On Wednesday, May 28, over 1,000 men and women from the communities of Rio Negro left their homes. Traveling 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.
The signs carried by protesters and the slogans they shouted made clear their single demand: full implementation of a reparations plan — promised by the Guatemalan government — for damages they suffered over 30 years earlier due to the construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam. Stand with the communities by taking action now.
The Chixoy dam was constructed with funding from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank in 1982-83. The project affected residents of 33 Maya Achi communities, many of whom were displaced or forcibly relocated by the construction of the dam. Families lost their homes and farmland as the fertile river valley was flooded. Sacred sites, many of them centuries old, were forever drowned. Communities that attempted to defend their rights and land were singled out for brutal repression and violence. The families of one such village, Rio Negro, suffered five separate massacres, resulting in the deaths of 444 men, women and children.
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.
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.
After one six-hour meeting, it was agreed that the Executive Branch will be the only entity to handle the reparations — a victory for communities who rejected previous government attempts to pass some aspects of the plan through Guatemala’s notoriously deadlocked Congress.
Successful Pressure on the World Bank
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. 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.
*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.
- Rehabilitate the environment through initiatives to manage the Chixoy River Basin, among others.
- 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.