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For Immediate Release, April 29, 2011

Contact:  Peter Galvin, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 907-1533
James Cavallaro, International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, (617) 669-8606

Activists Confront AES Over Damaging Dam Project, Broken Promises in Panama

Corporation Admits to Shareholders It Must Comply With Commitments to Help Affected Communities

ARLINGTON, Va.— Human-rights, conservation and community activists confronted the AES Corporation at its annual shareholders’ meeting April 21 about a massive river-dam project in Panama and the company’s failure to negotiate with local families whose farms will be flooded and destroyed. Later, CEO Paul Hanrahan assured shareholders the company will build community centers for all communities, including Guayabal, affected by the Changuinola River dam project known as Chan 75.

The dam and reservoir project is one of three hydroelectric dam and reservoir projects planned for construction by Virginia-based AES Corporation on the pristine Changuinola River in western Panama near the Costa Rica border. The river is the lifeblood of La Amistad International Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The project will flood thousands of acres of land and destroy the homes of hundreds of Ngöbe indigenous people, creating insurmountable barriers for fish species that the tribes rely on.

At last Thursday’s annual shareholders’ meeting, affected community member Bernardino Morales, the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic at the Harvard Law School, and the Center for Biological Diversity challenged AES leaders about the company’s refusal to live up to its commitments to compensate affected community members and build community centers.

“This commitment to build a Guayabal community center is important, and we are confident that AES will follow through,” said Prof. James Cavallaro of the Human Rights Clinic. “There is still a lot that AES must do. To date, the company has failed to compensate all flood victims, build a promised resettlement community and comply fully with Panamanian environmental regulations.”

“This is an environmentally disastrous project that never should have been constructed,” said Peter Galvin, conservation director at the Center. “Given the massive environmental and social impacts of the Chan 75 project, AES has a legal and moral duty to compensate the families and communities being flooded out of their lands. We will continue the fight with our Panamanian allies to block construction of the second and third dam and reservoir projects proposed by AES on the Changuinola River.”

Since its inception, the project been marked by allegations of violence, manipulation and bad faith on the part of AES and its subcontractors.

At the shareholders’ meeting, Morales and representatives from the Human Rights Clinic and the Center spoke and distributed documents that shared concerns about AES.

“I have long opposed the project that will flood the land of my mother and my family, but since it is now inevitable, I decided to negotiate,” Morales told shareholders and executives. “I don’t understand why the company refuses to sit down with me.”

Specifically, to date, AES:

  • Has not compensated all affected members of the Ngöbe community. After entering into negotiations with these community members, AES in Panama refused to communicate with their lawyers and was proceeding to flood their lands and destroy their homes without compensation. At the shareholder meeting, AES executives publicly promised to negotiate with these community members.
  • Agents in Panama have backtracked from their repeated promises to build a resettlement community for each affected indigenous community. Confronted with the company’s promise to construct a community center for Guayabal, one of the four directly affected communities, AES CEO Paul Hanrahan promised to fulfill AES’s commitment to build a community center.

Shareholders and investors expressed interest in, and concern about, these failures. They were particularly concerned that AES’s actions directly contradict its own description as a “socially responsible” company that maintains “strict adherence [to and] respect for the integrity and human rights of persons who currently reside in areas surrounding the project.”

The Human Rights Clinic and the Center intend to make sure AES lives up to its public commitment to “comply with [its] promises in Panama” and reach fair agreements with remaining landowners affected by Chan 75.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The International Human Rights Clinic of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School is a center for active engagement in human rights within a context of critical reflection. The Clinic represents individuals and communities in situations of potential or actual rights abuse on a pro bono basis.

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