Nearly 32 years after indigenous Maya Achi communities were massacred to clear the way for building the Chixoy Dam, affected communities and massacre survivors achieved a victory today.
The 2014 US Consolidated Appropriations Bill 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.”
Carlos Chen Osorio leads a procession to remember victims of the Chixoy Dam massacres.
“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 Affected Communities 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.”
Monti Aguirre, Latin America Program Coordinator for International Rivers who for more than 20 years has been working with victims of the Chixoy Dam massacres to win reparations, says “A great and important precedent has been set today. Large dams have been forcibly displacing millions of people and affecting biodiversity for more than a hundred years. It seemed like people and nature could be disposed of. But, with this new precedent I feel hopeful that together we can begin to steer a new course for our rivers and the people who depend on them. We can build a society where we all win, not just financiers and shareholders.”
The Chixoy Dam was built on the Chixoy River in the early 1980s and forcibly displaced more than 3,500 Maya Achi people. More than 6,000 families living in the area also lost their lands and livelihoods. When community members opposed relocation and sought better compensation, over 400 people – including women and children – were massacred, tortured and kidnapped by government and paramilitary forces. For more than 20 years, survivors have called upon the Guatemalan government and the dam financiers – the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank – to pay reparations for the damages caused by the dam.
Two of the provisions for reparations include:
Compensation for material and non-material damages and losses in the amount of US$154.5 million for communities affected by the Chixoy Dam.
Implementation of a management plan for the Chixoy Basin based on integrated watershed management, including reforestation with native plants, establishing an ecological flow adequate for the basin, and guarantees of minimum water quantity and quality.
Violence, corruption and murder continue to plague large dam construction throughout the world, with thousands of large dams planned to exploit energy from the last great rivers of Latin America, Africa and Asia. The Appropriations Bill also includes groundbreaking language regarding US support for big dams overseas. It states that “it is the policy of the US to oppose any loan, grant, strategy or policy…to support the construction of any large hydroelectric dam (as defined in “Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making,” World Commission on Dams (November 2000)).”
Descendants of survivors of the Chixoy Dam massacres.
“When the World Commission on Dams held its public hearing in Brazil in 1999 about the impacts of large dams in Latin America, Carlos Chen Osorio shared his personal story of tragedy from the massacres suffered by his family and community because they opposed the Chixoy Dam. In a hall filled with 1,600 people, you could hear a pin drop. Chen’s testimony changed the discourse within the World Commission on Dams’ deliberations because it solidified our growing understanding that such abuses fit within a larger global pattern of unacceptable social, economic and environmental impacts of large dams. I applaud the US Congress for directing the US Treasury to oppose the financing of large dam projects through the World Bank and other financial institutions. I think the message now is clear: there are better options for meeting communities’ needs for electricity that are cheaper and sustainable,” said Deborah Moore, a former Commissioner on the World Commission on Dams and current Chair of the Board of International Rivers.
At a time when better energy and water solutions are readily available, the Congressional decision supports a shift of public funding from large, often destructive hydropower projects to decentralized renewable energy solutions that are more effective at reducing energy poverty and protecting the environment. Under the new mandate, the US executive directors will have to object to dam projects such as Inga 3 on the Congo, Dasu on the Indus, Adjarala in Togo, Amaila Falls in the rainforest of Guyana, and the dams in the Nam Ngiep and Sekong river basins in Laos.
“This bill will not bring back to life the hundreds of victims of the Chixoy massacre from over 30 years ago, nor those who’ve been killed in recent months for defending their home rivers in Mexico, Honduras and Colombia,” states Jason Rainey, Executive Director of International Rivers. “Still, the United States has set a praise-worthy policy to avoid complicity in financing large destructive dams. I believe that’s what US taxpayers expect, and we’ll hold the US to their new policy and encourage other governments to get out of the dirty business of big dams.”