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Last Update : May 18, 2005

Chixoy Dam Legacy Issues Study
Barbara Rose Johnston

For nearly thirty-six years, Guatemala suffered a violent internal armed confrontation that profoundly affected almost every sector of society. Over this same period international financial assistance was received to finance the construction of Central America's largest hydroelectric energy development, the Pueblo-Viejo Quixal project built on the Chixoy River. Some 3,500 residents were forcibly evicted without adequate involvement in resettlement and compensation plans, and without adequate assessment of damages and compensation. In addition, more than 6,000 households in the broader region suffered losses from the construction of the dam and its reservoir. Protests were met with acts of state-sponsored violence. Communities that attempted to negotiate fair compensation were declared guerilla-supporting communities, and the military and civil patrols were used to forcibly remove people from the reservoir site.

Photo Photo credit: Bert Janssens

The Guatemalan Historical Clarification Commission, established with the Accord of Oslo in 1994, investigated human rights violations and violence connected with armed conflict in the region. In their summary of of exemplary cases, the Guatemalan Truth Commission found that in the case of Río Negro, state-sponsored violence constituted genocide, and that the massacres in Río Negro illustrate how "many resistant attitudes to administrative decisions, even though they were peaceful, as occurred in the relation to the construction of the hydroelectric dam, were a priori conceived to be instigated by the guerilla and were resolved through violent repression" (CEH 1999:Volume 1, Annex1, Chapter VI: Exemplary Case No. 10).

Some of the many local consequences resulting from the construction of the Chixoy Dam include problems associated with surviving the violence, the extreme poverty imposed by inadequate or nonexistent compensation for loss of land and other property, cultural assaults due to the loss of sacred sites, and loss of access to communal lands and disruption of trade and social ties due to the transportation difficulties created by the construction of the dam and its reservoir.

Some of the many local consequences resulting from the construction of the Chixoy Dam include problems associated with surviving the violence, the extreme poverty imposed by inadequate or nonexistent compensation for loss of land and other property, cultural assaults due to the loss of sacred sites, and loss of access to communal lands and disruption of trade and social ties due to the transportation difficulties created by the construction of the dam and its reservoir.

The Study

Over the years Chixoy Dam-affected communities have met to discuss common problems and strategies, and testified before national truth commissions and in international human rights arenas. With help from national and international advocates, dam-affected communities have commissioned and participated in a range of research initiatives to document the impact of the dam and the consequential damages to their communities. Given the failure of these efforts to secure a comprehensive, holistic remedy addressing the needs of all the dam-affected communities, and given the varied perspectives on obligations and liabilities mentioned above, an independent assessment of the project record was deemed a critical component in the overall effort to secure meaningful remedy for Chixoy Dam-affected peoples.

In July of 2003 the representatives of the dam-affected communities -- the Asociacion Campesina Río Negro 13 de Marzo Maya Achi (ASCRA) -- and their advocates (International Rivers Network, Rights Action and the Campaign for the Reform of the World Bank), commissioned research in support of a reparations plan with the Center for Political Ecology, California, USA. The investigation conducted by CEP is comprised of five components: critical review of the documentary record, household survey and consequential damage assessment, the social investigation of the communities affected by the Chixoy Dam, and a cadastre and land registry of affected lands. This five-volume study, completed in March 2005, represents an independent, transparent, peer-reviewed assessment of Chixoy Dam development history, consequential damages, and community needs, and it includes findings, recommendations, and a plan for reparation.

The Chixoy Dam Legacy Issues Study Recommendations
  • Immediate actions to address the dire needs of resettled, disenfranchised, and stigmatized communities.
  • Economic, sociocultural, education, health, and infrastructure development of dam affected communities and the broader region.
  • Implementation of community and family specific remedies to restore, repair, and improve the conditions of life of those communities and families most seriously affected by the Chixoy Dam Project.
  • Reparation and reconciliation with respect to violence accompanying the construction of the Chixoy Dam.
  • And, political actions and initiatives that acknowledge and address the historical wrongs of this case of hydroelectric dam development subsidized by the lands, livelihood and lives of societies’ most vulnerable people, and political action that insures “never again.”

The Chixoy Dam Legacy Issues Study is an independent scientific assessment conducted by the Center for Political Ecology. This research was commissioned by Asociacion Campesina Río Negro 13 de Marzo Maya Achi (ASCRA), International Rivers Network, Reform the World Bank-Italy, and Rights Action-Guatemala.

The Chixoy Dam Legacy Issues Study

The study may be freely duplicated or linked to for nonprofit research, advocacy, and education purposes. Downloads are in PDF format (requires free Adobe Acrobat Reader).

Additional resources:

"The Chixoy Dam Destroyed Our Lives" by Monti Aguirre, Human Rights Dialogue: "Environmental Rights" (Spring 2004)

• Mission Report - Continuing the struggle for justice and accountability in Guatemala: Making reparations a reality in the Chixoy Dam case, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), 2004. (PDF format).

Santa Fe Group on Reparations and Development concerning the Chixoy dam-affected communities in Guatemala.

The Chixoy Dam: A People's Struggle for Justice and Reparations in Guatemala, by Stephen Hansen, Report on Science and Human Rights, Fall/Winter 2004 Vol XXIV, No. 2

A People Dammed, Witness for Peace. 1996.

The Chixoy Dam: The Maya Achi' Genocide. The Story of Forced Resettlement, by Jaroslava Colajacomo and Carlos Chen. Contributing Paper, Thematic Review 1.2: Dams, Indigenous People and vulnerable ethnic minorities. World Commission on Dams. 1999

Organizational links:

AAAS

Asociación para Desarrollo las Víctimas Violencia las Verapaces Achì (ADIVIMA)

Campagna per la Riforma della Banco Mondiale

International Rivers Network

Rights Action


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