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 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 Achi 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.
The Chixoy Dam Legacy Issues Study finished in March of 2005 concludes that the construction of the dam caused loss of lives, lands, and people's livelihoods, and that it violated national and international laws. The study recommended the creation of a negotiations process between the government, communities and financial institutions resulting in a binding agreement.
After several attempts to start a negotiations process, in September 2006 communities and the government of Guatemala signed an agreement to begin a formal process to verify the damages and losses, and negotiations to address reparations. A Commission was set up comprised of representatives of the Guatemalan government, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, and facilitated by a representative of the Organization of American States.
On April 10, 2010 after a decades-long struggle, the Reparations Plan for Damages Suffered by the Communities Affected by the Construction of the Chixoy Dam was finally signed and agreed to by all parties, which involved the participation and approval of communities and the government. This was a huge victory for the communities.
The plan includes the following provisions:
- Compensation for material and non-material damages and losses will be provided to communities affected by Chixoy Dam. The total amount allocated to cover all these damages is US$154.5 million
- 191 homes will be constructed for the community of Pacux, and for orphans that were not taken into account in INDE's resettlement program; 254 homes in other communities will be repaired; there will be improvement of roads, and water and sewage systems, and other infrastructural projects considered urgent and of priority.
- The President of Guatemala will present an apology. The communities will have access to documents in the Historical Archive of the National Police related to the control by the State, and repression used against communities during the construction of the Chixoy Dam.
- There will be a management plan of the Chixoy Basin implemented that is based on integrated watershed management, which includes reforestation with native plants, establishing an ecological flow adequate for the basin, and guarantees of minimum water quantity and quality.
However, the government refused to sign the legal agreement which would make the reparations plan binding, and ensure its completion.
On January 16, 2014, history was made. The US Congress passed the 2014 US Consolidated Appropriations Bill, which instructs the US directors of the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank – which both financed construction of the Chixoy Dam – to "report … on the steps being taken by such institutions to support implementation of the April 2010 Reparation Plan for Damages Suffered by the Communities Affected by the Construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam in Guatemala" (see p. 1240 for this provision).
"We are all very happy about this news. We began to work for reparations in 1995 and today we heard the great news. We are hoping that the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank and the government of Guatemala do the right thing, sign the government agreement, and begin implementation of reparations" said Carlos Chen Osorio, co-founder of the Association for the Integral Development of the Victims of the Violence Maya Achi (ADIVIMA), as well as director and main negotiator for the Coordination of Communities Affected by the Chixoy Hydroelectric Plant (COCAHICH). We feel that we are not alone and are very grateful to all those that have committed to work on this, and many who have dedicated a lot of their lives to support us."
On Saturday, November 8th 2014, Carlos Chen Osorio and hundreds of community members were part of a historical event in Rabinal, a town close to the resettlement of Pacux. That afternoon, Guatemala’s President Otto Perez Molina asked forgiveness from the communities for the government’s role in the social, cultural and environmental destruction caused by the Chixoy Dam. He also presented the Reparations Executive Agreement, which operationalizes reparations for the 33 communities who were drastically impacted by the construction of dam. The Agreement includes more than US$154.5 million to fund individual compensations, infrastructure, development assistance and environmental restoration.
While the solemn ceremony at the stadium in Rabinal marked the culmination of the negotiations process for Carlos and the rest of the Maya Achi survivors, it also sets the beginning of another long, hard process – repairing the social, cultural, emotional, physical and environmental scars left by the Chixoy Dam. The Guatemalan government still needs to approve the 2015 budget allocating funds to pay for these reparations, and it is still unclear where funds will come from. We remain hopeful and insist that the Banks make no-interest loans to pay their long-due debt to Maya Achi communities affected by the Chixoy Dam.
We know that good government policies can’t bring back the victims of destructive hydropower projects, nor will policies themselves protect the last of our living rivers and the people who depend on them. Yet we celebrate justice long-delayed and the power of our global movement. We will continue to support COCAHICH's efforts, and we will work with the communities to monitor the implementation of the Reparations Plan.
Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this victory for the Maya Achi people of Guatemala.
- Letter to World Bank Executive Directors, June 2014
- Read Heidi McKinnon's blog about her experiences living and working with communities affected by the Chixoy Dam.
- Scorched Earth: The Rio Negro Massacre at Pak'oxom slideshow by photographer James Rodriguez.
- The Great Kawinal: A City Submerged, a slideshow by James Rodriguez.
- President Colom Promises to Redress the Damages Caused by the Dam (Spanish)