Anchicayá river’s community council, located in the department of Valle del Cauca in Colombia, is made of fourteen afro communities, descendants of the men and women whom five hundred years ago resisted against slavery and created the first settlements free from colonial oppression (palenques). Nowadays, these communities are examples of resistance and resilience, having faced for decades different forms of violence that have torn the communities and their territory. Located in the Pacific rainforest, their territory has been a warzone between guerrilla groups, paramilitary organizations and state army, causing assassinations and forced displacement of part of its population.

Furthermore, on July 21, 2001, the Hydroelectric Power Station of the Bajo Anchicayá, then operated by the Spanish company Unión Fenosa Distribución, now part of the Naturgy group, decided to open its floodgates to liberate 500’000 cubic metres of putrid sediments, that had been accumulated throughout 40 years of poor management, directly into the Anchicayá River. This provoked an avalanche of rotting mud that contaminated the river’s waters, causing diseases, exterminating the aquatic fauna, destroying the community’s crops and their only navigation route, the river. In the midst of this disaster, the Anchicayá River’s Black Community Council filed a class action in 2002.

Before it was easy to fish, you could put a basket in the river, leave it for hours and it would be full with fish. There was so much life in the river, you could even catch fish with your hands: tilapia, sábalo, jojorro, chuchulapa, guacuco, virginio, munchilla shrimp, blue crabs, jaibas, piacuil, and all the tiny mollusks women used to catch in between the roots of the mangroves. The Anchicayá river that used to be a source of life and subsistence for the communities of Anchicayá is now slowly agonizing, and with it all the people who depend on it to survive.

On September 7th of 2009, the Tribunal del Valle, in second instance, sentenced the spanish company Unión Fenosa Distribución, owner and responsible for the energy company of the Pacific – EPSA, to pay a 169 thousand million pesos fine (approximately 38 million euros) in regards to the social and environmental damages that the river and its inhabitants suffered in 2001. In 2015, the Full Chamber of the Constitutional Court confirmed this order through the unifying sentence SU 686 of 2015. However, the 169 thousand million pesos indemnization for the damages caused were never paid to the community: Unión Fenosa Distribución sold the operation of the Hydroelectric Power Station to Celsia, a company belonging to the ARGOS group, which, instead of paying the fine, challenged the ruling.

The sale of the Hydroelectric power station does not absolve the Spanish company’s responsibility, nor does it exempt the new owners from paying the compensation and implementing the compensatory measures.

Furthermore, the resolutions 809 of 2001 and 556 of 2002 delivered by Colombia’s Environmental Ministry have been ignored and the compensatory measures have not been delivered to the community and the Anchicayá River. Through the measures that were ordered, the company needs, amongst other things, to implement a fish repopulation program, a captive breeding project of native species, a food substitution program, and for the least three programs of farming technical assistance.

Today, and despite all that has occurred, the Hydroelectric Power Station of the Bajo Anchicayá is still being operated without a clear management plan and is clogged with sediments once again, and hence, the riverside families of the Anchicayá River live with the threat of a new avalanche of putrid sediments. The owners of the Hydroelectric Power Station of Bajo Anchicayá have changed but the damages caused in the past and the threat of a new disaster continue to be lived on a daily basis by the communities who live alongside the river.

The death of the River is the death of a People.

The case of the Anchicayá dam, like many other cases of extractivism in Colombia, has a complex judicial history resulting from the legal and illegal practices that are used by national and foreign companies that seek absolution from the prejudices and impacts caused by their projects to the territories and communities. The Human Conet Collective has recollected and organized some of the most important information in a chronology for better understanding of the who, when and how.