that we can understand that we are entering into a huge series of problems. I feel a little sad for my country, because we still have not been able to persuade the decision-makers that it’s not the best route for our countries to go down. It’s very difficult because it has enormous economic power, an incredible profit, taking advantage of a very weak legal framework and an institutionality which doesn’t exist to deal with these issues.

MM: My question concerns your relations with the government. You’ve already mentioned the problem of the suspension of Petaquilla which all the organisations are asking for, but the government isn’t doing it. So have your relations with government suffered as a result of this?

AS: We now have a new government which has had scarcely two months in power. Since before the elections we were talking with the political parties explaining the risks and impacts of mining, and they all said yes, we have to analyse it, yes, gold mining is not compliant and they all said we need to study and research into it. Now we have approached ANAM and still I feel that they are not very sure about what they should do, whether to suspend the mine or not, that it’s not complying with standards, and that a moratorium is the route to follow.

I still haven’t had a positive sign. We’re going to meet with the Vice Minister of Commerce and Industry next week, and we shall insist again on the moratorium, insist that the contract law is harmful for the nation; we’re going to talk of the risks, and we know it’s not going to be easy because the position of the Vice Minister is that mining is the solution for Panamá, for its development, etc.. I think it’s going to be very difficult.

At the level of ANCON and its directors, relations with the State are very diplomatic. We do not go against them; we have to work at our relations with them, because we don’t want to close the doors of dialogue.

Other organisations have met with the Vice Minister and had an abominable experience, more so than with the Minister. The Minister of Commerce and Industry is a little more analytical and thoughtful. I had already visited him before he was the Minister, when he was just a party member, and I delivered to him, for example, an article published this year on mining in the National Geographic, in January; and I put this article in his hands and told him that this is not an activity for Panamá, I spoke to him of the risks, I told him of this map which we produced in ANCON.

Those projects of high impact we looked for from ANAM, in the database of Environmental Impact Studies which were presented to ANAM as procedures between the years 2000 and 2008. Mostly we’re talking about Category 3 which are those of greatest impact and some are in Category 2, because tourist projects never reach Category 3 which is the highest impact on the coast and for which a public consultation is required. Many projects here are Category 2, and they have a high impact – it’s these for which we have to change ANAM’s rules because there’s a high impact with these projects and they are mostly tourist projects on the coast and the coast is very vulnerable.

We also wanted to present the metals exploration applications in Panamá on a map, and there are all these black squares on protected areas, on private areas, on indigenous comarcas, on the Biological Corridor, on more than a half of Panamá. These are the exploration applications. These are the exploration concessions already given in red, and these are the exploitation concessions in black. Petaquilla is some 13,000 hectares. The …???… is done on a desk – it doesn’t matter where – there are no Environmental Impact Studies prior to this because the exploration already had an environmental impact. It isn’t regulated. They did it because the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MICI) agreed to it, and, well, they gave them the policy. These red areas are Category 3 – there are a lot of hydroelectric projects. So this is the panorama that we have.

The map is on our web page; it’s from 2000 to 2008. It needs to be filled out – I’d like to locate some oil exploration applications. They’ve been applied for in the Gulf of San Miguel, not so recently, but they aren’t marked on the map. It’s our really big worry because I believe that we have to decide what we want as a country. Do we want to be a mining country? Do we want to be a tourism country? Do we want to promote food security? Do we want to climb out of poverty? We’ve always been a service country; we’ve concentrated on the tertiary sector: the zona libre, the banks, the Canal.

First, we have to define, as the small country that we are, how we want to develop, what is our best path. Should we follow the tertiary sector or are we going to sell our resources and at what cost are we going to sell them? We have to be very clear about this. But also we have to define whether we want hydroelectricity? I think it’s good, but how and where and under what process, and we must decide whether here yes and there no and why? It’s in this that I think the government has committed errors, because the capacity of the territory doesn’t allow one single hydrographic basin to support ten hydroelectricity stations. We know that every time they submit an application for a hydroelectricity concession, they do it for just one project. That causes problems afterwards because there’s another further upriver and another one downstream. There are indigenous areas which they don’t consider important. And afterwards they have a huge problem and a social crisis, and conflicts between the inhabitants of the zone whether they are indigenous or campesinos.

If we decide that we want hydroelectric power – we have the global climate problem and a problem of energy demand – so, how are we going to do it? That’s the problem – the how, the where, who lives there, what benefits are those people going to have, have they been consulted, is there an Environmental Impact Study foreseen for the concession? No, the concessions are given on paper; they look for a map; it doesn’t matter what is there and who is there. That’s one of the problems that I believe exists in Panamá and we have to work on these processes.

The problem is that we don’t have a land ordnance / land registry. That’s the problem. You come from a country where there is a highly structured land registry and in which sectoral policies are integrated into the territory as distinct layers in a partial analysis, which is not done in Panamá. We are growing in a disordered way because wherever the investors want …, and it’s done. And many times it is done in detriment to other developing sectors which are public security, food security, or tourism which is helping communities to rise out of poverty in a sustainable way, because we’re not exhausting our natural resources with these sectors. From this reasoning we think that we have to look after how we use land and ensure that there are no conflicts of use between one sector and another, because sectoral plans are made for tourism, the ports, biofuels, agriculture, cattle ranching; and it doesn’t work like that. So I think that we have to begin to work on land structuring in critical areas of Panamá, beginning with critical hydrographic basins because we have a great wealth of water resources. But if we don’t look after them we can leave ourselves without quality and quantity of water. We have to work on the Environmental Impact Studies, we have to improve them a lot, in the procedures of how concessions are granted. If we had territorial structure it would be easier to define this or that and to say yes or no to various activities. It remains at the whim of the decision-makers to say yes to this.

So, to define what we want as a country, to put into order the country, the processes of Environmental Impact Studies, hydrographic basins as critical areas for this ordering, and public consultations. As a part of the improvement of Environmental Impact Studies it’s necessary to improve the process of public consultation. At the present time, the company, as it’s both the promoter and the one who pays the consultant as part of the Environmental Impact Study, is biased towards whoever is doing the Study and the consultations because the company pays for the public consultation; and many times what they do is hold a party, as we say here in Central America. They’re the employers and they celebrate with a party, with music, with a show, with a meal, with drinks. There is no neutral body which informs about the genuine risks of an activity because the promoter is the one who hires the consultant who carries out the Environmental Impact Study. We must regulate these public consultations in a much better way.

That the tourist projects are category 3 projects when they are in very vulnerable areas also establishes which are the areas that are vulnerable to climate change, because climate change is going to hit us hard – in fact it is hitting us hard. We are an area which has more coastline and more sea than land, and as the sea level is going to rise, that’s going to impact us enormously, principally in the areas of low-lying land, all the areas of Kuna Yala, Bocas Del Toro, our gulf areas. We have to keep our mangrove areas that provide protection which we need against sea level rise. Lately we have seen many tornados and unexpected winds, and the mangroves help us to reduce our vulnerability to these as a country, as a community and to protect our infrastructure too.

And what is so difficult is to get governments to understand this. We are clear-felling, we’re losing woodland, in the Darién, along the coasts, at a great rate; and they don’t know the double impact that this has through climate change – it makes us more vulnerable, but at the same time it releases more CO2 into the atmosphere. The erosion and the loss of fertile soil that causes we lose to the sea. We could collapse as a society, as suggested in the book …???…

MM: Does ANCON have centres in different parts of the country? And is it contracted by the government to monitor or maintain various protected areas, as in other countries such as Honduras?

AS: No, we’ve been trying to get to a scheme of co-management and for many years in Panamá we’ve been promoting co-management, but it’s not been possible. There are some experiences, however, such as in the Natural Metropolitan Park which is inside the city boundary and is under the patronage of members of civil society, the government and the municipality. That’s a very good case which we haven’t replicated in other areas. The last administration was wary of organised civil society intervening in protected areas – it was very closed. We think that there’s a better attitude in this administration and they have said that they want to support us.

ANCON has private reserves like for example the Private Natural Reserve of Punta Patiño in the Darién with an area of 30,000 hectares. It’s the largest in Panamá and the second largest in Central America. It’s a huge area. It’s in a remote area – you have to get there by plane, or by land and then boat will take 8 hours. There are no basic services. For us its control and upkeep have been very difficult.

MM: Is it just for research, or for teaching as well?

AS: Yes, there are guides and trails and we get mainly ecotourists there. We teach them the beauties of the tropical rainforest, the flora and fauna of the area. When ANCON bought it in 1993 it was a cattle ranch and we left it to restore itself. It was an area of pasture, but now we’re getting jaguars and …???… which were not seen before. Already there’s a secondary forest and also a primary forest with a certain degree of intervention in one part. There’s lots of mangroves.

We worked with government support to carry out rapid ecological studies, management plans and to set up the arguments for the establishment of a protected area, like that in Coiba which was done by decree, through the law, and in which ANCON was key. I would say that between ten and fifteen protected areas in Panamá have been established because ANCON promoted them. ANCON involvement was key because it provided the databases and the background for the establishment of these areas and promoted them through the media, with the communities and with other interested parties.

Thus we’ve been working in Bocas Del Toro, Chiriquí, Veraguas, Coiba and in the Biological Corridor in Santa Fe. We have supported the Panamá Canal Authority in community organisation. We’ve also been working in the Darién, in the Biological Corridor of Bagre, in the Darién National Park too, supporting ANAM with the teams of park guards in the park guard stations and refuges. We have mobilised funds which have helped ANAM in its role of protecting the protected areas. We are working on a project with the International Organisation of Tropical Areas for Forestry Reserves – between the Darién National Park and Patiño there is a forestry reserve area and we got funds from ITCO to develop a project supporting ANAM there. In the area adjoining Patiño there is no presence, no plans, nothing – it’s being invaded and there is deforestation.

MM: Have you had problems of invasions of drug traffickers coming from Colombia?

AS: Yes, they come in, they leave, they haven’t done any damage, but you know they’re coming and going because they come to buy food and necessities. Some communities help them because by doing so they help themselves. It’s an abandoned area. Recently the government has had a policy of greater presence and of working with the communities.

Action in the Darién is a bit limited. When you look for support, the FARC, the Colombian guerrillas arise. At times we want to invite the donors to visit the Darién and they can’t. When you make an accusation about an ecological crime, the State delays two or three months and the proof/evidence is lost because they fear the guerrillas. Also because it’s remote most times you have to go by plane or you walk for days and it’s very risky. The Darién is one of the most difficult regions, most complex, but ANCON has always been there and we have held out against the building of the highway to Colombia. It’s been a difficult fight of great persistence to talk with governments. This government has promised us that it will not be built.

Uribe always …???… According to our directors we should not be worried, this generation, they’re not going to build the highway. I don’t know. You always have to be watchful. Yes there is a possible connection by the Caribbean from Cartagena passing through Kuna Yala and entering Panamá by the coast from the sea. But in that case they would have to cross through an indigenous comarca which is very closed and doesn’t have any foreign intervention or that type of thing.

A better way is a ferry which they already had for a couple of years, but they also had many problems with drug trafficking. But it is seriously a better option. I think that whilst Colombia has so many social problems, so many conflicts, drugs, it’s better to keep things as they are.

MM: What’s the position of ANCON on the free trade treaties? I imagine it’s difficult for you but it’s a very active issue in the region at the moment.

AS: Our trustees haven’t dealt with the issue together yet. I can’t give you the position of ANCON as an organisation. But I am almost certain that together the trustees consider that the environmental issues must be analysed really well. You have to analyse the impact that a free trade treaty has on natural resources, whilst not doing business just for the sake of doing business. You have to examine the impact in Panamá. Some free trade treaties have positive impacts in the sense that a failure to comply with environmental legislation means that you cannot conduct business. Such is the case that I know of the treaty with the United States, which is also a limiting factor on businessmen here. They have to comply with environmental legislation before they can export a product.

Other changes which we would have to make as a country and for which we would have to prepare ourselves for that type of relationship with countries in our legislation, worry me personally; but I shouldn’t speak for myself. Also for other social issues, medicines, generics – but it’s very difficult to stop these; what we have to do is prepare ourselves. As far as our environmental legislation goes, we must prepare ourselves because the world is growing, it’s closer all the time and it’s impossible to close ourselves off from the commercial world of other countries – but we must do it well.

MM: I know this is a difficult issue, it’s especially difficult for an organisation to have a fixed position for or against, because there are many clauses and articles as you say …

KM: Are you involved in measures for the protection of the forests?

AS: In a general way. We’ve made an alliance with the British Embassy. We carried out a campaign to publicise the importance of the forests for the balance of the climate and for the reduction of …???… We did a spot on television which was included later by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and was adopted for the World Environment Day. It’s on the web page of UNEP. We did brochures, we invited the ambassador to our gala meal this year in January – he said a few words about climate change – we’ve gone to the media, we also have a spot on the radio, an advertising spot or short message spot. We made some small posters and have given talks to companies. I went on the radio and I’m going to be talking about the problem of climate change. With a second grant from Great Britain we are preparing a document on the vulnerability of Panamá to climate change and its impact so that people also understand that we are facing a problem and a responsibility.

MM: So the British Embassy is supporting you?

AS: Yes, it’s fantastic. We’re very close. They have invited us to training sessions in Costa Rica and they have a forum on climate change next week and I’m going to be there. They’ve asked me to make some proposals regarding climate change which I’m currently preparing. I sent a draft with reference to Kuna Yala and for resource management in the face of climate change, and they commented on it. We think that these links with the British government on the theme of climate change are getting closer all the time. They have a great interest in helping us and in helping civil society because they haven’t had much luck with the government, at least not with the last government. This one is more open, but they [the British government] has found a good ally in ANCON.

MM: One last question. I’ve seen that one of your donors is the Ford Foundation or Ford Company.

AS: Ford Foundation. Yes, they invited us to judge a competition, but they haven’t given us any money.

KM: Are there some situations when ANCON can’t carry out something it wants to do because of compromises with donors? Are you involved with companies which have the same mission …. ?

AS: Yes, we’ve done some research on companies especially on their operations in this country. From the mining industry we would never receive a cent, and nor from other companies which do damage in Panamá. We’re very careful over whoever gives us money. In the case of ADES Panamá we have done some follow-up, we’ve visited the area. They have been allies of ANCON, they have part-funded various forums and discussions, but we went to the area and weren’t able to balance precisely what things were happening. It’s not so much the company which is guilty, but also the government. I feel that they are trying to do things well. When I see mining, I say no.

ANCON is not radical. We want to see development under certain parameters and under certain rules. To us it seems that mining is not appropriate – we are a country that simply isn’t appropriate for mining. However, we must organise the energy sector in Panamá, we must define where and how, we must regulate it well and change the rules; but we have to do it. We have had a relationship with ADES, for example …???… in Panamá and other serious NGOs. We have realised that they are trying to do things there and yes there are impacts. But we never go with mining, never, and they are trying to mitigate the impacts.


Felix Sánchez & King Valentín Santana

Interviewee: Felix Sánchez (President of the Naso Foundation) and King Valentín Santana (King of the Naso People).
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth and Karis McLaughlin
Location: San San Drui, Panama
Date: 9th September 2009
Theme: Naso struggle for land rights against the Ganadera Bocas company and the violence of the company and police.
Keywords: TBC
Notes: Please note that the following translations are of bit-conversations and part-conversations held whilst walking to the Naso village of San San Drui and of similar during our visit to the village. Some of them therefore start and/or end in mid-sentence. Please also bear in mind that some of the conversations are with people for whom Spanish is their second language – i.e., not just the interviewers – and especially in the case of King Valentin there is a problem of secondary translation of a secondary translation.


Naso 1

Felix Sánchez (FS): … the lands, including marking the limit of these lands. When they delimited these lands, it was never known that if you were next to me then you have to know which is my land. From a plane, they mapped this and they marked points with GPS and drew their map and began to make their arrangements/agreements. So, with the company, the Standard Fruit Company, at that time they were the bosses, but at the same time they weren’t the owners, they were the nation’s tenants and not the legitimate owners; but afterwards, in the seventies, the company went up for sale as a business, changing its name to one which had possession of the land and a pile of rules and arrangements which they made. That’s when it all started happening.

Naso 2

Martin Mowforth (MM): Perhaps you don’t want us to use your name? Is that OK or not?

FS: No, that’s not a problem. What we have always seen, at least for my part, in our experience of documenting all this, is that it’s necessary to know who is providing the information. So I would say that in the case of the interview done when this other person came last year and published information, several things were not right. Perhaps they didn’t meet with the right people who had a full understanding of the issue. It was very superficial and left a lot of doubt and many things that were not clear.

MM: In our case, our aim is that we are in the Central American countries to research a range of projects, programmes and environmental problems. In our opinion, the special difficulties faced by indigenous people, on land titling, is an environmental problem. So we are going to produce a text on these problems, and one chapter is going to cover the problems experienced by indigenous groups.

Male voice: At the Central American level?

MM: Yes, Central America. As you know, there are many indigenous groups in Central America.

Male voice: Yes, Guatemala alone has 23.

MM: We’re aware of this. But with your permission we are going to use the case of the Naso and your difficulties with the titling of your lands, and especially your conflict with the Boca Cattle Ranching company [Ganadera Bocas]. And if you wish I can send to Eliseo by email copies of what we write.

Male voice: You can use my email too. The organisation has an email too.

MM: We’ll send it to both of you.

Male voice: I think that it’s not just a problem of land titles in indigenous territories, which is a problem throughout Mesoamerica, but it’s also one of concessions too, which is the other way of wresting indigenous territories from us. It would be good to see what happens with the new initiatives which some governments have, like in Honduras which has the PAT [not sure] which is something like PRONAT here in Panamá, and to see what are its origins, especially seeing that today there are some incoherent things going on relating to the reality of our culture. To talk of land titling in indigenous territories is totally disconnected with the reality of our culture. Here we can say that when he or she inherits land, they say: “Your land is from here. Where is your almond tree?” to give you an example, no land is titled and nobody is asking for it to be so. It’s an initiative which comes from the government. So it would be good to focus on land titling not like, say, Ganadera Bocas as one such case, but with the Naso people there are many cases within the concession of people who are losing lands.

MM: I understand the problem and I want to ease your mind about the words we may use. We are very sympathetic to this case and to other cases associated with indigenous peoples. So we want to write in favour of your cause. We can send copies of what we write to you, Eliseo and others so that you can check our words.

Male voice: Yes, also so that we can give it to the community. It’s a preference that we have because many people come researching, they take away their information, and the community is left without knowing of what they did with it. It’s better to talk with the community. I’d like you to meet José before the mayor arrives. The sun’s very strong.

Naso 3

FS: That was what I was going to explain to you. That’s the government’s initiative. Here it’s called PRONAT, which is the National Land Titling Programme. In Honduras it’s PAT which is the same kind of initiative. The financiers are the World Bank and the BID [IDB, Inter-American Bank for Development] which are behind all that. In Perú it’s Law 1035, in Mexico it’s called …???… ; but they’re all similar initiatives which the states are assuming will enable them to provide some form of legalising land ownership. It means that land in indigenous territories will have a greater value, but it’s a clever way of continuing to take land away from indigenous territories. What you can see here, those titles, those posters and signs, precisely those there [pointing], that’s the propaganda and part of the campaigns to make people aware of the need to get titles to their land.

So, clearly, it’s not a programme which comes from the people’s initiative. It’s an initiative with its origins in the government, and also in the World Bank and the IDB which are behind these things, to be able to see the effects of the supposed valuation that they’re giving to land in the indigenous territories.

We’ve had a terrible experience here in Panamá with that project that the government runs through PRONAT. It’s terrible that they’re trying to push it further. We even sent an investigation to the World Bank, we signed up to the panel of the World Bank and asked them to carry out their own investigation into the project that they have here because PRONAT exists because of World Bank funding. So recently the World Bank panel came and actually the inspection panel has the authority to conduct its own investigation, which it is actually going to do in October.

Naso 4

FS: … here in these lands where we are. From there [pointing], where you see those posts, as I say, up to there is San San Drui and La Tigre is further down. Historically, all these lands have been inhabited and it’s proven that the burial sites were here in this place. In a given moment of history, the pressure of the ladinos who came making themselves owners of the lands, at that time they chased off the Naso from the hill. So the Naso went to the mountains which you can see beyond. Now after all that, the process of struggle has begun for the recovery of territory, of the lands lost.

Now the conflict that has begun is different. At least if the population from here had had the same knowledge then, about what they did here … , they wouldn’t just have fled towards the mountains but would have gone beyond the other sierra too. But now there is a greater knowledge that there are legal procedures and there’s an internal process of struggle too, of resistance; so the situation is completely different.

Here, where we’ve just arrived, is precisely where the community has marked the boundary with the Ganadera Bocas company. From that fence over there is Ganadera Bocas land, but within that, where we are, lands are titled to Ganadera Bocas including all of the community higher up, the schools, health centre, everything that’s above that. It includes all that’s there.

Naso 5

MM: We are here to research about environmental issues and we have heard and read a lot about the Naso’s problems. For us, these problems are environmental problems. Is it OK to ask some questions?

Quito Torres (QT): [translation] He says that’s OK, everything is perfectly fine, no problem. As the authority he thanks you for your efforts to get here. So he is happy to say something if it’s possible that it may interest you in trying to get to know the problems that we have here and that we have had for a long time, he says. For him it is good that you are getting this knowledge from a long distance away. So, from everyone here, he makes it clear that he must facilitate this interview.

MM: Thank you. So we could start with the most urgent and most immediate problem which is the problem of the destruction of your houses and community centre by the police, following the directions of the Ganadera Bocas company. Could you tell me a little bit about this problem and the current situation?

(QT): [translation] He says that in times gone by, our parents and grandparents lived here. And by chance for what is happening right now, there are white people who have been exceeding or overstepping our limits, our boundaries. So as is our custom, we keep defending our territory and we call on many people who come to know the problem that we have here that it is the white man who is stealing the land, and the land is ours.

MM: Of your ancestors?

QT: Yes.

MM: Do you expect other assaults as before when your houses were destroyed?

FS: Yes, they’ll do it again. So that’s why the mayor has come today, to talk with the community. He wants to inform them because the central government is already exerting pressure. The local communities are totally convinced that the lands are theirs, and therefore they [figures in authority] would prefer to come and talk with them and to suggest that they have authorisation from the central government for …???… So, we wait, although the mayor has said, “I’m not going to send any uniformed personnel”. You’re going to hear him right now. He never wanted to see any uniformed people in this community, demolishing, making them homeless, for nothing. He has said that he’s not going to do that.

MM: One related question. Have the people whose houses were destroyed got other houses now? Have they moved to other communities or other places?

FS: Those are the little ranchos that we see right now. They began to construct little ranchos which are not really permanent. There are some which are in places loaned by their relatives, some others higher up, but the majority are there [signifying the centre of the village from which we’d just come] making new ranchos; and so of course they talk of other displacements.

MM: As far as other problems that the Naso have, for example, the Bonik dam, can you tell us something about the current situation with this project and your struggle against it?

FS: To make it a little easier for the King, what has been your work and role in this struggle there and your position as King? (The more technical part we can give you, including documents.)

(QT): [translation] He says that he is not fighting for just one sector/part, he’s fighting for the whole territory. He is defending this territory; this territory is completely ours. So he’s done enough. There is one type who calls himself Tito Santana. He has betrayed his people in this case; and the government has also begun to pay him some attention.

The King says that he is going to defend his territory, and he is going to keep it. He makes a call to all white men, to the President of the Republic, to whom he has personally said that he is defending it. The President never took notice of him, yet the President of the Republic betrayed these people and so the problem is carrying on the same now as before; and people threaten them.

So, he says that it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter, if you see yourself going to the end, to the edge of a group, to the edge of everything that we have, mainly in our area, which is called the Naso territory, the struggle is to keep yourself going as always, regardless of what happens. To him it doesn’t matter to say to your people that they put themselves in a corner in their area, in a place where there are no houses; we are defending one single cause which is our struggle, that is our right to our territory.

He says many thanks to you for coming here as journalists, not part of this country, as part of other countries, prepared to get to know us, because friends from other countries have helped us a lot when they have got to know our case. He hopes that we can continue to trust you so that tomorrow will bring us a good reply to this government plan to violate us.

MM: As Felix has already said, could we get the details, the reports, from you?

FS: I think so. In the case of the King, what we have often seen when he has acted – in the same struggles against the dam and against the company – is that he has served as the focal point, at least when the police invaded the community, when they arrested people, at the moment when he arrived on site they didn’t detain anybody. We can show lots of photographs where it is the King, surrounded by police, who is talking to them, intervening for the community. So it’s a case that he has shown himself. Within the whole process of struggle, he has always demonstrated the bravery to go and confront the power of government. They have lost a lot because on many occasions when he was present they couldn’t arrest anyone, but when the community was on its own they took people away as prisoners. On the one hand, that is one of the things he has been doing. On the other hand, he has also been at the forefront of the process of our making claims and demands. In the legal processes which we have been pursuing he is the signatory.

The King has been the focal point in all of this, but as far as the other one is concerned there is a king who the government bought, and the community sacked him. Although he’s been removed from office and separated from the people, he doesn’t live in the territory, but even so up till now the government recognises him because he represents their interests, he liaises with them, he signs agreements, they do loads of terrible things through him. That’s been happening here. You can see in various writings/articles that King Valentin is described as a defender of the environment.

On the other hand, we’ve dealt with all cases in a technical way, but we have always looked for decisions to be clearly associated with the King’s authority and with the community’s too. … We could show you in documents how the last government left everything more or less in favour of the company. We have always kept up the struggle without doubling our efforts and without getting too excited or duplicating efforts.

Those are the two very similar processes – the Ganadera Bocas company and the … company.

Naso 6

FS: … what we call here basic education, but also goes on after sixth grade – here they’re building the college. It serves the community. As you can see here, physically the new land area doesn’t allow it, but there’s going to be a problem of crowding, of expansion in the future, because the land is small and limited. To expand a bit more this infrastructure is important for the community.

Right now, it’s very limited for the children, and that’s what’s needed here, at least to have good park area. Good land to build this infrastructure is important. That’s what we’re thinking of for the future. But here, as you can see, there is no future, it’s so restricted. And that is what the fight is all about – Ganadera Bocas on the one hand throws people out and into the mountains, but imagine the infrastructure required in the middle of this natural area of sierras; look at the slopes that we have to deal with.

When they defined the property title they included all these lands, all that is here … The community became owners of this.

Naso 7

FS: The political structure of the Naso is composed of the traditional figurehead who represents us: the King. Following that is what we know as the Council of Leaders of the Naso People. This council is made up of leaders of each community, and our territory includes 11 communities. These leaders are those who discuss issues; it’s like the assembly where laws are discussed, and issues of development are approved and disapproved. Then there’s another organisation which is the General Assembly and that is the body which gives the final approval or disapproval of what is discussed in the Council.

The King is the figurehead, completely traditional. He represents us and is the image of authority as King. But he is above everything and coordinates the political structures that we have, namely, the leadership [the Council] and the Assembly.


Osvaldo Jordan

Interviewee: Osvaldo Jordan
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: Panamá City
Date: 14th July 2014
Key Words: CHAN75 hydroelectric project; Ngöbe people; Barro Blanco; Changuinola 2; Partido Popular; civil society; Naso people; Alliance for Conservation and Development (ACD); Bonyic hydroelectric project.



Martin Mowforth (MM): OK, we’re recording.(Laughter)

So, Osvaldo – 8th July, 2014 – first, a number of questions about Panamanian issues, but before that, for my own sake, can you explain to me what you were explaining earlier about the situation with the CHAN 75 in 2010? When I was there, I visited Felix Sánchez and various Ngöbe people with my research assistants from England. Can you explain what you explained to me in the restaurant?

Osvaldo Jordan (OJ): Yes, of course.

Let’s say the hydroelectric construction project CHAN 75 was rejected and opposed by many people and, as many people know, in January 2008, the project was blocked for nearly a month and the blockade was violently suppressed. So, from then on, the business strategy was to convince various leaders:

  1. Don’t trust the solidarity groups who were fighting
  2. Negotiate independently and eventually this will not be so obvious as a principle – but it was.

Eventually, they would receive compensation from the company almost at a business level, no? Then from, let’s say, April 2008, a Ngöbe person appeared, not from the area, called Samuel Carpintero, and he began to work with the communities. He had been working for the United Nations, so because of this he knew the situation, but he used that information to get to the area, and he promoted the first process of dialogue with the Government, which was between July and November 2009. At that time we said it wasn’t sufficiently extensive or legitimate, but they signed an agreement in November 2009, in which the Government promised certain territorial recognitions, certain compensations, and this led those affected to grant permission for the hydroelectric construction.

MM: We met him.
OJ: Exactly. The agreement. So this was a little manipulated, we might say, but it still seemed normal. The following year the same leaders who signed the agreement, those representing each community, started a company which they called in English – or at least it was the name that appeared in the Panamanian Public Register: ‘Novel Lake’ [?] and in Spanish they used the acronym DANG. Now DANG was never clear which services it was providing. They received a contract for more than a million dollars from AES (Associated Engineering Services), for the cleaning of the reservoir. But apart from that, they provided security and other services. They even acted as intermediaries in many of the negotiations, and many of those affected say they took money which should have been for those affected. So, as part of those security services at this time, which basically lasted from the middle of 2009 until 2011, they controlled access to the area of the dam.

During the talks they also modified laws and last year, well, this year, more or less the month of February, the public services authority announced a resolution to authorise an ‘easement rite’. In the Barrio Blanco area, they called it an easement right of way. Thus, you could, in other words, I think it meant that the Ngobe people did not lose their property which was delimited within the comarca, but they had to give access to the hydroelectric construction, the reservoir. That gave rise to a mobilisation, the 10th April Movement, for the defence of the River Tabasara, which started to mount a resistance campaign from the beginning of February, continuing for several weeks. It still continues, but in the month of May, the company took them by force, forced them back. Basically, the camp, the initial camp was extended, then the company took back by force certain properties which had previously been acquired by the company. So, in this process, right now in June, the Supreme Court has made a decision, which eliminates the resolution of ASEP[1]. So the Genisa company no longer has its Honduran shareholders. The family is Honduran; the company no longer has any legal right to throw out the Ngöbe from the Bägämá area. But the construction continues.

MM: Yes

OJ:  And it’s very advanced and becoming a fact. Now there has been a change of government, the new authorities are going to have to take this on board. And then, basically the problem in Barro Blanco is not resolved. Likewise, the Government has driven Changuinola 2, without respecting the Saber Accord, without an adequate consultation process; nor is it paying enough attention to the land speculation in the coastal region and in the comarca. Nor, in my opinion, has it fulfilled in good faith the review of the Chan 75 Agreement. So, certainly there had been good faith on the part of the indigenous Ngöbe people, even against the will of many other people, other leaders, opting for a solution through dialogue and negotiation. Unfortunately the Government didn’t stick to its word. So, for this reason, I think, there is a possibility of new confrontations because the conflicts haven’t been resolved.

MM: Yes, OK.
OJ:  They have been extended.

MM: OK, thank you for the explanation. Look, last things, but briefly. OK?

First: Could you tell us a little about the papers and actions of the ACD? (Alliance for Conservation and Development) And second: your hopes for the PP, Partido Popular.

OJ: Ah (both laughing). Yes, well, they are two very different subjects because one of the questions I think reflects the current moment.

MM: Yes, I understand.

OJ: So,we need to make a distinction between the Government and civil society.
MM: Yes, absolutely.

OJ: At this time, many of the environmental activists in Panama, including those we have seen in the book, The Violence of Development, some of those mentioned have been in the Government. That’s very good, but also there is a problem, because we have to have an independent civil society, don’t we? So, I founded the Alliance for Conservation and Development on June 6th, it ought to have been on June 5th, but it was on June 6th 2001. We began as a voluntary group of young professionals, concerned with the situation of marginalisation of communities, and we wanted to have a project for sustainable development.  Eventually there were two big changes. One was: cataloguing incidents of conflict, and this was never our plan, but when the Naso asked for our help, we decided not to turn our backs, but supported them in the case of the Bonyic hydroelectricity project, eventually in the whole region; and then with the problem of San San and San San Druy. I believe you also got to know about this when you were there?

MM: Yes.

OJ: Clearly, a preliminary injunction from the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights. We became involved in the incident, but we also became involved in a professional manner. So, in the heat of the battle we begin to look for resources, we created the office, and thus ACD became a more formal NGO. This allowed us to do some very valuable work between the years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. Already we were declining, and already by the year 2010 we were really in a very complicated situation, but there were already projects which had been closed down. In 2011 we closed practically all the projects and in 2012, 2013 and 2014 we haven’t had projects as such, it’s been three years without projects. That means we don’t have staff, but, as legal actions and incidents don’t stop, we have continued working as volunteers.

MM: Yes

OJ: So, certainly, we went back to the way we had started.

MM: Yes. Just like ENCA.

OJ: Yes? Look, I don’t know. But we returned to being volunteer activists. It’s difficult, we all have work, as professionals we also grew a lot, and, well, people did very valuable work in many places. But still there is a solidarity and one of the reasons, in my personal opinion, is that ACD must survive. It’s why I call it ‘the critical voice of Panamanian environmentalism’. We dare to undertake issues, to highlight situations that the other NGOs in Panama don’t want to face.

MM: Yes, mmm.

OJ: Exactly. So, we feel this is a space we have to occupy, we have the backing of the community leaders; they have never stopped believing in the work we have been doing. New people are always arriving, aren’t they? They want to join. So I think I have to carry on the work. In 2004, on a personal level, I joined a political party. My ambition has always been to become a politician. I believe in political parties, not in independent movements, because I think political parties have identifiable policies and have to be accountable. An independent is adrift, and so, could be very committed and responsible but a swindler, couldn’t he? So, I prefer to work through a political party and I found that the Popular Party, the Christian Democrats, is the most serious and most responsible party that there was in Panama. And I shared much of the fundamental Social Christian ideology, above all the solidarity, the search for the common good. So, then I enrolled, and while I was in the United States studying for a doctorate, at the same time we were active in the ACD, I continued as a member of the party, but I couldn’t join in with much because I was outside the country. So, now, four years ago when I returned, I became active in the party and I thought I was going to seek selection as a candidate in 2019. But when some of my colleagues retired to go as independents, the possibility was open that I would enter as a candidate, and I participated as a candidate supporting the coalition that today has the Presidency of the Republic and also in a certain way we have the Assembly of the Panameñista Party of Juan Carlos Varela, and the Popular Party in which we are based. So, at this time, I am hoping to serve the country in a Government coalition which hopefully will match the work that I did with the Civil Society. But we have to accept the fact that ACD has to maintain itself as a separate and independent entity. ACD members belong to different political tendencies, so never, never do they, nor I, try to impose a political vision. Moreover, we speak little of partisan politics, we talk about the analysis, maybe because we all come from a very academic root. What we are trying to do is to analyse the reality and to try to find solutions. So this is going to be an interesting period and we will see what happens.

[Traffic noise and both talking at the same time]

MM: OK, perfect. Thank you very much Osvaldo for all your words. And, can I have your permission to include your words on the ‘Violence of Development’ website?

OJ: Absolutely.

MM: Perfect. Thank you very much.

OJ: Absolutely. Why not? And thank you too for this, for asking some of the questions we most wanted to ask when we started to work. I’ve just remembered another activist, whom I really respect, here in Panama, in another organisation. When we started to work at one moment, given that we saw what was happening in the archipelago [lot of background noise], which is an issue that we haven’t discussed much and we said then this is not an environmental issue, and this is a rights issue, human rights and environmental rights.

MM: Yes, absolutely.

OJ: Of course, and it’s what we have been doing from that time, 2007, and I think we have taken the right course.

MM: Yes. Perfect. Thank you very much.

OJ: No, thank you.

MM: That’s it. I think that’s been a very short interview.

OJ: Yes.

[Inaudible and a lot of noise. The two talking and walking, but the noise making it hard to understand.]

Snippets of conversation walking and in the vehicle:

OJ: I went to Cambridge.

MM: Oh, yes?

OJ: I think it was about the year … 2000. Yes there was a meeting in the World Conservation Centre.

MM: Ah, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

OJ: Yes, in Cambridge

(A woman talking on the radio)

MM: They monitor protected areas there.

OJ: And there was a person there I respect quite a bit too, who worked at Birdlife International, called Marco Lamborgini. [Unintelligible]. I think he has a much higher position now. He was also here, I worked as a representative of Panama and [inaudible], but by chance. It’s funny, now that I think about it, there was one of the partners there [unintelligible]. He is British, and he is one of the instigators. Because most of the environmentalists in Panama are quite conservative. [Unintelligible]. And he got into issues like transgenics, a lot of issues that were not the usual ones in Panama. At that time he was the campaigns director of [unintelligible], he was like the rights’ advocate. It was only him, only him. But I learned a lot from him, and he was one of my teachers on campaigning. That was a very important formative period for me and then I founded ACD.

MM: And are you still in contact?

OJ: Only a little.  But now, as I’m talking about him, I ought to ring him. Yes, because he’s a bit withdrawn. He lives here in Panama. And then he was working for an export company, Praline, but he was a voluntary environmentalist. So, now that he’s a retiree, he isn’t very public, but I ought to go and visit him now that I have a bit of time, and talk and analyse. I only rang him once because AES tried to buy off all the NGOs, including ACD, but very directly at that time  … At some point they made a statement that they had the support of [unintelligible] or something like that. Then I told him to look what they were doing. And he talked to the director, and the director made a disclaimer. She made a disclaimer, at no time did we approve, nor did we give permission. It’s a lot to do with marketing. ….
[Much noise, unintelligible.]
He is, I would say a pioneer of the environmental movement in Panama. And we give him a lot of credit, because, for example, the subject of the commons [unintelligible] we introduced into the law because of him. …. Of course, there must be public consultation where everyone is represented and can talk about all the problems before approving the project. That was not the spirit ….

[Both talking, not understood. Many noises and other voices (radio)]


[1]  National Authority on Public Services (ASEP) is Panama’s public services regulator and is responsible for regulating and monitoring the provision of drinking water, sewerage, electric power, telecoms, and radio and television services, as well as natural gas transmission and distribution. In July 2017, Osvaldo informed me that in 2016 the Supreme Court reversed the decision discussed here that had previously blocked the displacement of affected communities by the dam.

Naso people of San San Drui & Lorenzo Luis

Interviewees: Naso people of San San Drui, Felix Sánchez, King Valentín Santana and the mayor of Changuinola, Lorenzo Luis.
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: San San Drui, Panama
Date: 1st September 2009
Theme: Naso struggle for land rights against the Ganadera Bocas company and the violence of the company and police.
Keywords: TBC
Notes: Please note that Patricia Blanco did the transcription of this conversation, of which she said: “It was really difficult to understand, especially what was being said by the indigenous woman Lupita. I had to listen many times and I opted to give a summary of some of the general ideas as I understood them because it wasn’t possible to transcribe the recording as such due to the fact that her Spanish wasn’t coherent. Nevertheless, it was possible to get some general ideas. She has problems with her control of the language, and at times she refers to actions or situations which cannot be understood without having the context or background.” Some of these observations are also just as pertinent to other speakers in the transcription.

Felix Sánchez (FS): [to the Naso people gathered together] Here we are in the community. I also want to announce that we haven’t had a formal meeting with our visitors, Martin and Karis from England. They have come on a mission to research what is happening here, but as we already had the initiative for you to have a meeting with the mayor, they are taking the opportunity to be here with us in Drui. They’ll explain presently what they are doing here, but equally the authority of our mayor is here with us and likewise the Chief Magistrate of Guabito.

It’s crucially important that they meet you and talk with you. The last time that we all met with the mayor, Doña Lupita proposed that the next meeting we were going to have with everybody in the community of Drui, including Santa Ana and San San Tigra; we would widen it out because the mayor’s work affects everybody and everything that is happening in …???… More than anything, we want to make known the reality that the community is facing today, especially to this group that is here.

Yesterday the mayor indicated to me that he urgently needed to talk with you, at least all of you who are here, about the issue of your lands because there was never a meeting that included everybody. Also I spoke by telephone with the community leader and told him that the mayor was coming and that I thought he would be there because he is the authority of the community; and we needed to express ourselves with some force about what they are doing and we needed to work together, with the local authorities and the district authorities. So the mayor has come and we are genuinely grateful to him. I think that he is one of the first mayors who has made this type of gesture of support for the community and who has one way or another taken the time of day and of night, at whatever hour, to come here to the community and to talk with you.

I’m going to let Martin say a few words so that you can all get to know his work, after which we’ll start the meeting with the mayor.

Martin Mowforth (MM): Thank you to all of you for accepting us and giving us a welcome in your community. My colleague Karis and I are carrying out a study of a range of environmental issues in Central American countries. We’ve spent some months here, the majority of our time in Costa Rica, but we have also visited Guatemala and Nicaragua. We will probably visit Honduras and El Salvador too. Right now, as you can see, we are in Panamá and we have heard and read many things about your struggle, especially about the issue of the titling of your land. For us, this type of struggle is an important environmental issue. So we are here to listen to you, your problem of land titling of the Naso land, and we understand that you have encountered problems with companies which are trying to undermine your territory. If you have no objections, we should like to record your words on this issue. We have already heard Felix, but it would be very useful for us if we could take your testimony, at least from some of you, about your problems here and your struggle.

Once again, most importantly I want to say that we are very grateful to you for your welcome. Thank you.

FS: We were in the King’s house, talking with him, earlier this morning.

OK, we’re going to get going on this issue; and we’ll give a welcome to the mayor with a big applause please. We are going to listen to him so that he can tell us what he knows first hand as the main authority of this district. And you can then talk with him. So, honourable mayor, the time is yours.

Lorenzo Luis (LL): Hello. Once again, visiting the community as we had stated at the beginning of the government of the new municipal administration, make visits to the communities and be present where the problems occur. It’s an authority which is concerned for the communities where there are problems, not like others which flee when there are problems. We are committed to give attention to all in the community when problems exist. For me, as I stated to you the last time, it’s not easy, … there are so many others that I have to give attention to. I have demonstrated to the Naso people, as I said before being elected and after being elected, I would not push my people aside; I would be an authority who acts within the law but working within the law to be a reconciling negotiator, to mediate on the matters which we have to address in our district and in our community. Not like those before when cases like these presented themselves, they acted within the law but adjusting what they said to fit the legal text. I think that all the cases which can be done in this way, without dealing with them in another way, more peacefully, so that a more suitable response can be given, a response which conforms to the need.

The truth that I must tell you is that I have a boss, at the provincial level … and at the level of Panamá, which are the ministries and the central government.

After 10th August when I visited Panamá [City] for instructions from the Vice Minister of the Department for Indigenous Policies in Panamá. Given all the instructions he gave me, I came to visit you and to communicate with you, and also left notice for you about the next meeting which was going to be on Wednesday, but for other reasons we weren’t able to get here, so the visit was left pending. Yesterday I again received information direct from the Vice Minister’s office, and he tells me that they will act within the legal framework. In the same way he also told me that he will create a local commission and get them to travel to Panamá [City] so that they can discuss issues with the commission in Panamá [City]. And I said to them when they called that they are in Panamá [City] and that I couldn’t get there but that I could get to the community again to explain what they were saying to me.

The message from the Vice Minister of Government and Justice, José Ricardo Fábrega, says that there is no other possible outcome than to act according to the legal terms which Ganadera Bocas presented. But I’m still acting in the name of the local government – they don’t know the situation.

Let me say to you that for my part it has not been easy. It’s easy for them to give instructions because they’re there, but for me it’s not easy. For nobody in the communities that I have visited is it easy to find a solution to the problems which exist in our community. I have tried to deal with this matter in a peaceful way so that you can find solutions, but I must make it clear that if it gets out of my hands by some means or other, then tomorrow it should be clear that it wasn’t the mayor[‘s fault]. And the proof of this is that I am visiting you and explaining to you what they are telling me.

In the same way, you should also understand that as the authority I do not need to come with the police and I have shown that here again I am accompanied by my work team. The Chief Magistrate of Guabito; there should also be the Chief Magistrate for here – I don’t know why he’s not here, he will have his reasons for why he’s not here, but I must say to you that the pressure [of the work] is very hard.

[Note – this doesn’t seem to make sense because earlier Felix had said that the Chief Magistrate was there – probably a different Chief Magistrate.]

I must speak sincerely and honestly to you. King Tito Santana stated to the Vice Minister that you are a small group with your own name that won’t take any notice of him; and so the Vice Minister must proceed according to the law. I told you the last time what he had talked about with the Minister and that he had suggested to us and to the provincial authorities you have enough land and that you don’t need to fight with Ganadera Bocas. In a meeting that we had in the municipal office, I told him that he was acting like a representative of Ganadera Bocas and not like a representative of you, which was deplorable. For the sake of your honour I told him that, and the proof is that in the meetings I did it, but your officials were not with me. That shows who is trying to resolve these matters for you and who is representing you. He’s not interested to resolve the situation like we want to find a solution in a peaceful way.

So for me it’s not easy, believe me, sincerely, when I get those orders from the Minister’s office to punish a people in that way, because I come from a movement, representing a group. Today I’m an official, but I don’t find this to be very satisfactory, but I have to tell you in all honesty that I’ll do what I can as far as I can, but it may slip out of my hands. If for some reasons I don’t follow the instructions, I can try to comply with them some other way if I can manage it, and I will continue visiting the Naso people, not just this community, but all the Naso people including other communities such as the case of Carbonapaba, where there’s another confrontation with a very powerful businessman.

If I’m acting a little as if something has already happened, this isn’t normally how I operate, but it’s just that I’m trying to manage things so that we can reach a peaceful solution; but to be honest things are slipping out of my hands. I must make it clear to you because tomorrow I don’t want any surprises. I don’t want you to be saying that the mayor didn’t tell us, that the mayor didn’t explain to us or that the mayor has sided with Ganadera Bocas. I have met more with you than I have with them – I’ve only been with them once in my office to hear their statement.

Once again I have to tell you that the government makes it clear that you must look for some other place to re-locate to, and to do that the government is disposed to help you in your search for other housing and for other support. That’s what the Ministry told me and that is within the legal framework. Consulting with other lawyers has given me another possible way – I’m going to continue legal consultations to see how we can go about this. After this meeting, I’m going to send a report of my visit and of our conversations to the Vice Minister. I don’t know what his reaction will be. He even told me that if I don’t follow the orders he could order me to keep away. Indeed I’ve made this consultation to see at what point that would happen, because it could be a threat, a pressure, a strategy, or a psychological effect to see at what point I would or would not obey the instructions that he wants to give me.

But really, believe me, I feel a part of this group. But as an official I have to follow an established order, but at the same time I’m not here to trample on anyone. I’m very sad that tomorrow and in the past this kind of thing happens. I will keep on visiting you. As far as I’m concerned you can count on me, but the problem has already got out of my hands and is now at the level of the central government. They are the only ones who know what they say about how I should act, but they are not where I am, and it’s difficult to act within this …???…

So today more than anything I want to tell you, to warn you that you shouldn’t be taken by surprise. In the same way, I want to communicate with your leaders, but I’m not in communication with your leaders. I was going to try to tell you what the Vice Minister told me, but if any of you have a means of communicating with your leadership, it would be good to let them know and to try to locate them. I would give them the same message that they gave to me.

That’s what we bring to you; perhaps you wouldn’t be very grateful for that, but you must understand the position that I have as an official; and my duty and my commitment is to inform people of what is happening. As for me, well I’m not very grateful for it either. But I must inform you that it is my commitment with everybody, with all the community.

Up to now the government, not including Ricardo Martinelli, although Ricardo Martinelli would probably know the case, but I don’t think that this would delay it, …???… For me, I don’t think that Ricardo Martinelli knows the case. It’s possible that the Vice Minister has not really informed Martinelli of what is happening here. Seeing everything that Ricardo Martinelli has done in the last two months, just sixty days, it looks like he cares for the poor. In Panamá [City], when I visit, there are signs all over the place, in all the different communities, which say that now it’s the people who matter, that “I am here”, and that it matters that you get an adequate response. As far as I’m concerned, Ricardo Martinelli doesn’t have the information that the Vice Minister claims he has.

In any case, last night I said to the Governor that he has direct contact and that he can make suggestions and information known, and I also told the deputies that they are close to the President, so they can do the same. If I had the opportunity of an interview with [President] Ricardo I would explain the situation and I know that he would understand the problems of the people. As some say, he is a businessman, yes, but from what I have seen of the way he acts, he responds to those communities in need. In any case, I’m going to tell the Governor again today, and when I can find Mario Vilas who’s in the province of …???…, about how this matter can be mediated, not through the way they are trying to order. As far as I’m concerned, it’s sad and regrettable to have to come and tell you the orders that I have in hand. But right now, I’m not going to do it. And as I said at the start, and I keep to it, if I were the authority charged with protecting a community, as the authority I would look for ways of resolving the problems peacefully, and today I am here to see how we can look for solutions and I don’t want to be your enemy today or tomorrow. Today I’m your friend; tomorrow I shall always be your friend. The fact that I am an official does not make me act exactly as the law says. I’m a believer in making things better by means of dialogue and of resolving problems peacefully and of finding solutions. There are few officials who can operate within this type of framework.

So I say to you today that the information that the Vice Minister gave me is that there is no other way because this is private property and you are the invaders [squatters] and you have land. But he made it clear that because Tito Santana has said …???… that it is clear today who is informing him.

So, my friends and companions, sadly you can count on me but only up to what I can do, and that if tomorrow it escapes from my hands, then it will be clear that it’s not my fault. It will escape from my hands, but that won’t stop me acting by some other means, because you need to use some other way. And so tomorrow you should separate me from my official role. But with this consultation you can see their reasons, their motives, but perhaps as pressure, as threats, perhaps you can see my abilities to be able to confront these matters.

This is my message of today – I’m concerned about the situation. I had to leave the office this morning because this journey I wanted to make calmly using half a day to visit you in the community where you had previously invited me. But something else happened in the morning for which I was responsible and I wasn’t able to warn you. So you need to be prepared and you need to communicate with your leader who is in Panamá [City] that you are looking for all possible ways and means and that you’re not sleeping on this because soon other things will be taking over in the city and here other things will also be happening. It’s important that you let him [this is Eliseo he’s talking about] know because the Minister told me that he will find him, but I haven’t been able to locate him. If somebody has contact with him it would be good to let him know that I was here telling you what I have to hand at the moment.

Today [he must mean yesterday] I arrived home late and I was thinking about this problem till three in the morning – for me it’s very difficult. I was telling my kids of the work and what I’m going to do – it’s very difficult – so that I can involve them, but it’s not easy. It’s not a question of coming here and telling you lies, firstly because with God we must follow the other path, and it’s a good thing to talk with your leader in Panamá [City] so that I don’t deal with him through the Vice Minister without the President. It’s the only recommendation that I can make to your leaders, given the limitation on what I have and what I can do, so that I can continue to manage the matter.

Lupita: [Please bear in mind that the following translation is difficult to make sense of; but as the note at the beginning (from the transcriber) said, the speech was difficult to make sense of in Spanish too. The translation came down to a matter of treating each clause separately because sentences rarely made sense when taken together. It might even appear as gobbled-goo, unless you know the context, in which case it is possible to see the point of what is being said overall. But we have to ask ourselves, ‘how much of that contextual understanding is based on assumption and prejudice?’]

Today it’s two weeks since we came to a meeting. Good day everybody. It’s very certain what you are saying. The other day you came and told us very clearly …???… This man said to him ‘How do you know that Vargas has land? How do you know that Gamarra has land?’ You’re sat down there, but as you say, through that mayor I shouted to you to go to the meeting to [with?] the family that are there in …???… They feel something good about what you said to them. They don’t want to hear more: seven cats, seven cats, seven cats, until those cats don’t die …???…

Because we aren’t doing badly with our family; we are fighting with the Ganadera [Bocas]. Instead of supporting us, they don’t want to. Previously when we went there, he took the role of …???… demanded by our people. …???… In our name, how many are there? …???… [King] Tito is walking that route, so I say to you because they say, “look at us; we are new; we are Martinelli’s people.” It left me seeing how I don’t know. I say to you: “change, change, change.” Even I think change [is OK] but now that Martín Torrijos has left, there are bad changes for much of the time …???… So what changes are there?

I tell you that you are not so guilty because you’ve come here again, but as we have always said, beneath that there is a putrid lemon, a rotten orange. That is what is harming you. So I say to you as you said to us, that the Vargases have land, the Gamarras have land – that’s your response again, is it?

Now I say to you because you have two kings, King Tito says that he is the true king, but he is the government’s king. We recognise [King] Valentín Santana – he is our king, because he [Tito] has left the community. The other king says that we are squatters [precaristas], but he is the squatter. He’s no longer the leader, because if you’re the leader you should be in your area. [King] Tito meets with the Vice Minister. We are defending our comarca. Wherever you go, [King] Valentín talks of the comarca. We don’t recognise Tito as king because he is selling us out – it’s not good enough.

The government doesn’t want to give us anything because they want to make use of everything that there is here. Those who come here and put themselves next to us are opportunists – they enjoy our riches and yet we still don’t have a comarca. They are thieves who come looking for problems. He [I think she must be referring here to King Tito] received his silver, so he’s calm but we are still fighting for the comarca. They are thieves causing trouble.

They say that we have plenty of mountains, but everything is dry sticks there so we can’t work there and we can’t fell anything. That’s what we’re demanding, but the government doesn’t listen to us; it listens more to others who are selling us out.

The kings don’t think of what our elders have left us [???]. Many people come with their projects, but they don’t have good projects. They bring work, but with heavy machinery which we don’t know how to drive. So they are careful when people come to talk. The King is against us, the representative is against us, and now the family is against us. So where are we going to go?

Thank you, mayor, for informing us.

LL: Last night I told the Governor that he should say to Tito what he said to the Minister and that he should say to you and that he should come here to talk with you.

Lupita: Some ideas expressed by this participant [Lupita, I think] (as far as I understand them):

  • Problems of the boundaries
  • Problems with the leaders (kings) one of whom has allied himself with the government
  • Defence of the comarca and of the lands which they inherited
  • There is a division within the same indigenous group – some communities, such as La Tigra, are against them
  • They, however, recognise Valentín Santana as King and not Tito, who sold them out
  • They claim that some of the authorities and some of their leaders (Tito) do not tell the truth, they lie by hiding information and show the other side of their face
  • They claim that the government is not willing to help them
  • They refer to the fact that there are economic interests and money in the way.

Other participant: [This is the man who laid out all the tear gas canisters in the middle of the meeting floor for us all to see – the ones from the time when their houses were destroyed.]

Hello. Thank you for coming brothers and sisters. The 30th March of this last year was the occasion of the government’s visit to solve these problems. …???… It was them who threw us here. When you’re in your political role, in your campaign, as our brother mayor has just said, “vote for me”. Come rain or flood or whatever, they come from one corner to another, facing whatever problem they say “count on me”, but today nothing more than the image is seen. Today being aware of what is happening in the community with the indigenous, they know that these poor citizens and poor campesinos were there and made their vote. Now I wait like a father who goes away and comes back with a sweet or some sweet coffee. Look at what he brings us [I think this is the point at which he was showing us all the tear gas canisters]; look at those that sort out the problems. It’s not because the national government isn’t respected here in Panamá. Panamá didn’t want to begin at Changuinola. The mayor, the governor, all of them, didn’t understand us, or didn’t want to understand the case.

So we have Señor Félix Sánchez here. Thank God he’s here with his talent because none of the indigenous is prepared, but today he is preparing us. He’s in touch with people from different countries who hear us and see that we are not lying.

What type of Panamanian government wants votes and arrives to throw us out from here. Ganadera Bocas says that all this and further down is theirs. Señores, I wasn’t born yesterday. I’m 57 years old, I was born here and my father arrived before that. And now Ganadera Bocas arrives and says “No, no, all the indigenous should be out of here; all of this is ours.”

Señores, God made the earth and also made humanity, and we stay here on the earth. We are more than the businessmen of Ganadera Bocas. Sadly here we cannot take that for granted any longer. With respect to what the mayor says, I don’t know much about the current government, but it still doesn’t have much awareness; but look what a mess it’s making. So, what I want to say is that we are making a call to other countries so that they can see, so that they can call the highest authority, so that they hear what happened.

On the other hand the indigenous people have rights, there is a law, a decree, I don’t know in which year, I don’t know if the President or the government functionaries can open up the drawer to see it, but the indigenous peoples have rights. …???…

Now, as my brother Tito Santana says, first when he began he began well, he was warm, he was brave and relaxed about what he was doing here, under this roof where we are sat. But the man began to cheat with the Bonyik project. When he saw the ticket [money] there where they landed the deal, they bought him and all his conscience. He abandoned the comarca, abandoned the struggle of the indigenous people, of his people. Now, he uses “my people” politically, but he …???… the tray of silver.

Look at how we are now, sick, with colds. As chief you say the man may go to hospital and they will treat him. No, we have to struggle just to see how we can leave the area. Look what a state the road is in and what problems there are here. …???… to say good, this no, this yes, there the government functionaries don’t know what to do. Tito was a true King, but with that government. Right now I don’t agree with Tito. He has already completed his period as governor.

He says that we are squatters [precaristas], but he is the squatter, we are on the land …???… We are within our rights. We believe in the lineage. We want this new government, the current government, to look for a solution, but not through that. What is the solution? Well, a lineage. Perfect, through that we will get there, respecting one another.

Look how the wire fence is going now. They aren’t looking for wire – they’re looking even further up. And then as they say, …???… the post there already belongs to the government. They have jurisdiction over it and they manage it by saying, “Listen, do not, do not, do not, do not fell that”. The streams, the mountains, I don’t know what. Señores, so where are these humble and poor residents going to live? The government is not going to have a daily, weekly or even monthly mayoral meeting for all these residents who are here.

So, as a local resident I speak, I see, I feel, because I’m still alive, and I should like whilst I’m alive that all of us struggle for one single cause, for our families, for our security. If we don’t do that, our grandchildren and our families will see it getting worse and they will drive us out more quickly.

We’re not fighting against groups like these seven. But as our sister Lupita said, we don’t have that idea …???… the land owners are coming here for everything. In Bonyik I know a man who had a stretch of land all of which had been the Naso-Teribe indigenous group’s, but today the Colombians came and he sold it to them. When the families were there they had space to work, but today they are left penniless. Now, he got the title and then sold it – like the whites have money. How can the land owners do so much buying? So we must not sell our lands, we must look after them, we must maintain them for our families. …???…

For us, for the Naso, for the true Naso groups, Tito is a ‘nobody’ king. Here is Señor Valentín Santana, the man does not sell his people, he doesn’t deceive, he doesn’t …???… We are going to make an agreement. First, we must have a meeting with the people. I have to know what my people are saying, is it good or not, so I don’t go solo, on my own, all these things we must consult on.

Tito knows this, but, well I don’t know, he’s on his own and he wants to take advantage of the money. So he does the talking – he got there …???… he told them that the limit [boundary] is Dos Bocas, but he says that and we are going to leave it there. But that limit, that line of wire doesn’t seem right to me – it leaves the people apart. So he told us talking like a king wearing a tie …???… He always talks about how Ganadera has given [him] cows and steers. Lord, how many steers do damage to these poor campesinos like us; he never paid us; how many millions of dollars did he earn by this, and just for him because Ganadera was facilitating it for him. It was a bad project. He knows that where he puts his hand I will fight it. And as poor people, we struggle, we cry out, we talk for our rights. So when he arrives, he says “my people, my people” – he has nobody in his family who is backing him.

So, Mr mayor, so as not to make you tired, that is what I can say. Moreover, …???… As my sister said, the family does not want to support …???… There are seven of us and we are struggling here and if nobody wants to participate, well, we’ll leave it and each one can fight for their own house.

Now, look at Ganadera. It’s stopping us. It seems to me that it’s made a mess of all the posts there below, and Ganadera has made a hole. They don’t support me – I don’t want any support from them, but always remember that you don’t have papers, you don’t have documents, these lands are public lands, they aren’t owned with documents or signatures; so this land is not yours, this land is loaned … And the road – …???…  – I don’t want to see anything there. Your road will be …???… in a foot of mud to get round that bend so you take it as a straight line …???… But as I say, everyone will see their own problem.

We talk of our rights. Here we are not …???… along the route. Look how the bridge there has been left – the metal sheets have been lifted. If it had been any of us who had caused this mess on the bridge, we would be in prison; but as it’s a millionaire there wasn’t even a fine – no prosecution of the men from Ganadera Bocas. Look at the bases of the bridge as they are now – they’ve ruined them; they felled the trees on the river banks; and if we had done that we would be in prison. But for them, no authority or official would even appear.

Now, the new government has to consider that. Mr mayor, that is my explanation. Many thanks.

Lupita: Now, if we fight against the law, we have to pay the government. Here we have never had to pay the government. Every month we have to ask where are we going to get the money? There is no money to pay that. We think we are doing well for our families, but he [???] says that it’s bad. We have to pay, through the kings. They talk. They set their limits. We continue to work. Now he talks of collective land, and I say to him, “sir, you have to come to explain to us what is collective land for us?” They tell us that collective land is the same as the comarca, but whilst I don’t see this, I won’t accept it. So I say to people who come here from far off that we are going to invite you to the communities where there are families you can listen to so that they can tell you that I’m not lying, because I see that things are not how we think.

That day when we were there and the man from Talamanca (Costa Rica) arrived from Yorquín, where there had also been struggles. They talked of the case of the hydroelectric project; they talked of the case of the coal mine. Today all the indigenous people are not so calm – those who think and those who don’t think all say I’m very well.

I’m an old person and I think that now I’m going to suffer that heat, and if God says that …???… Paying. When God made this earth, …???… in the same way, now he is going to come for our land …???… So I would like you to come with us sir, two or three days in the community and we will visit families so that you can hear them when they say that this woman is not lying.

So we are struggling, and there’s no real power for us. So they say that it’s our fault that they aren’t making that road, but we have houses all along the road. So, as we do in Panamá, I and the people will press for the road. …???… if we’re at the side of the road because they can’t make it. Then I see that that road provides problems for all the people of …???… except the family that doesn’t want to support us; but we will do it.

FS: Mr mayor, we will congratulate you for the information you have brought with you – if only you …???… because you are a person who I can see considers …???… always to tackle hardship. And as you said yourself, look at what our family has received – there’s the education, the graduation, the doctor, there are all these things that they have done for my people. And you analyse an issue …???… so that people take photos …???…

As Sra. has said, I have come here many times. There was a mayor here called …???… I was staying here and he called me and sent me an item to look for as if I was a …???… When he arrived he told me that I was supporting him and that I was with him, or even that I was like the …???… The man armed me with a …???… I came here …???… because the money was …???…

Translation of the 3rd transcript of conversations with the Naso people in San San Druy, this one being the 2nd transcript involving the mayor.

(The same notes made about the quality of the recording and of the spoken Spanish which were made with regard to the first two transcripts and translations are just as relevant to this one.)

LL: … when it’s a big town, …???… information from Tito Santana, they are two people. I told the Minister when I had the interview on the 15th that he came to last month that there were two families, but also that this district is a big one. But also from Tito Santana they hear what they told me. He told him here the same as the Governor that those who come to the meeting here live in Guabito, in another area; they are not from here. So for that reason the Minister is trying to protect and to act quickly because according to the information in the document if there are two there’s no reason to consider both. So if tomorrow you manage to …???… then that’s down to Tito Santana – he’s the only one responsible for sinking you, the only one.

Lupita: Yes. What a bit of a family. It’s a lie, mayor, we realise what he is doing …???… by you. We are so many and we are no trouble.

LL: The other thing is …???… the same Mario Guardia told me in Panamá [City], his words, that … he doesn’t have any land. However, the Minister told me there were no problems with that; it’s resolved. We wondered with the Governor, I asked Mario Guardia, and he told me: no, that land is loaned, it’s not going to be given with a title, nor is it going to be adjudicated, now or ever, because that land belongs to Ganadera Bocas. So today it’s your problem, and if you don’t unite on this, you are going to have problems tomorrow. I told this to the Governor, so that he would relay this to the Minister, because the Minister is currently thinking and already has the information, and will say that there is no problem. The problem is here. But we know how things are. So the only one responsible for all the things that you can do is Tito Santana – just so that you know.

FS: I’m going to take the opportunity of this occasion, Mr Mayor, to show you what has been done in view of the fact that perhaps you are going to send a report to the Minister after this meeting, at least so that you can inform him about the steps that are being taken.

First of all, we have to have a clear idea that today we have a mayor who has felt the concern that the community has; first they were not buffaloes at the urns who voted for them, they were you. They weren’t Colombians, nor a transnational that went to vote; it was these people who today are asking that their rights be respected.

I want to say something very clearly in this intervention this morning. This community requested of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights that precautionary measures be taken, and this document has already been formally accepted by the Commission. So, Mayor, I want to deliver this document to you so that you can see that we have copies for when the Minister or somebody from the government calls you or gives you instructions you will also be aware of the actions, not only local actions that this community is taking, but also actions in international law from those with whom we have been meeting.

So, perhaps not for the sake of letting them know, but you as mayor can use this document which tells in text what the community is doing on the legal front given the law that the community has and which was violated here from 30th March. So I want to give you this document. We can take copies of the document for your office in order to be able to respond to the Vice-Minister – that is the written document which we have given you and which is supported at the international level and which has been formally accepted by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.

The other thing that I want to make use of this occasion and for which I shall take another five minutes, Mr Mayor, and I’m not going to invent anything here, is that the people have the leadership they deserve. Today we have representatives who the people elected, but he continues operating in the same way and he is going to continue giving this payment to the community and to its people. And the mayor is a witness to this action, so that when he arrives at the office and opens the door, he talks to you of one thing, but his real actions are doing another thing.

Today we have a situation which for us since the 30th May 2004 without a king, and the fact that the government has recognised him is another problem. But it’s not our problem and it doesn’t interest us. But you’re right that today we have that problem because the previous government was interested in recognising him, and finally we’ve found some real reasons why. In December [2008] a law which went against our aspirations – the comarca law, the law of collective lands – and which Tito said will be the same …???… which Martín Torrijos approved. But the only person – I don’t know if you think I’m lying – who is called Valentín Santana here, the only one who went to the Supreme Court of Justice demanding the law, and here is the document, to hand, this is the copy of the lawsuit. Why? Because we believe in the comarca. Yes or no?

Everybody: Yes.

FS: We believe in this concept which our ancestors left us and I don’t think that those who were here 30 years before, who didn’t go to school, but who were so wise, thought that the legal definition of the territory had to be consolidated as a comarca. And there is Mr Valentín, the King, who is witness to these struggles which were begun many years ago. But today we are facing a legal process, and here is the copy – we can take more copies, whatever is needed, for the mayor – if you want this copy, the copy of this lawsuit which King Valentín Santana is making to the Supreme Court of Justice.

The Court has already responded. Here we also have the Supreme Court of Justice’s reply. It’s not a mute issue – here they are responding. Why do I mention it this morning? Because at times we think so much about a scoundrel to whom his land and his territory don’t matter. And along comes another time and possibility, as I said to the director of PRONAP, when the new government continues to say that because this is the Naso people’s authority, that is a trick.

Faced with this legal petition, the Supreme Court of Justice, which is considered to be the highest authority in our country to which we can go right to the end in search of justice for the Naso people, well, at least we have some responses. And next month there are many possibilities to have an audience to explain why we are arguing for the Naso comarca, against this law which Martín [Torrijos] approved on 3 December 2008.

I want to honestly assume that this has had to be an international process which we have brought about, because although it’s certain that the local authorities have been blind to what they haven’t seen and deaf to what they haven’t heard, it seems that they don’t understand the law of the Naso people. So we have gone to the international sphere, and when an International Commission for Human Rights accepts our demand, it is because they have seen the reasons why we have been making this claim; and that although plenty has been written about this struggle, we are not going to hide because it’s a reality.

Faced with this, I want to make it clear today that the Naso people continue to lose their land; with this type of leaders that we have who came here on Sunday promoting the new government’s changes but who ignore the process and this struggle because they haven’t input even a little of the responsibility into their posts that Doña Lupita has on her shoulders, or of those here who are suffering; and the responsibility of those people, like Tito Santana, affects us here.

The previous government also delivered 1,198 hectares of our land to others. Are we going to continue losing land – yes or no?

Here is the document, and I’m not lying, it’s signed at the back, the stamp is that of the National Direction of …???…, Dr Ligia Castro as the person responsible. And in the afternoon of that same day the state company was pleased, having a fiesta, they went to …???… killing cattle, they did everything they wanted because that’s what they were expecting.

But here you have a public servant. If I’d taken on the political interests, I would not have felt what is happening to the people now. But I’m continuing at the head of this process which today, with honour, we continue to say, at least for the past week, that we are seated with part of the government talking of the consolidation of the Naso territory in a document which I have here. A letter was sent to King Valentín Santana, King of the Naso people, with the unique intention of consolidating the Naso territory with the earlier application of 160,000 hectares.

Brothers and sisters, this fraudster who approved this law – I’m going to be really clear, I’m not going to be shy about saying these things – he approved the law of collective lands where the territory of the comarca as adjudicated by this law gives only 95,000 hectares, and he’s happy with that. But what the new government is proposing is to proceed with the consolidation of the Naso territory under the previous study which gives 160,000 hectares. I’m not lying to you; you can read it here, and I’m going to be here till midday so that you can read it. 160,000 hectares – here, it’s being proposed.

So I’m in agreement with a lot of what the mayor says. I feel that the President of the Republic is ignorant of what is happening here on the Naso territory. I feel that when he finds out he will have a very different reaction because he’s prey to those people who have already intervened in this area. They are thieves, usurpers of the land of our territory and they are not one of us. Brothers and sisters, it is not us who are begging for a few metres of land. Today we have the papers saying that the government recognises our piece of land. How is it possible that the head of the household becomes the young son? [Not sure of this, but it sounds like some Panamanian metaphor or something.]

I want to say one thing that was the practice of the previous government with documentation. We went with King Valentín, the teams and Doña Lupita to a meeting with the government which was under pressure and was on its knees before international demands. Here we’ve got the same …???… with the World Bank, Martin, here in the month of June they came because we had initiated a process of claims to the previous government because PRONAP was making totally arbitrary management decisions, unrelated to the traditional practices of the people – and we showed that. Today, the World Bank approved an investigation of Panamá, and that is going to happen right now, in the first few days of October.

Why? The King sent the letter to the previous government, and to the World Bank they were saying that they were consulting the Naso people and that Valentín is …???… in an open discussion, because on the other hand they amazed me, but on the other hand they couldn’t do it. In an open discussion with the World Bank they wouldn’t dare take action and withdraw the document. The mistake was to go to look for it because when it was brought out that same document said: Señor Valentín Santana did not receive the note. But it was the work of the previous government, it’s a note from December 2008. And they were discussing whether we were being consulted. So that particular struggle was being dealt with, and now this level is being dealt with, and so here you are not only seeing the work of the mayor; and it’s not out of friendship with the mayor after we shared a political campaign that I am going to say this really clearly, I say it because today he holds a responsibility as an administrator of this district and he is the foremost authority.

I believe that here we must also unite ourselves together in this struggle; I’m very clear in what I’m going to say, my struggle is not against any of my family or members of the community, my struggle is against those who are every day legalising a meter of land and taking a meter of land away from the Naso people – that’s the focus of our struggle, our great challenge.

I believe, mayor, that this morning, as you said here on the 5th August and in the office of the Governor to the Vice Minister, here there is a people who will continue crying out for justice. I’m going to be certain about one thing today, the damage that Ganadera Bocas has wrought on this community is irreversible, it will never be paid for, nobody is going to pay anything for it. The struggle could last many years, but it won’t depend on what the mayor wants, it is going to depend on us, on what we are feeling in the community, on our reality.

The mayor is transitory. These five years pass rapidly, but he’s going to continue being a resident of this district. I want to say today that we are clear on our aims and the threats which we face. I assure you that we are armed [this means with documents and information] and we are trying to document the whole process which we are promoting in the wider world, at the international level.

If I didn’t say it to the Director of Indigenous Policy and to those who came here in this meeting place on the 15th July, I didn’t express what I said as a threat, but what I said I continue to say and have said in meetings which we have had with the new government. This servant has knocked on doors. With the previous government we spent five years on the edge of a razor blade because that’s what the last government did. But now the start of a new government could affect us in what I’m aware is the way I have trusted in it. I’ve placed a lot of trust in the new government in the hope that we can manage to do what we weren’t able to do under the previous government. But …???… I put my confidence there because this government will listen to me. I’ve said it here to the mayor. I’ve met with the mayor many times because I want to be very clear. They will also listen to me knocking on doors to the outside because we are organising an assembly for 4th October when it will be one year since we had a great assembly in Bonyic, and now it’s going to be in Teyic [???] because we want to inform everybody about this process that’s happening now. There is a process of claims relating to the issue of the comarca. It’s already in draft with our lawyers to present to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.

I believe it’s necessary to double our efforts today, not to get discouraged, not to lose heart, and I believe in the saying, Sr Mayor, that in a war foretold no soldiers die. And the mayor came to foretell this to us, he came to warn us, he came to inform the community; and I don’t know whether I’m exaggerating, but I believe that I see the mayor at the head of our struggle, because he’s not going to abandon his community.

Here in reality we have to be spokespersons for this hope; we mustn’t get discouraged by the fact that there’s a lot of pressure; it will depend on us and our families in the community. For your information, I was in San San Tigra on Sunday. I left late at night from a meeting at which we had been discussing this issue. We were trying to explain to them and we are not going to explain to them in other languages. As soon as he gets here to Druy with these documents I want to go to Tigra, even with videos. We are already planning this with them, to arm a meeting more broadly with all the materials and maps to hand so that we can leave materials in the community so that they have them to hand, because that’s where the power is. When we get started, that’s where the power is.

And many people have become disillusioned saying that here amongst our people are other persons talking with us who have come to make the indigenous people angry. That is not so. I think that we are prepared for this, as Doña Lupita says, we won’t be telling any stories here. [Not 100% certain about the translation of that last clause.]

As Don …???… said, I want to congratulate the management of the mayor. Sr Mayor, believe that whilst we maintain this genuine communication, this legitimate communication, we are not going to [perder el norte]. Likewise, people here are not going to disappear through the negligence of those of us who are the leaders.

We mustn’t hesitate brothers and sisters. The worst enemy is not in the municipality; the worst enemy is not in the city; the worst enemy is right here, within our own territory – that’s the greatest detractor. Why do I say that? Because I say to you that just as it was possible that one person predicted the comarca, today another government may approve a different law. For everything the government was saying, it has to say yes because it owes some favours. We don’t depend on that; we depend on the management of the community, and so Doña Lupita leaves for Panamá [City], she’s not going to ask for favours, she’s not going to beg, she’s going to fight for your lands.

Brothers and sisters, last Wednesday, I say in all honesty, they heard men and women who don’t know how to put a letter onto paper, Doña Lupita, talk for 32 minutes in front of the Director of the World Bank, the new Director of PRONAP, and when the Director of the World Bank stopped and said, “Doña Lupita, now I have nothing to say”. And so here we don’t need anyone who goes under the table trying underhand techniques; here we need genuine leaders who won’t be bought and who won’t sell themselves, but who are clear in their direction, their aim and where we are heading.

This is the way we treat others, brothers and sisters, whilst we have that I want to show you that the worst enemy is within our territory, and that’s the one that we have to confront. Working over there, I know that keeping our officials well informed, primarily the mayor and the governor, because he also communicates a lot with us, will help us to advance, and I consider that we have to confront the struggle within ourselves.

This is my message. I believe that we will take on a role as we seem to have done permanently throughout this process, we will continue to document it all, Sr Mayor, with all the materials, with everything that is happening, so that all the processes and everything that we are doing outside will be known. Because it’s necessary that he knows for when they ask him what the community is doing in the face of this action. Here the war is against those who come from beyond.

Many thanks.

Another participant: I’d like Sr Mayor for you to come along here on a weekend, a Saturday or Sunday, so that you can see that river which took the house, or rather the site where it was. The government gave me a couple of …???… And I made a low ridge. What happened, Sr Mayor? This side slid away, this side …???… Do you think it’s fair to live there? With that danger and you’re living there … I had to knock the house down.

Why do we live here on the lowland? Because it’s wide. We’re thankful for where we are located. How are you going to live in those trees? How are you going to live there? You’ve got to get out of the ravines so that you can level it off. It’s not safe, when it rains it washes everything away, everything slides away. And that’s why you don’t see many things in this area. The government officials from the institution which deals with housing don’t come and see the damage and to see what has happened.

As I said, my mother has already been buried there; my brother with his two children and wife, along with six families, wake up in the surrounding countryside. … If only those officials would come and see the damage. That’s the problem that we have.

There’s land for crops, but for houses it’s not guaranteed and there’s no security. Look at the river bank – when it’s full of water it overflows and goes all over there. So, why doesn’t the government send its people to see. They say no, that we’ve got to locate ourselves in a better part, we’ve got to make ourselves secure; now if they want us to be secure they should put us against the cliff where we are going. What’s the best that the government sees? And if we don’t leave, they say it’s because we’re fighting and because we’re staying there. Now the damage has gone, the house has been rebuilt, the land has been washed, and nobody died. Now they want to re-locate us, but there’s no law that we have to live there and make our houses there. If I change from there I’ll need more land for my children who will also be making their homes because their families have two, three, four, five children.

So where those slides occurred we can’t locate our houses. Here you can see mountains, but that is for growing rice. We are used to living under thatched roofs which is refreshing, but now, since a year ago, we are suffering. As I said, we are not foreigners. We want a solution as soon as possible, but one which doesn’t come through a machine gun, one which comes with a document that signifies respect and your rights as indigenous peoples. But we are not expecting mistreatment and threats.

Thank you Sr Mayor.

Another participant: I also want to greet all of you on behalf of the Naso who are suffering here. We have some trips to Panamá City. Thank you Sr Mayor for bringing us such an important message. As a Naso from this territory I invited Tito Santana to talk so that we could hear another person …???… that never gives a consultation here, they never involve themselves here, Sirs, hear this clearly, with people who betray us and who are doing [something] in the community …???…

Thanks to our great friend, we have come so that he can bring this sad message, to hear of a traitor like Tito Santana who hides himself away and travels in a vehicle of …???… and buys the consciences of other people. Actually, he’s like a Vice-Minister of the new government. They’ve already bought it [???] because from what I hear the Vice-Minister has an order – well we also have an order from here for Panamá. God first – this is part of our fight. Try not to involve us with bad people, …???…

Also, the problem is not with us, the problem is that we have to hold onto each one of us and follow a good route. It’s an agreement which we have had, the greatest dream – that is the comarca, it’s our aspiration, we need the comarca. So, for the sake of the comarca we will all hold onto each other, all together, from the children to the old people. Those are going to be our needs from this day onwards.

I hear the King [please note that this could possibly be a reference to God rather than the Naso King – Señor Rey is often used in Central America to mean God] …???…  the authority of Guabito. I don’t know if the Chief Magistrate could offer an opinion on this. He also has a message for us.

LL: Before the Chief Magistrate of Guabito comes in, the Chief Magistrate has nothing to do with this matter. Ganadera Bocas has also wanted to involve him in it, so the Magistrate is here because I asked him to accompany me. Likewise, I told the Ganadera Bocas representative when he visited me because he was going to start proceedings against the Chief Magistrate on the grounds that he wasn’t doing anything. And I told him that it wasn’t within the competence of the Chief Magistrate and that therefore he wasn’t going to take action, still less so if he didn’t have my authorisation.

And we have already replied through our lawyer to the representative of Ganadera Bocas that he is not going to take action because they would want this action to be taken, that action to be taken, and that in the midst of it all they will attack you. The two of them have my instructions, so if they don’t have instructions they can’t do anything. Thus he is accompanying me today so that nobody is going to think that it’s his fault if something happens.

Also here is this colleague who works with me in representing you, and the mayor’s secretary, my colleague Isabel.

There we are, Chief Magistrate.

Chief Magistrate of Guabito: Good afternoon. I’m only here to accompany the Mayor, and to collect information.

Translation of 4th transcript of meeting with the Naso people.

1st September 2009

Honourable Mr Mayor, King Valentín Santana, everyone who is present,

Listening carefully to all your opinions, I have made a brief analysis – it’s only my personal opinion.

I am a resident of the San San Druy community (Changuinola, Bocas del Toro province) and I speak as a leader of the community.

What the comrade mayor has announced about our King Tito Santana is regrettable. But we as people, comrades, are also doing nothing, we will continue to put up with this martyr till who knows when, because the truth is that we are clear and we are not children. We know perfectly well that the Naso people have two kings. One group has Sr. Tito Santana and the other has Sr Valentín Santana. Whilst there isn’t just one single line, we will continue crying all the time because we don’t have a responsible father figure who makes the assumptions for us. Say what you like, this is the reality.

On Sunday some people from further up there visited us, former kings, and at times the gossip was not good to hear. I would not be able to leave here with giving my opinion. When we need to we people can laugh. I told the comrade who was with you when he arrived that we are going to tell you a little story. You came by car, and later you got stuck; and when he got here, he said to me, “comrade, how much will it cost me for you to pull the car out?” And I told him, “the world turns”. There was a group in the hut when you passed by and you didn’t even look out of the window and say hello to us. Then a bit further on, you needed me – how do you think that appeared? But things like that happen.

Friends, if we don’t make the effort as residents of the community, we’ll keep on having the same things happen. …???… I have always said to you, because we hear it said that there are people who don’t have the pants [balls; bravery] to confront the company, and I’ve always said here are capable people. Here we have people who want to fight and who have the energy, but what happens friends? Whilst we don’t resolve our internal problems, we will live all our lives blaming one another. And we know perfectly well that God was kicked out after the creation of the world; and we always have to have someone who is to blame, so the best thing when we have made a mistake is to acknowledge it and to move on. God created man and made him a wife, and after Eve made her mistake Jesus asked Adam [God] if the woman you made gave you food. So we always have to have someone to blame.

Don’t see me as strange because I’m a resident of the community. You are all my friends. Today, by invitation from friend Felix, I came to listen. So I’m here with you and I exhort you, as Señora Lupita was saying earlier, I’m very much in agreement with her, to meet as a community with the authorities and recognise the mistakes that we make. In that way we will start pulling together. If we do the opposite, friends, we will keep on regretting that people don’t want to support us or help us, and in the end we won’t get any positive result out of this. It’s this that I wanted to make clear to you. If I have spoken badly you know to forgive me and as an authority of the San San Druy community I invite the mayor to come to the community so that people and children of the community can get to know him. These are my words. Many thanks, friends.