Despite warning signs, Canada’s EDC helped build this Colombian dam. Then disaster struck

Colombia’s $5-billion Hidroituango dam was funded in part by Export Development Canada, a Crown corporation that promotes Canada’s trade interests abroad.

Photography by Nadège Mazars/The Globe and Mail

Luz Elena Gutierrez’s small concrete house looks out over flowering trees and the roofs of her neighbours, down to the rushing caramel-coloured water of the Cauca River and the forested mountain on the other side. She can see the green-tiled front of Our Lady of Mercy, the main church in Puerto Valdivia, and on Sundays, sitting in a plastic chair on the porch, she can watch the slow lines of campesinos coming down the hillsides on mules loaded with burlap sacks of coffee beans – headed into town to unload their harvest, make some purchases, have a few beers in one of five cantinas on the short main street.

The steep pitch of Ms. Gutierrez’s plot of land offers her more than just a view. Last May, it afforded her protection when the river surged over its banks and demolished a chunk of the town.

Her house was unscathed, but most of her neighbours were not so lucky, and to reach her front door today, she has to pass a dozen abandoned dwellings and pick her way through heaps of detritus – mouldy mattresses, shattered wooden dressers, papers dried stiff in the sun and a pair of children’s silver sandals. But after nearly a year out of the house, she moved home not long ago with her two teenage children, fed up with shifting between temporary locations.

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“It’s strange here now,” she says. “It’s so quiet.” More than a year after the flood, there has been no cleanup effort and most of the homes in this part of town, nearest the river, bear a stern red sticker saying “no retorno” – you can’t come back – on their crumpled doorways.

Thirty-eight kilometres upstream from Ms. Gutierrez’s house, the Cauca River is bisected by a giant concrete dam. It is the showpiece of the most venerable…

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