Colombia: The Movement against the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project Deepens its Resistance

While the Colombian government’s armed assault against the affected populations of the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project have ceased, the movement against the dam has not dried out. If anything the very River and Earth that the Huilenses have struggled so hard to defend and care for has given support and time to the humans as they strategize and prepare to intensify their struggle for the Guacahayo-Yuma-Magalena river and territory.

While Emgesa, the company responsible for the Quimbo, held a press conference on March 3rd claiming they had successfully diverted the river, campesinos, fisherpeople and local residents had confrontations with riot police and a group of 90 temporarily occupied the construction site. All that the company really accomplished was the removing of the last wall of sediment for the river to fill the tunnels where the main flow was to be diverted. Since then, in what can be perceived as an act of natural rebellion, the river refused to be diverted,  instead damaging retention walls and struggling to maintain its principal flow. On multiple occasions throughout March, the river has continued to resist being diverted and has done everything in its power to maintain its natural flow.

In the days following the attempted diverting President Santos denounced Asoquimbo and attempted to delegitimize the organization by saying it was infiltrated by guerrillas. Nonetheless, the world has continued to show an out pouring of support. Solidarity actions that had started prior to the attempted diverting continued for nearly two weeks after the date. Mobilizations were held on March 3rd in Colombian and in Spain in conjunction with the Day of the Victims of Crimes of the State (MOVICE), while on March 6th Colombian solidarity activists held actions in Italy and in Washington DC flooding the cities’ respective Colombian Embassies.

From March 12th-14th in Medellin members of Asoquimbo and other Colombian organizations struggling against dams and rivers being diverted in their territories held the first national of the Movement Ríos Vivos of Colombia which concluded with marches all over the country for the International Day Against Dams and For Rivers and Life. The Ríos Vivos Gathering declaration created by the communities and organizations from the Guacahayo-Yuma (Magdalena), Cauca, Ovejas, Sogamoso, Anchicayá, Salvajina, Guarinó, Sumapaz, Guatapé, and Cocorná Rivers vows to continue the struggle for the rivers, the territory and for life and to fight to de rail the energy-mining “locomotive” of the Santos administration.

Following these mobilizations President Santos made declarations that more protests against the Quimbo would not be tolerated and that he would make sure that Emgesa would follow through with the environmental and social conditions they are required to meet according to the environmental license but that the suspension of the project was not an option.

On March 22nd, International Water Day, spiritual and cultural actions were held all over Colombia and Abya Yala (the American Continent) for the well being of water and for regions facing threats to rivers and other natural bodies of water. The day’s actions had a focus against dams. Following these more public global actions, locally Asoquimbo held a public forum in the Huila Departmental Assembly in Neiva with the presence of Governor Cielo Gonzalez and Ministry of the Environment Frank Pearl who attempted to co-opt the space and were firm in their stance that the projects could not be suspended. Regardless, Asoquimbo leading all the regional organizations that have resisted the Dam renewed their commitment to continue fighting the dam.

While traveling through Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia as part of the Ventura tour, the band Manu Chau invited activists from indigenous, environmental and anti-mining movements to share about their struggles on stage during the concerts. In his Cali concert on March 30th a leader from the Community Council of La Toma, Cauca took the stage denouncing the Quimbo Dam and Emgesa in Huila and the gold mining company Anglo Gold Ashanti that has been threatening and attacking the Afro Colombian inhabitants of La Toma and Suarez, Cauca for years.

On April 1st, members of Asoquimbo with the Regional Indigenous Council of Huila and Cauca (CRIHU & CRIC respectively), the organization Com-unidad, the Civic Movement of La Plata, the Conscientious Objectors of Neiva, the Cultural and Environmental Association of the South and other groups met to form the unified Movement for the Defense and Liberation of Mother Earth. The new movement has vowed to continue fighting in defense of Mother Earth, the territory, rivers and self determination of the indigenous and campesino communities. Asoquimbo who has maintained its stance for the last four years that the Quimbo and other large hydro electric dams are not development for local populations nor are they safe or environmentally friendly energy, continues to demand that the communities of central Huila have their territory be designated as a Agro-Nutritional Campesino Reserve.

Nearly two weeks later a massive die off of over 2,000 fish from 23 different species was reported by local fisherman to the Regional Autonomous Environmental Corporation (CAM). This is believed to be a result of the faulty building of a containment pond by Emgesa where the fish were trapped and died when the pond dried. Then on April 12th in a sudden and unexpected about-face the Departmental Assembly of Huila came forth backing the demands of Asoquimbo, with President of the Assembly Sergio Younes formally requesting the Ministry of Environment to suspend immediately that the environmental licenses for the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project and the oil company Emerald Energy PLC and that public and transparent environmental assemblies be held with full participation from the affected communities to determine the social, economic and environmental viability of these two projects.

The struggle for the Guacahayo-Yuma-Magalena River and all the territories that share it is far from over. As Emgesa continues to find new strategies to insure its profit and the Colombian government does what it needs to do to ensure “foreign investor confidence” the communities of Huila and elsewhere continue to tirelessly weave their resistance, strengthening the defense and ensuring the liberation of our Mother Mijina – Pachamama – Earth.