Chixoy Dam, Guatemala
Reparations Campaign for Communities Affected by Chixoy Dam
Maya-Achí children at Chixoy Dam Reservoir.
Credit: Monti Aguirre
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For more than twenty years, communities affected by the Chixoy Dam have demanded reparations for the damages caused by the project, which was built during Guatemala’s most repressive military dictatorship. The Chixoy–Pueblo Viejo Hydroelectric Dam Project, financed by the World Bank and the Inter–American Development Bank, was built on the Chixoy River in the early 1980s and forcibly displaced more than 3,500 Maya community members. More than 6,000 families living in the area also suffered loss of land and livelihoods. When community members opposed relocation and sought better compensation, they were massacred, tortured and kidnapped.
For years survivors have lived in extreme poverty but never given up their call for justice. Community leaders asked IRN to join them in their struggle for reparations and accountability from the World Bank and the Inter–American Development Bank. In 2003, IRN, together with the affected communities and the international NGOs Rights Action and Campaign to Reform the World Bank, commissioned the Center for Political Ecology at the University of Santa Cruz to undertake an independent study to document the damages and losses caused by the dam.
The Chixoy Dam Legacy Issues Study was completed in March 2005 and concludes that the development of the dam took place at the cost of land, life and livelihood, in violation of national and international law, and that the project caused extreme poverty in communities who formerly enjoyed a sustainable way of life. The five–volume study recommends the creation of a negotiation process that results in a legally binding reparations agreement between the government, communities and the funding institutions.
In September 2004, 3000 community members held a peaceful protest at the dam site. The protest ended after two days with a signed agreement between the government and community leaders to convene a commission to verify damages sustained by the community, with the aim of negotiating an agreement for reparations for the damages suffered. The Commission is comprised of representatives of the Guatemalan government, the World Bank, and the Inter–American Development Bank, and is facilitated by a representative of the Organization of American States. The first official meeting of the Commission took place on December 13, 2005.
Communities are hopeful that the negotiations process will lead to a successful resolution which includes the restoration of their productive land; access to potable water and electricity; economic development; education and social programs; and reconciliation and reparation with respect to the violence that accompanied the construction of the dam.
IRN and the Environmental Defender Law Center worked to engage the US law firm Holland and Knight to represent the communities at the negotiations table. We continue to monitor the negotiations process and to support communities in all possible ways so that they can one day obtain the reparations they deserve.
Read a letter to Judge Nazario Barros asking that criminal charges against 9 community leaders who occupied the dam in 2004 are dropped.
Mayan Struggle For Accountability Compels Holland & Knight To Put Business Negotiation Skills To Work For Villages In Guatemala
By Elizabeth L. Bevington, Holland & Knight.
IRN press release.
July 26, 2005
Read a backgrounder on Chixoy Dam, and big dams’ impacts on indigenous peoples, which was published in the WorldWatch Institute’s annual "State of the World" report.
April 21, 2005
This report on Guatemala’s Chixoy Dam reveals the full extent of social injustices resulting from the project, and recommends legally binding reparations for those harmed by the 22–year–old dam. The dam was built by the military government of the time with World Bank and the Inter–American Development Bank support. More than 4,000 people were affected, and 444 people were massacred after resisting forced resettlement.
Read an NGO letter to the President of Guatemala requesting that all penal and detention charges against Don Carlos Chen and the seven representatives of the Chixoy affected communities are dropped, and requesting the high level platform address the social and economic legacy of the construction of the Chixoy dam.
February 3, 2005