By Probe International

PRESS RELEASE: Compensation for EDC-financed dam falls short for Colombia’s indigenous communities

Grainne Ryder

August 2, 2000

Citizens’ groups, including Probe International, are pressing the dam’s international financiers – Canada’s Export Development Corporation (EDC) among them – to share responsibility for damages caused by the Urr I dam.


The Colombian government has agreed to compensate the Embera Katio indigenous people, after years of protest against the flooding of their lands by an EDC-financed dam on the Sinú river.

The Embera leaders signed a landmark agreement earlier this year with the dam’s builder, the Urrá S.A. Company, and the Colombian government, but, their struggle for reparations is not over.

“We are pleased that we came to an agreement, but this is just the beginning of the negotiations, since we did not get all we wanted,” said Kimy Pernia Domico, a spokesperson for the Embera-Katio communities, who live in the only tropical rainforest left on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

The agreement comes after a four-month protest by the Embera against the filling of the dam’s reservoir. In 1998, the Embera won an injunction before the Constitutional Court of Colombia for a temporary halt to the project pending proper consultation and an agreement for compensation. But the Urrá company ignored this injunction and began filling the reservoir last December.

The Embera’s protest drew world-wide attention and prompted citizens’ groups, including Probe International, to press the dam’s international financiers – Canada’s Export Development Corporation (EDC) among them – to share responsibility for the damages caused by the Urrá I dam.

For the Embera, the agreement represents a partial victory: The Urrá company has agreed to try and restore fisheries and livelihoods in the area and the government has pledged to drop plans for a second dam on the river – which would have flooded 74,000 hectares and displaced another 2,800 people.

And, perhaps for the first time ever, dam-affected peoples have reached an agreement with dam owners: Even as the reservoir is filling, the Urrá company has agreed to work out a plan for eventually dismantling the structure and restoring the river to its natural condition in co-operation with local communities, and at the company’s expense.

On the downside, the government only compensated the Embera for half the land they asked for – 12,880 hectares instead of 32,000 hectares – and awarded them less than half the cash settlement they had demanded. Downstream of the dam, where fish catches in the Sinú river have plummeted, the government has yet to provide any compensation to the estimated 60,000 people who have lost their fishing livelihoods since the dam was built.

The challenge now will be getting the government and the company to live up to their commitments. According to environmental and human rights activists working in Colombia, nothing has happened since the agreement was signed.

The EDC, a Canadian Crown corporation, helped finance the dam with a US$18.2-million loan for construction equipment and services provided by the Foundation Company of Canada.

The EDC, which lends money and provides insurance to Canadian companies doing business overseas, has been accused by environmentalists and social activists of overlooking potential environmental damages and human rights abuses.

In November, 1999, Embera leader Kimy Pernia Domico flew to Canada to testify along with a dozen Canadian activists before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which was conducting hearings into the EDC’s activities. So far, the Canadian government has not responded to Mr. Domico’s recommendations that Canada support the indigenous people of Colombia in their quest for fair compensation and an end to violence against the Embera-Katio.

Four Embera leaders have already been assassinated by paramilitary forces for opposing or challenging the Urrá I project.

In their negotiations with the Colombian government and the Urrá company, the Embera demanded public recognition that they had never been properly consulted. The Urrá company initially negotiated with a group of Embera who did not oppose the project, enabling them to obtain an environmental licence. But, under Colombian law, indigenous lands are communal and all land transactions must be handled collectively; the Embera opponents maintain that the government granted the project’s environmental licence illegally.

CONTACT: Patricia Adams, Executive Director, Probe International
(416) 964-9223 ext. 227 or

Gráinne Ryder, Policy Director, Probe International
(416) 964-9223 ext.228 or

For more details about EDC’s destructive activities overseas, go to

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