The following testimony was taken from members of the indigenous Naso people of the Bocas del Toro province of Panama on 15 September 2010 at their homes along the Bonyic River, a valley that will be affected by construction of the Bonyic dam and hydro-electric project.
The Bonyic company came here four and a half years ago. They wanted to build a road and put up lights. My mother was born here and she died here. I was born here and I have to die here. … You could fish here, and now if you go fishing with a hook, you cannot catch anything. Many different kinds of fish were killed when they dried up the river.
I will not sell my land because the land gives me so much. They are not going to fool me with money; money runs out; my land will not run out. I will come to an end, but my land will not.
We used to live quietly in the area. … I was arrested with my wife and young daughter and were taken to the barracks. They also took my son to the barracks – he was unjustly detained for defending our rights, for defending our land. … We defend our rights, we defend our land; here we have everything, natural things like oranges, pifa [a palm fruit like yucca], plantain, bananas, chicken, pigs and cattle. This helps us to survive and to look after our children. I am 53 years old and until now I have never worked in any kind of business. I have everything I need to look after my children at home, they are not hungry. And any neighbour that does not have what he needs comes and buys from me, and I sell to him. I plant rice, corn, yucca, all kinds of products that we can eat.
At the moment they are developing a hydro-electric project that passes through the territory of our community. I am one of the most badly affected and I look to the Government for help. I cannot go out or go to church alone, and I have young children, and when the law comes to take me, it is my children that will suffer. They accused me of kidnapping four of them; three female engineers and one male engineer. This is a false testimony from them, because how do you think I would be able to kidnap four people by myself. Can you believe that?
My name is Hugo Sánchez and I am a resident of the Bonyic community. I am one of the residents that have always been at the forefront of this struggle against one of the projects that goes against the protection of our nature, our culture, our traditions and above all, is in favour of deteriorating our ethnicity. We as Naso have been massacred by the Panamanian Government; they have violated our rights as an indigenous village.
I had the opportunity to train in taxonomy, with both freshwater and saltwater fish. This has served me well today because with the basis of this knowledge, we have been able to make a complaint against the company for an environmental crime against the aquatic species that were here. The river ran its course in that direction, but as the residents of the community have not wanted to sell their land, the company were forced to divert the river without a proper permit and without having the equipment to move an aquatic species from the natural river course to the other river course. They never thought that we would have somebody that could tell which of the species should be given a change of climate with caution. They brought the police and the police moved us out of the way while they diverted the river. …
After they managed to close off the river channel, all that was previously in the current was left on the beach bouncing around, fish of all kinds. … Immediately the company’s lawyer came, saying that the fish had died and that nothing had happened. … there was a big loss of fish life, so we have lodged a criminal lawsuit against the company for environmental crimes against the aquatic species, but we are still awaiting a response from the authority that has to decide if they will plead guilty or if they are going to be fined for this crime.