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AFFECTED COMMUNITIES IN SANTANDER PROTEST AGAINST ISAGEN
Original source: Otros Mundos Colombia
(Translated by Elaine Fuller, a CSN Volunteer Translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, a CSN Volunteer Editor.) "The president says that by loving the poor you will persist in multiplying them." Woman affected by Hidrosogamoso This past Monday, August 26, more than 200 people affected by the hydroelectric project, Hidrosogamoso, mobilized in a peaceful march along the route that connects Bucaramanga and Barrancabermeja; their slogan: Defend the Sogamoso River, invaluable to all citizens of Santander. This protest took place between two and six o'clock in the afternoon from the bridge of La Paz, where construction of the Tora wall looms, to the camp of workers known as El Cedral, passing by the villages of La Playa, Tienda Nueva and El Peaje where more demonstrators joined in. Beneath the sun marched children, women, farmers, fishermen and those living in the general region. They not only expressed indignation and rejection of the project but also the requirements and proposals for a good life along the banks of the Sogamoso River. The march, organized by the Social Movement for Defense of the Sogamoso River (El Movimiento Social por la Defensa del Rio Sogomoso) and the Living Rivers Movement (Movimiento Rios Vivos) had various demands, among them that ISAGEN comply with the 17 agreements that were signed between the enterprise and the community on March 16. On this point, they denounced several recent irregularities; for example, ISAGEN has sent out several officials who do not have authority to make decisions and at the last meeting they were infiltrated by an agent of the police, who illegally took photographs and made recordings of the leaders of Sogamoso, an action that has made those people known to the Fiscalía (Prosecutor General's Office). One of the affected women from Casa de Barro spoke out in indignation demanding that meetings should take place where the people live and the problems can be observed, not in a distant government building or city hall that people don't have the resources to get to and don't feel like talking about problems that can't be seen. Marchers also demanded fulfillment of obligations assumed by associated entities and organizations at the negotiating table on March 16 including the government of the Department of Santander, the PDPMM, the procuraduría (the government's internal affairs agency responsible for investigating reports of crimes by government employees), the Defensoría del Pueblo (Peoples' Defender's office), the Departmental Assembly and the Diocese of Barrancabermeja. On the other hand, as is characteristic of those who construct dams – promising much and doing little – there has been no work toward expanding the aqueduct of the Casa de Barro community promised by ISAGEN, in spite of the fact that this area is the most affected with water contamination produced by dam activities. During the march they denounced the fact that several adults are sick from the consumption of contaminated water that also seriously affects the health of children. It is urgent that the Ministry inspects the fulfillment of preventive measures covered by the Environmental License, or demands the suspension of dam operations. The marchers also communicated to neighborhood people and workers of the dam enterprise that ISAGEN's advertisement that everything is in order and that it will improve the environment has proven false on both counts: on May 19, this same Ministry of the Environment in an official statement numbered 2000-232169, denied the designation of Mecanismo de Desarrollo Limpio (Clean Development Facility) to the Hidrosogamoso Project with the arguments that this business does not posses all the licenses and legal permits that such a project requires, that it has not gotten the necessary permits for the exploitation of renewable natural resources, has not consulted or even socialized with the communities in order to communicate changes that have afflicted the project and led to modification of the environmental license. "From the beginning of the project, the social movement for the defense of the Sogamoso River has demonstrated that the dam is a crime against nature." At the entrance to El Cedral, a security guard for ISAGEN (or one of its subcontractors) who was accompanying and filming the march was publically expelled. The community demonstrated its outright rejection of this action by the company given that, on other occasions, people who protested have been dismissed from their jobs without cause. This is what happened with the six workers who were arbitrarily dismissed on September 9 after protesting for better working conditions in the cement plant. This action goes against the constitutional right of free expression and association. As can be seen, Hidrosogamoso moves forward under diverse irregularities and does not have the approval of people in the region. The means of survival in the region have been infringed – fishing, for example, is an activity that now doesn't allow for survival as the waters of the river have been contaminated; they are never clear and until now, the communities have had no reply from the enterprise ISAGEN nor from the State. It is important to emphasize that these communities don't protest or march in order to get jobs at the dam works as many have suggested; they struggle and protest because that want to continue living in the region with the right to continue being fishermen and farmers. It is this that links diverse communities of the living rivers who do not aspire to the alleged development that the dams bring, development that only increases the bank accounts of a few at the cost of the lives and well being of entire communities. Caption under picture: Sales of fish in La Playa that are found in river sediment because there are no fish to sell nor people to buy with so much sediment churned up by the dam.
Do not dam life: long live the Sogamoso River!
Water for life, not death
Water and energy are not commodities
(This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, and translator are cited.)
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