Panama tribe exiles its king over power plant deal
An indigenous Panamanian tribe has driven its king into exile over his approval of a £25m hydro-electric project in its jungle realm.
The Naso tribe, whose millennia-old royal inheritance system is recognised by the state, banished King Tito Santana for opening the kingdom to developers.
“Many of us are opposed to a king who, for us, is selling our society without any thought for tomorrow,” Eduardo Santana, a nephew of Tito, told Reuters. The project risked cultural and environmental harm, he said. “We are part of nature and if we do not look after it, who will?”
Accused of putting his own interests ahead of the 2,500-strong tribe, the king and several hundred followers fled the capital, Seiyik, a village of palm-thatched huts on stilts accessible only by canoe, to a settlement near the village of El Silencio.
The general assembly installed Tito’s uncle, Valentin Santana, as king. Police were deployed to prevent violence.
Approved in 2004, the effort to harness the River Bonyic is going ahead. Bulldozers have started clearing jungle to make way for roads and equipment. The government, which granted the tender to the Colombian firm Empresas Publicas de Medellin, is keen to boost Panama’s energy supply. It has sided with the ousted monarch and does not recognise Valentin.
King Tito, 40, who still wore his green parrot-feather crown and carried his ceremonial spear, said the development would bring jobs, education and infrastructure.
Speaking from his new settlement, he said: “I am thinking about an election. Let’s have the community decide whether I continue or not. If they want another king, then be my guest.”
Panama recognises the authority of tribes which resisted colonisation.