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Wesleyan University

Publication Date

Spring 2007

Program Name

Panama: Development and Conservation


This report analyzes the anticipated social impacts of a hydroelectric project, titled “Chan-75,” in the surrounding communities. The project is located in the Bosque Protector de Palo Seco (BPPS) protected area along the Changuinola River. The flooding of 750 ha to create a reservoir for the dam will require the resettlement of roughly 1,000 residents of at least four indigenous Ngöbe Buglé communities including Valle del Rey, Charco la Pava, Changuinola Arriba, and Guayabal, in addition to the submersion of thousands of ha of farmland belonging to residents of nearby communities (Cordero et al). Once completed, the dam will generate 223 MW with a planned operational period of 50 years (Espino). In this study I examine perceptions of past and present dynamics between the project’s promoter (currently AES Changuinola, and referred to as “AES”) and local residents, anticipated social impacts, and potential mitigation measures. I arrive at my conclusions by interviewing 54 residents of 5 different communities, whom either inhabit or possess property within the area affected directly by the project. I also conduct interviews with local leaders, government officials, and other relevant figures. The residents interviewed suggested that the project will have profound and lasting social implications for the resettled populations, as well as the neighboring communities, where many of those displaced may relocate. While some residents identified the potential of the project to facilitate social development in the rural area, the Promoter’s perceived apathy towards the sentiments of the affected communities, perceived ambiguity and deception surrounding the project’s implementation, and delayed delivery of promised benefits, has compounded widespread distrust and disapproval of the project among those living within the project’s area of influence. Residents also voiced confusion regarding resettlement requirements, as AES has promised resettlement within the same general area occupied currently; however, such a plan violates a National Authority of the Environment (ANAM) resolution prohibiting resettlement within the protected area. Anticipated social impacts include: a short term employment boom; long term unemployment; accelerated migration due to resettlement of communities and the installation of roads; diminished security for future generations due to the loss of unrestricted fertile farmland; crowding of communities serving as resettlement centers; sickness due to an influx of foreign labor and facilitated by the reservoir’s function as artificial habitat for mosquitoes and other disease vectors; poverty as a result of inadequate compensation for lost land coupled with the population’s insufficient experience with long-term financial investments; conflicts over land use and ownership; reduced confidence in the national government to represent the interests of its constituents; solidification of local and traditional structures of authority to confront issues associated with the hydroelectric project; investment in education, infrastructure, and social development by the project’s promoter; and the emergence of a tourism sector that may provide jobs and a market for locally manufactured goods. Several of the social implications may be mitigated or avoided entirely if appropriate measures are implemented. While the Promoter has proposed various mitigation strategies, the project’s preliminary status has not yet mandated their execution. Furthermore, as the Promoter has yet to submit its plan for resettlement, analysis of proposed mitigation measures proves especially challenging. AES has already initiated community capacitation courses and educational seminars, donated clothing, provided scholarships, and purchased certain residents’ farmland. However, residents describe such measures as inadequate, and propose guaranteed employment within the company, subsidy and pension programs for the duration of the project, high quality housing, relocation inside BPPS, guaranteed scholarships for their children, investments in new and existing local schools, motor boats to permit transport across the reservoir, electricity, funding for health centers, and public telephones in the relocated communities. Furthermore, they demand signed, legal documents guaranteeing the benefits they are to receive.


Civil Engineering | Oil, Gas, and Energy



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