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The Association of People Affected by the Hydroelectric Project El Quimbo (ASOQUIMBO) of Colombia, peasants, human rights organizations and activists of the country and the world, celebrated the dismissal of one of the two criminal cases against two ASOQUIMBO leaders for opposing the building of a megadam on Magdalena River, in Huila, to the South West of Colombia. As a result of the resistance it was also possible to stop other dam and fracking projects as well.
On March 30th, a Colombian court dismissed the criminal proceedings filed against two ASOQUIMBO leaders, Elsa Ardila and Miller Dussán, prosecuted for their resistance against El Quimbo Hydroelectric Project, of Italian energy transnational corporation ENEL and its Colombian subsidiary, EMGESA.
In the case that was dismissed, Ardila and Dussán were charged for the "obstruction of public streets, affecting public order", for a series of social protests held in 2012. The sentence for said crime is up to four years in prison. The court accepted the arguments submitted by ASOQUIMBO´s lawyer, Germán Romero, who said that the people accused were exercising their constitutional right to peaceful protest.
The second legal process, which has not been solved yet, is the one accusing Miller Dussán of being the conceptual perpetrator and promoter of trespassing EMGESA facilities in 2013; the sentence for this crime is of up to 8 years in prison.
The solidarity campaign with the leaders aims at ENEL complying with its commitment of February 2017 to "drop any other outstanding lawsuit". Meanwhile, Dussán´s lawyers requested the Prosecutor´s office to dismiss the second charge filed against him, due to lack of arguments by the multinational company.
Real World Radio interviewed Miller Dussán, linguistics, literature and philosophy professor at Universidad Sur Colombiana and chair of ASOQUIMBO, an organization that has been fighting against this hydroelectric project for over ten years.
Dussán celebrated the solidarity of human rights and environmental organizations at international level because with their denunciations they managed ENEL to announce the dropping of lawsuits against the resistance of social leaders; at the same time, he highlighted the "solidarity of peasants and indigenous workers which has been decisive in the court´s decision".
Dussán considers that this judicial decision is somehow a confirmation of the criminalization of the protest, because the prosecutor´s office and judges recognized that the arguments of the defendants were valid and proved the lies of multinational company ENEL/EMGESA. "It has been proven once again that transnational companies, when they don´t have arguments, resort to systematic repression, the criminalization of social protests and murder of social and environmental leaders and human rights defenders around the world", he said. He added that ASOQUIMBO´s case is an example of what the social resistance and international solidarity can achieve, and it is an "indisputable proof of the way transnational corporations operate to ensure, amid territorial turmoil, their own businesses, even if they have to destroy communities, the environment, cultural heritage and at the same time, criminalize people".
"When you don´t bow down to them and keep the fight and the resistance, and you believe in communities and people, you achieve this, which for me is a great victory, because as an Italian newspaper stated, ASOQUIMBO brought ENEL down with its arguments and its capacity to resist, and the will to defend territories by all of us who participate in this process against multinational companies", he said proudly.
Dussán started his social struggle when he was 12 years old, and with his broad experience he states that in order to resist, permanent social mobilization and organization is key, which needs to be joined, also, by "local, regional, national and international coordination work. These strategies, used by ASOQUIMBO, became the best ones to confront transnational corporations and the communities understood that their defense against transnational companies is only possible with permanent social mobilization and organization. When the resistance weakens its social mobilization and organization, transnational companies come to beat them down, to destroy their work, so therefore it is necessary to be clear, and in this ASOQUIMBO is an example: these resistance processes are not circumstantial but permanent".
Projects in question
Dussán said that in November 11 and 12, 2016, there was a public environmental hearing and that the "conclusion was that all social, political, economic, religious actors, environmental and human rights organizations, all social actors, including those who in the past agreed with the El Quimbo hydroelectric project, signed and agreed with the need to suspend El Quimbo´s environmental license due to the economic, social, cultural and environmental damage", He added that the hearing also agreed on the fact that all studies conducted by ASOQUIMBO and institutions such as the General Accounting Bureau were valid and irrefutable. Dussán highlighted that, as a result of the hearing, an Environment, Water and Territory Table was created in Huila department, of which ASOQUIMBO is part, and stated that "no more dams will be allowed in Huila department, and neither will be fracking and open-pit mining projects. The resistance and dialogue processes with institutions are so important that currently all the Magdalena River privatization plans are at a standstill. The Magdalena River is the main river in Colombia, and seven dams were planned in Huila department. All small hydroelectric dams and fracking projects have been suspended in my department, and these are the outcomes of this resistance process", he said.
"We are waiting for the national authority on environmental licenses to make the legally required decisions on the results of the public environmental hearing where all parties requested its suspension", said Dussán. In addition, they are advocating for the State council to declare El Quimbo hydroelectric project null, since it was confirmed that the works were not adequately built and that there are significant chances of a disaster.
Dussán made reference to another issue as well. He said that "the government has always argued that the dam is necessary to ensure the country´s energy sustainability", but this is not true, and this was confirmed in the public environmental hearing. "Right now, my country is self-sufficient in terms of energy, we have a 50 per cent surplus of energy generated, and it was also confirmed that energy projects under development in the country do not aim to meet the needs of communities, but of extractive activities and for export and international needs", he added. He also said that "it is absolutely clear that these projects are carried out by transnational corporations because (governments) provide them with the best conditions for their investments", and he denounced that hydroelectric companies received 24 billion Colombian pesos to reestablish the energy infrastructure of the country in case of a national blackout caused by El Niño phenomenon, but that didn´t happen. ASOQUIMBO requested the National Accounting Bureau "to investigate where these 24 billion pesos charged in electricity bills to all Colombian people are, because this money was stolen by transnational corporations".
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