Canadian owned dam on the Sogamoso River in Colombia impacts human rights

Published by Brent Patterson on

When Colombian human rights defenders from the Luis Carlos Perez Lawyers’ Collective (CCALCP) and the Regional Corporation for the Defence of Human Rights (CREDHOS) were recently in Toronto they stopped at the office of Brookfield Assets Management.

That’s because in 2016 Brookfield bought a majority share in the Colombian power generation and distribution company Isagen.

Isagen owns five hydroelectric dams in Colombia, including the controversial Sogamoso Hydroelectric Dam which is located 30 kilometres west of Bucaramanga.

Construction on the 190-metre tall dam on the Sogamoso River began in February 2009 and it went into operation in December 2014.

Six opponents of the dam killed

In an article about controversial hydroelectric dam projects, EurActiv reported, “Examples include the Sogamoso dam in northern Colombia, where, between 2009 and 2014, six activists have been killed and many more disappeared without a trace.”

Miguel Pabón disappeared

In November 2012, International Rivers posted, “Miguel Pabón, a community leader and ardent defender of the Sogamoso River has gone missing in the region of Santander, Colombia.”

“He is a dedicated and distinguished environmentalist, and tireless defender of the Sogamoso River and of the communities of fishermen and farmers that depend on it.”

“[He has fought] alongside the community for housing rights of those displaced by the Hidrosogamoso Dam in the region of Magdalena Medio.”

The article also notes, “He has continued to speak out against the social, cultural and environmental impacts of the dam, as well as the violation of the rights of communities by ISAGEN, the company responsible for the project.”

Impact on fishing communities

Vanguardia has reported that there was once an abundance of fish downstream of the dam in the community of Betulia, Santander.

That article notes, “But today, the pollution of the river, its low oxygen levels and the ‘shortages’ of the best specimens that are trapped in the upper part of the dam, are fishermen and their families, who find no way to solve the crisis.”

It adds, “This, not to mention that the cassava, banana and corn crops were turned into marshlands before the constant floods generated by the opening of the floodgates by Isagen.”

Fish deaths in Barrancabermeja

In March of this year, El Espectador published an article titled Community denounces fish and bird deaths in Barrancabermeja.

That article notes, “The fishermen of the San Silvestre spout, in Santander, denounce that since the middle of February there is a fish mortality in the place. According to them, this emergency is due to the fact that Isagen, a company in charge of the Sogamoso dam, opened the floodgates to feed the river that bears the same name.”

Lawsuit over Bucaramanga-Barrancabermeja road

In May, Vanguardia reported that a lawsuit against Isagen was admitted by the Administrative Court of Santander.

The article notes, “It argues the breach of the inter-administrative agreement 077 of 2011 signed with the National Roads Institute, Invías, for the construction of a replacement route 11.5 kilometers long, between Bucaramanga and Barrancabermeja, replacing the national road that was affected by the construction of the Hidrosogamoso reservoir.”

Hearings on November 21, December 6

And on November 1, El Tiempo reported, “On November 21 and December 6, the National Environmental Licensing Authority (ANLA) will hold an informational meeting and an Environmental Public Hearing respectively with the communities, the Canadian company Isagén and civil authorities, to analyze the request for modification of the environmental license granted to the Sogamoso Hydroelectric Project, owned by the power generator.”

The modification appears to involve a plan to release 2.7 hectares of the protected area of the Topocoro reservoir in order to build a port.

The president of Cortopocoro said that people affected by Hidrosogamoso will present evidence at the hearing of the breaches and damages they have experienced such as “the movement of wild animals, the closing of the roads, the prohibition of access to water, the impediment to the development of tourism and the damage to crops.”

Dams and human rights

International Rivers has stated that an estimated 400-800 million people globally fall into the category of dam-affected people.

It highlights, “In response to the massive human rights problems and environmental impacts of large dams, affected people and supporting local and international organizations have joined together to fight for change in how and whether dams are planned, designed and built. This movement includes thousands of environmental, human rights, and social activist groups around the world.”

Further reading: CCALCP helped stop Toronto-based Brookfield Asset ‘Piedra del Sol’ hydroelectric project in Colombia

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