When the El Cercado dam opened in November 2010, its Colombian project managers trumpeted it as an engineering triumph built entirely with national know-how.
Moreover, the project was touted as a way to help combat the effects of recurrent droughts in La Guajira, a north-eastern region.
But for the Wiwa Indigenous Peoples native to the area’s Sierra de Santa Marta mountains, the dam’s arrival signalled a devastating change in their way of life accompanied by a series of serious human rights abuses.
From 2002 onwards, Wiwa communities living in and near the planned construction area suffered a consistent pattern of intimidation, destruction of homes, attacks against places of cultural significance and threats and killings of their spiritual and community leaders, carried out by the security forces operating in alliance with paramilitary forces. Guerrilla groups operating in the region were also responsible for killings and threats against members of the Wiwa population.
By the time construction on the dam began in 2006, many members of Wiwa Indigenous communities were forcibly displaced from their homes.