Victory in the US Congress: Reparations for the Chixoy Dam and the Military Ban

32 years ago today, 177 women and children were brutally murdered in Pokoxom during a series of state-ordered massacres which left a death toll of 444 Maya Achi people. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA expresses support for the survivors of the community of Rio Negro, who lived through brutal violence committed as part of the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam.

On January 16th, after a protracted battle, the US Congress passed a consolidated appropriations bill for 2014. The bill includes various restrictions on funding from the US Department of State (DOS) to Guatemala’s armed forces — a clear, if partial, victory against impunity and militarization.

Reparations for the Chixoy Dam

Chixoy dam

The Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam Reservoir. Photo by James Rodríguez.

The restriction that has received the most attention in Guatemalan news relates to reparations to 33 communities impacted by the construction of the Chixoy Dam in the early 1980s. Members of these communities, including survivors of the gruesome Rio Negro massacres, have waited for over 30 years for compensation and recognition of the injustice and abuse they suffered. The legislation bars the Guatemalan army from receiving funding under the Act until DOS certifies that Guatemala is taking credible steps to implement the Reparations Plan which the Guatemalan government signed in 2010, but never implemented.

In February, the organization representing the 33 communities affected by the dam — Adivima — released a statement criticizing the lack of progress in the implementation of the Reparations Plan. Adivima reported that, in the month after the bill was passed, the communities were neither approached by the government, the World Bank or IDB, nor were they informed of any concrete steps taken by the government to address the issue.

GHRC and partners are calling on the US Government to seek input from the communities as part of the evaluation process the bill requires. The US Appropriations Law creates a historic opportunity to finally compensate the communities that lost their homes and hundreds of loved ones, but if they are locked out of the process, we risk re-victimizing the very communities the law is meant to support.

The Military Ban

The bill contains another restriction, which has been largely ignored, related to ongoing and past human rights abuses committed by the Guatemalan Army. The language accompanying the bill bars DOS from granting funds from the Foreign Military Financing Program to the army until the Secretary of State certifies that the army is meeting certain conditions. The restriction is narrow, and still allows funding under this program to the rest of Guatemala’s armed forces. Continue reading

Otto Pérez Molina takes office as Guatemala’s new president

Photo: Al-Jazeera

Otto Pérez Molina was inaugurated on Saturday as Guatemala’s new president, making him the first military official to take office since the end of the military government 25 years ago.  As the murder rate, violence and infiltration of organized crime and narco-trafficking groups have increased, Guatemalan voters have offered their support to Pérez Molina’s ‘iron fist’ approach to security and crime.  In his inaugural speech, Pérez Molina promised to ‘show results’ in the first six months of his presidency and ‘cut the murder rate by half by the end of his term.’ Speaking directly to military officials yesterday, President Pérez Molina  called on the army to ‘neutralize illegal armed groups by means of military power’ and demanded loyalty, participation and enthusiasm from all military officials.

The new president is asking the United States and Mexico to support Guatemala in its efforts to crack down on drug-related violence, expressing his intentions to push for the lifting of a military aid ban from the U.S.  Lifting the ban would lead to greater emphasis on military training in a country suffering from continued military impunity from the internal conflict and a dire need for police and judicial reform–not more military support.  However, regaining aid from the U.S. would require Guatemala to meet a set of 6 conditions, including releasing all military documents from the armed conflict–something Perez Molina is unlikely to do.  The move to lift the ban is a glimpse of what is to come in the new president’s term, marking a shift back to the militarization strategy of the armed conflict and raising serious concerns over the potential for human rights abuses, given the accusations of war crimes held against President Pérez Molina and the well-known history of human rights violations by the Guatemalan military.

Check out video coverage of the inauguration from Al-Jazeera below: