Action Alert: Leader of Sogamoso River Defense in Colombia Disappeared

Source: Climate Connections

Note: From our colleague Diego at Censat (Friends of the Earth Colombia):

We write to request your support in a painful situation in Colombia, the disappearance of a leader of the communities affected by dams.  Below is a description of what happened. Please send a letter to authorities demanding the corresponding action by clicking here (the action alert is in Spanish).

Miguel Ángel Pabón Pabón, 36 years old, father of two girls, has been a dedicated and prominent environmentalist and defender of the Sogamoso River and the local fishing and farming communities. Since 2007, he has lived in the Asentamiento El Peaje (Toll Area Settlement) of the Betulia town, near the construction works of the Hidrosogamoso dam, where he began his struggle alongside the community for Housing Rights of Internal Refugees in the region of Magdalena Medio. He has constantly denounced the social, cultural and environmental impacts, and the violation of human rights of communities living nearby the Company Isagen, constructor of this hydroelectric dam. Since 2008, together with other leaders in the region, the Social Movement for the Defense of the Sogamoso River was formed, allowing communities to become aware of the dire consequences of this hydropower construction project. He has participated in demonstrations against the Company Isagen, denouncing the environmental and social suffering of farmer and fisherfolk communities, and the appalling labour conditions of the workers who are building this hydropower dam.

He participated in two public hearings on the Hidrosogamoso project, cited by the Departmental Assembly of Santander, where he was a spokesman for the communities. He participated prominently in the Civic Strike against Isagen held from the 14th – 16th of March, 2011 which was in held in the construction area of Hidrosogamoso. This brave action by Miguel Pabón and the affected communities urged Isagen, as the company in charge of the mega project, to sit down at a negotiating table where a 17-point agreement was reached and whose fulfillment is still being awaited by the entire community.

Miguel Angel Pabón Pabón participated in the creation, in 2011, of the Colombian Movement in Defense of Land and People Affected by Dams “Ríos Vivos” (Living Rivers). He has traveled to other affected regions of Colombia where there are hydroelectric dams; to experience the impacts of Asoquimbo in the department of Huila, where the Spanish company Endesa is building a hydroelectric dam and learn of the resistance of peasants, fisherfolk and miners to the construction of the hydroelectric Pescadero – Ituango, being built by the company EPM.

Miguel, with his tireless struggle for the Right to Housing in 2011, accompanied the Vereda Vizcaina Baja, sector Lizama II, municipality of San Vicente and helped create the Settlement “The Acacios” with the Legal Act 455 of 2012, and which is made up of some 300 families from displaced communities affected by heavy flooding in the region of Rio Sogamoso and displaced indigenous communities from the Colombian Pacific. There, he achieved the electricity supply for this human settlement and has also made efforts to achieve the implementation of a Community Aqueduct.

Miguel Angel Pabón Pabón was last seen on the evening of Wednesday October 31, 2012, while he was informing the community about an ecological and fumigation brigade, due to the recent outbreak of dengue. Since this day he remains disappeared. Members of the settlements, farmers and fisherfolk throughout the region who knew Miguel, have created brigades that have searched for him in the surrounding areas, including the municipalities of Sabana de Torres, San Vicente, Betulia and Barrancabermeja.

Unfortunately this is not the first time tragedy has befallen the members and leaders who defend the rights of communities in this region. In 2012, according to the Peace Observatory, 11 people are missing, of which 6 have been found dead. Since 2009, in this region of Sogamoso River, social leaders have been killed, and to this day all these crimes remain impugn. These are some of the cases:

–        Murder of LUIS ARANGO, President of the Association of the Fisherfolk of the ciénaga El Llanito (wetland). (February 12, 2009)

–       Assassination of EVER CARDENAS, President of the Association of Areneros (excavators of sand) of the Sogamoso River. (May 15, 2009)

–        Assassination of MARCO TULIO SALAMANCA, Chairman of the Community Action Vereda of Marta. (September 3, 2009)

–       Assassination of HONORIO LLORENTE. President of the Community Board of Action Puente Sogamoso central township, municipality of Puerto Wilches (October 17, 2009)

Assassination of CARO JAIRO RODRIGUEZ, member and community leader in Marta. (April 13, 2011).

We fervently demand that the Magdalena Police force, Attorney General’s Office, Ombudsman, Personería of the municipality of San Vicente, Regional Office and other publicly controlled entities activate urgent mechanisms in order to prevent further tragedies and to ensure that Miguel Angel Pabón Pabón can return safe and sound to his family and local community.

Bucaramanga, November 8, 2012.