NATIVO - Episode 3.

The Ngäbe and the fight for their land.


Throughout the American continent, from Mexico to Patagonia, voices have been raised against land exploitation perpetrated by large corporations. Social organizations and movements have organized in order to reject the advance of companies that have landed to spoil natural resources, using processes that displace indigenous populations and destroy the environment. This fate has been dramatically hitting the Ngäbe people in Panama since the 1980.

The Ngäbe are Panama’s largest indigenous ethnic group, made of around 300,000 people. Throughout the last 4 decades, they managed to obtain the recognition of their own autonomous district - the comarca Ngäbe-Buglé - by the Panamanian Constitution with the Law 10, approved on March 7th, 1997. The comarca is a self-governed area which has been given recognition as to the collectivity of land, their indigenous assemblies as a traditional body, the traditional authorities and their customs and traditions.

The delimitation of the comarca Ngäbe-Buglè in Norteño, Bocas del Toro.

Despite the powers that the law has casted upon the Ngäbes, since 2015 at least 37 hydroelectric projects have been recorded to be either at the design or construction stage, all of them affecting Panama’s most heavily-flowing rivers, home to the Ngäbe indigenous populations. “Before the company built the dam we were living freely in a spacious and safe area. Once the dam was built, we no longer could dedicate to hunting and farming they way we used to as we found ourselves confined to a much smaller and tighter area.” , shares Genaro Palacio.

The Chan I dam in Valle de Risco, Bocas del Toro.

The Hydroelectric station Chan 75 displaced 1,000 people and 180 Ngäbe families. “Out of the 6.6 hectares that we were given to rebuild our homes, there is not a single document that establishes that we are the owners of the land, or that can legally bind, defend and guarantee our life here.” says Genaro Palacio, one of the many Ngäbe affected by the construction of the dam, “That makes all the residents of Valle del Rey feel uncertain of what will happen in the near future. How are the future generations going to live, and defend themselves?”

Today, the number of uncompensated or under-compensated Ngäbe affected by Chan 75 is unknown.

The Palacio family, Valle del Rey, Bocas del Toro.

The Ngäbe culture lives next to nature and wouldn’t be the same without it for all the good that the nature provides. When mining caves of hydroelectric plants are built, this equilibrium collapses and their living is compromised.


To read the full story please visit the NATIVO website here.

Published 21/01/2019