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The first popular consultation with reference to a hydroelectric project was held in Colombia on February 26. In Cabrera, Cundinamarca, the people used this citizen participation mechanism to defend peasant life, water and the environment against the threat of a hydroelectric project planned by Emgesa, which threatens a large part of the municipalities in Sumapaz Province.
In this consultation, 97.278 per cent of the inhabitants of Cabrera said no to the implementation of mining-hydroelectric projects, thus protecting their territory against this threat.
That same week, on February 28, the Municipal Councils of Timaná and Oporapa Huila unanimously approved, through municipal agreements, a ban against mining energy and hydrocarbon exploitation projects in their municipalities. These followed the example of the Pitalito Municipal Council, in that same department, which on December 5th, 2016, decided through a Municipal Agreement to ban the development of hydroelectric dams and large mining projects.
Municipal agreements were preceded by a long struggle by the anti-dam movement of Huila, with the participation of numerous organizations such as Asoquimbo, the Citizen Movement in Defense of the Territory, among other organizations from Huila which seek to stop the 17 hydroelectric dams that are planned to be built from the Colombian Massif to La Honda, and which are part of the Magdalena River Master Plan. They were also influenced by the Constitutional Court Ruling T-445/16 which ratified the powers of said institutions to limit and ban mining energy projects that harm the wellbeing of the citizens of their jurisdictions, as an autonomous body, and their competence to regulate land use and ensure environmental protection.
The building of hydroelectric projects causes huge environmental and social impacts: displacement, destruction of fish resources, modification of the natural river dynamics, flooding of fertile lands and destruction of traditional ways of living, among others, in addition to severe conflicts. However, hydroelectric projects are promoted as clean and renewable energy and they are present in the development and progress plans of this society. This is why it hasn´t been that easy to build a social movement that defends rivers and fights against dams.
Despite of it all, this situation has been changing little by little. To the municipal agreements and the popular consultation in Cabrera, we have to add the victories of the opponents to the hydroelectric projects led by the Rios Vivos Movement present in several Colombian departments, and the suspension of environmental licenses for projects Cañafisto (Antioquia) and Piedra del Sol (Santander).
The Piedra del Sol hydroelectric project, of Isagen company, subsidiary of Canadian Brookfield, proposed to be built in Guanentá province, Santander, would affect the Fonce River and have serious repercussions on the main economic activities of the region, nature tourism and agriculture, in a region with a strong water stress. The people of Santander, together with the Rios Vivos Movement fought a long struggle including mobilizations and important debates about the unviability of the project, the sacredness of water and the learnings after the negative experience with Hidrosogamoso.
Last January, the National Environmental License Authority (ANLA), in resolution 001 dated January 2nd, 2017, permanently denied the environmental license for the Cañafisto project, also owned by Isagen, located on the Cauca River, which would affect 16 municipalities in the south-west of Antioquia. ANLA´s decision responded to the appeal filed by the company to resolution 1291 of October 13, 2015, which declared the hydroelectric project inviable due to the serious effects on the Tropical Dry Rainforest.
All these cases show how much has been achieved by the anti-dam movement to deconstruct the positive notions about hydroelectric dams, but there is still much to do. The effects on the communities affected in their ways of living by projects such as El Quimbo, Hidrosogamoso and Hidroituango, to name a few of the dams built in the last decade, are still not recognized. And new projects on areas with a great landscape beauty, such as the Samaná River in Antioquia or areas of significance for water regulation and the worldview of the Coconuco indigenous people in Puracé continue to advance.
For all this, the Rios Vivos Movement is encouraging a deep discussion on the mining-energy model and is inviting people to participate in the 7th National Day in Defense of Territories and Against Dams, joining the actions of hundreds of groups around the world, in particular those of the Movement of People Affected by Dams in Latin America -MAR- of which it is part. In this way, March 14th, International Day of Action against Hydroelectric Dams and for Rivers was commemorated as a way to support the territorial struggles in defense of free rivers.
Imagen: CENSAT Agua Viva - Friends of the Earth Colombia
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