In May 2016 the reservoir of Barro Blanco Dam, in western Panama, was filled for the first time as a “test.” Considered an illegal act by the indigenous Ngäbe Bugle people, the flooding followed over 20 years of rulings, negotiation, government and corporate corruption, coercion, and human rights violations, protests, and some deaths. This continues. Inundated were forest and farm lands and village dwellings.
The rising waters also swallowed sacred petroglyphs on boulders of the Tabasará River. The annual ceremony in early 2016 was last in the presence of the now inundated petroglyphs.
The report of the registered archaeologist hired by GENISA the company identified only one “disturbed" site in the project area and neglected mentioning the petroglyphs. GENISA, a family-owned corporation, was formed in 2006 to build the Barro Blanco dam. Project funding comes from two European development (investment) banks in the Netherlands and in Germany.
This disturbing situation took a bizarre turn in early Spring 2017. Water levels in the reservoir unexpectedly receded. The petroglyphs remain buried under debris and sediment up to 5 meters deep. It appears GENISA drained for testing, then by early April completely filled the Barro Blanco reservoir.
Petroglyphs always mark a specific place with cultural moment. Yet as emblematic figures they continue witnessing cycling realms of change. As motif, symbol, and artifact, the stone abides, signaling desire, hope, and pain. Why ask what does a petroglyph mean? Rather: How does a petroglyph mean in the longue durée of the Earth’s endeavor?
Underwater: Barro Blanco Displaces Three Ngäbe Bugle Communities in Panama. Jonathan González Quiel. In Cultural Survival, Dec 2016.
http://chiriquinatural.blogspot.com/ See posts: June 9 2017 and January 20 2017.
Beatriz Felipe Pérez et. al., 2016. Rethinking the Role of Development Banks in Climate Finance: Panama’s Barro Blanco CDM Project and Human Rights. 12/1 Law, Environment and Development Journal. 1-17. PDF http://www.lead-journal.org/content/16001.pdf Highly Recommended.
Sara E Bivin Ford. 2015. The Ngäbe-Buglé Fight to Maintain Territorial Sovereignty.
Evans, Katharine. 2015. Tabasará Libre: A Case Study of Carbon Colonialism in Panama's Barro Blanco Hydroelectric Project. PDF http://wesscholar.wesleyan.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2523&context=etd_hon_theses
Evans, Katharine. 2014. Tabasará Libre: A Case Study of Development and Indigenous Rights. PDF http://digitalcollections.sit.edu/isp_collection/1875/
Barro Blanco Dam is one of 30 planned hydropower plants in Panama. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barro_Blanco_Dam
Two photos below, for links to sources, see images in Album
Petroglyph boulder in Tabasará River 2015.
Last annual ceremony of the Ngäbe Bugle people with the sacred petroglyphs 2016.