Northern Colombia hydroelectric dam spurs social unrest, farc attacks

The building of a large hydroelectric dam in the north of Colombia is being hindered by protests and ongoing attacks by guerrilla group FARC, local media reported Tuesday.

According to economic magazine Portafolio, hundreds of locals have mobilized to protest the building of the Hidroituango dam and are planning to hold an even larger manifestation on Monday to demand attention on what the called the absence of compensation for lost income.

Caracol Radio reported that some 7,000 people from around the town of Toledo in the north of the Antioquia department were displaced, allegedly forced into the protests by the FARC.

“What is happening here in the north of the department, speaking concretely of Ituango, is a movement that is being directed by the FARC, obstructing the carrying out of a project that is very important for the country,” a local police official told the radio station.

However, the protesters deny being forced to protest and say the police are intentionally trying to delegitimize their potests by linking the protesters to the FARC.

“The way they are counteracting the social protests is by accusations,” human rights NGO Europa-Estados Unidos-Colombia was quoted as saying by Portfolio.

According to the NGO, pamphlets have appeared in Toledo threatening locals with alleged ties to the FARC. “Moreover, hundreds of unknown men have arrived to the valley of Toledo who are threatening and intimidating the population.”.

At the same time, the construction of the $5.5 billion dam has become a frequent target for FARC attacks, whose 36th Front controls most of the coca growth in the region and gets additional income from illegal mining in and around the the river.

Earlier this month, two soldiers guarding the works were killed by guerrilla snipers, and Medellin-based energy company EPM told newspaper El Tiempo that “the guerrillas are attacking the equipment we work with and are blocking traffic in the zone.”

“They consider [the dam] a threat because the project brings a mobilization of institutions and resources to an area they historically owned,” conflict analyst Jorge Giraldo told the newspaper.

To further complicate matters for EPM, a judge recently suspended the companies outsourcing of labor because it was not respecting due process.

The police told Caracol authorities plan to build three army bases and one police station to strengthen the security forces’ presence and prevent further blocking of the works in Ituango.

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