Chixoy Dam – thirty year wait

On May 14th, 1982, Carmen Sanchez Chen left her three-year-old son Manuel with a neighbour as she went to bathe in the Chixoy River, never to see him alive again. Thirty years later she buried him.

James Rodríguez (MiMundo) has chronicled the moving event and can see it here.

“On January 1976, General Kjell Laugerud, former President of Guatemala, signed the first loan accord with the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) for the construction of the Pueblo Viejo-Quixal hydroelectric plant. To be inaugurated in 1983, the project proposed flooding 31 miles (or 50 kilometers) of the Chixoy River basin and much of its valley, therefore permanently disappearing 23 villages, 45 archaeological sites, and numerous crop areas.

With a rough population of 800 people in 1982, Rio Negro was one of the 23 villages to be flooded out. As local leaders clearly stated the community’s refusal to relocate, the Guatemalan military tagged them as subversives – a death sentence that served as warning for neighboring communities.

By the end of 1982, over half of the population of Rio Negro had been killed in five different massacres carried out by the Army and Civil Patrolmen. The Chixoy hydroelectric project was completed in November 1983”.

More background from GHRC.

“This year, on 28th May, over 1,000 men and women from the communities of Rio Negro left their homes. Travelling on dirt roads, over rocky mountain passes, and up a rain-swollen river they gathered at the resettlement village of Pacux. At 2 am the following morning, they boarded dozens of buses bound for Guatemala City. Six hours later, drawing on strength born of righteous indignation, they began their protest in front of the office of President Otto Perez Molina. They vowed to sleep in the streets, if necessary, until the President heard their message.

A reparations plan for communities affected by the dam was signed by the Guatemalan government in 2010, but never implemented. After years of inaction, concerns for the victims of the Chixoy massacres and forced evictions were raised by the US Congress in the 2014 Appropriations Bill. The law bars the Guatemalan army from receiving funding until the US Department of State certifies that the Guatemala government is taking credible steps to implement the 2010 Reparations Plan.

Components of the original reparations plan:

• In order to prevent these actions from happening again, create public policy based on human rights, honor the memory of the victims, and carry out processes of truth and justice.
• Provide monetary compensation for the affected communities: Q1 billion for collective works and Q200 million for individual families over a 10-year term.
• Restore the economic, cultural, and social conditions of the communities, including land rights and lost infrastructure.
• Rehabilitate the environment through initiatives to manage the Chixoy River Basin, among others.

Instead of accepting its commitment to implement the 2010 Reparations Plan, however, the current administration has decided to offer its own proposal, forcing the communities to renegotiate what had already been agreed upon. According to Juan de Dios García, of the Coordinating Committee of Communities Affected by the Construction of the Chixoy Dam, there is a “huge gap” between the government’s proposal and the original plan. Despite this, community members remain committed to the dialogue process with government officials.

GHRC and 33 other organizations from around the world successfully pressured the World Bank last week to suspend a vote on a $340 million loan to Guatemala. The organizations asked the Bank to delay the vote until the Guatemalan government begins to implement the 2010 Chixoy Reparations Plan.

The Reparations Plan of 2010 can never compensate for the terrible losses suffered by the Chixoy communities: their loved ones massacred, their homes destroyed, their culture and traditions devastated. Yet, for the affected families, this plan represents their best hope for healing, justice and restitution. The Guatemalan State, represented by President Otto Perez Molina, has the moral and political obligation to address the damages caused by the construction of the Chixoy Dam. The full implementation of the Reparations Plan would be a step in the right direction”.

GHRC have a petition to the State Department here.

You can find more here about the Chixoy project here, on GSN, and you can view the letter sent recently to the World Bank here, on the NISGUA blog.

Thanks go to to MiMundo and GHRC for the reportage and the petition.

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Categories: Environment, Indigenous peoples, Land, Violence

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