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Miller Dussan

Miller Dussán

HRD, President
Open Democracy - Article

The practices of an Italian multinational in Huila, Colombia, exemplify how the criminalization of activists is increasingly used to end dissent and real democratic participation in Latin America.

True wisdom comes when we are transforming the world.

Miller Dussán is a community leader, professor at the Universidad Sur Colombiana and President of ASOQUIMBO (Association of Those Affected by the Quimbo dam). The organisation is a collective of farmers, fisherfolk, academics, labourers and local families, who since 2009 have been resisting the Quimbo dam through peaceful protests, blockades, campaigns, and advocacy actions.

El Quimbo is a dam built on the Magdalena river in the Department of Huila, in southern Colombia, which is operated by EMGESA, a local subsidiary of the Italian multinational energy company ENEL. During the planning phase of the project, the local community was not adequately consulted. According to Elsa Ardilla, former president of ASOQUIMBO, "consultation processes were a mere formality, as the company and the government didn't take the opinion of local communities into account". Because of the dam, nearly 1,500 people were evicted from their lands and resettled far away from the river. Many farmers and fisherpeople lost their livelihoods, and did not receive adequate compensation. Additionally, EMGESA failed to conduct a transparent environmental assessment before starting the project and did not respect some of its commitments to protect the environment. According to the organisation Democracy Centre, "Emgesa's failure to comply with regulations to remove biomass from within the reservoir has turned it into a methane time bomb as a result of rotting vegetation".

a mural in La Jagua, Huila, one of the municipalities most affected by the El Quimbo dam project on Colombia’s River MagdalenaCredit: International Rivers

HRDs in Colombia work in a violent and unsafe environment. They are subjected to threats, intimidation, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, physical assaults, torture, killings, illegal searches of their homes and offices and stigmatisation as a result of their activities in defence of human rights. The perpetrators of these abuses are frequently paramilitary groups, many of whom have links to the government or security services, or armed opposition groups. The continued frequent and severe threats and attacks against HRDs around the country contradict government claims of paramilitary demobilisation.

HRDs at risk in Colombia come from a broad range of different backgrounds, including: trade unionists, indigenous leaders, afro-colombian leaders, activists working with internally displaced persons and on land issues, women's rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, students and youth activists, church workers, LGBTI and HIV activists.


Mensaje de Miller Dussan Calderon