Embera-Katio March to Bogota to Protest Flooding of Their Lands

November, 1999

The indigenous authorities, leaders and members of the Embera-Katío of the Upper Sinú River made an urgent call to stop the flooding of their land and culture and destrucction of their livelihood by the Urrá Dam. The Colombian government and the Urrá S.A. company initiated the filling of the reservoir and flooding of Embera-Katío territories on November 18 despite the fact that the Embera-Katío people has not been adequately consulted or given their consent. This action violates the Constitutional Court's suspension of the project until the Embera-Katío give their consent.

At present, 136 members of 26 Embera-Katio families have launched an indefinite occupation of a portion of the 470 hectares of their territory which will be flooded by the reservoir. The Embera-Katío are planning to remain on their lands and face the rising waters until their demands are met. Since the Urrá Dam was built, fish in the Upper Sinú river and its tributaries have virtually disappeared, robbing the Embera Katío river communities of the mainstay of their diet. Now, the Embera-Katío are suffering from diseases brought on by malnutrition and malaria , which increased because the standing water. Neither Urrá S.A. nor the government via the Ministries of the Interior, Environment, and Mining and Energy have been complying with relocation procedures according to international agreements ratified by Colombia.

Also, the construction of the Urrá Dam has caused serious impacts throughout the Sinú River basin. The dam has impacted fish populations, flooded plaintain fields and disrupted navigation. Fishermen and peasant communities downstream from the dam site have reported that river flow has diminished considerably, the Lorica wetlands area is drying out and fish are abandoning their breeding grounds. No agency of the government has taken any provision to avoid this impacts. About 60,000 families are threatened to lose the basic means of their subsistence. Although the communities have insisted on a mitigation plan with Urrá S.A., they have not reached any agreement.

Even worse, many families now are pressured by large landowners who want to take possession of indigenous lands. Also, the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) is threatening the Embera-Katío and fishermen communities.

In response, 170 Embera-Katío have initiated a 700-km march to Bogotá in order to focus national and international attention on their struggle to protect their rights to livelihood, self-determination, and sustainable management of their resources. They demand that the government immediately stop filling the reservoir and re-initiate negotiations.

Arriving in Bogotá, the Embera-Katío visited the Ministry for Environment on the 13th of December and remained there in order to press for an agreement based on their rights. But the Minister obviously was not prepared to receive the people because they were forced to leave the Ministry early on the 14th of December. They joined 35 representatives of fishermen and peasants from the Lower Sinú who are also suffering the damages of the hydroelectric project. In the following days, demonstrations and cultural events took place in the capital of Colombia.

Please send respectful letters in support of the Embera-Katío.


Dear :


We are writing to urge you to immediately stop the filling of the reservoir for the Urrá hydroelectric project. We are deeply concerned that the filling was initiated without the adequate consultation with or consent from the Embera- Katío, as ordered by the Constitutional Court, which ruled that the project be suspended until the Embera-Katío give their consent. The Embera-Katío have finished a 700-km march to Bogotá to attract awareness of the struggle for their livelihood. There is still time to start again with appropriate negotiations with the Embera-Katío on guarantees for their survival.

Several standards aimed at protecting indigenous peoples in Colombia support the position of the Embera-Katío. Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) guarantees indigenous rights with specific reference to a requirement of consultation and compensation in the case of projects, which displace indigenous peoples. The Constitutional Court of Colombia (T652/98) stated that the Urrá project was not to proceed without adequate consultation and an agreement with the Embera Katío. The Colombian Constitutional Court (T194/99) has been guaranteeing the rights of non-indigenous fishermen of the Ciénaga Grande de Lorica (ASPROCIG - Asociación de Productores de Ciénaga Grande de Lorica) in the Urrá project area.

Therefore, we respectfully urge you to immediately halt the filling of the reservoir for the Urrá hydroelectric project and the flooding of the Embera Katío territory. In particular there must be warranties for the indigenous families currently living in the Quebrada Cruz Grande, the Quebrada Nawa, Río Sinú and Río Verde areas, who will be most directly affected. Additionally, we feel it would be highly appropriate to immediately establish the consultation process with the Embera-Katío of the upper Sinú and, too, re-start the negotiations with the fishermen and peasants including all aspects of social and environmental management. In addition, the impacts of the upper and, mostly, in the lower section of the Sinú must be urgently resolved.

We urge you to take the necessary measures to ensure that the armed conflict in Colombia does not affect either the Embera-Katío or the fishermen and peasant communities in the area.




Please send letters to:

Dr. Andrés Pastrana
Presidente de la República de Colombia
Palacio de Nariño
Carrera 8, No 7-26,
Santafé de Bogotá
Fax: (571) 2867434 or 2866842 or 2842186

Dr. Juan Mayr Maldonado
Ministro del Medio Ambiente
Calle 37, No 8-40
Santafé de Bogotá
Fax: (571) 2889788 or 2889892

José Fernando Castro
Defensor del Pueblo
Calle 55, No 10-32
Santafé de Bogotá
Fax: (571) 2358799

Dr. Guillermo Fernández de Soto
Calle 10, No 5-51
Palacio de San Carlos
Santafé de Bogotá
Fax: (571) 3416777

Alfonso Gómez Méndez
Fiscal General de la Nación (Attorney General)
Diagonal 22B, No 52-01
Santafé de Bogotá
Fax: (571) 5702122

Dr. Alfredo Solano Berrio
Presidente Empresa Urrá S.A. E.S.P.
Carrera 3, No 68-70
Montería (Córdoba)
Fax: (571) 7850259


Please send copies to:








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