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 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 signified lost of lives, lands, and people's livelihoods, and that it violated national and international laws. The study recommends the creation of a negotiations process between the government, communities and financial institutions resulting in a binding agreement.
After several attempts to install a negotiations process, on September 2006 communities and the government 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 by all parties, which involved the participation and approval of communities and the government. This is 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 has refused to sign the legal agreement which would make the reparations plan binding, and ensure its completion. The World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank have also refused to take responsibility for their roles in financing the project and have not committed to financing reparations or to pressuring the Guatemalan government to comply with the reparations plan. We will continue to support COCAHICH's efforts to pressure the government to sign the binding agreement.
- 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)