FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Chixoy Dam is Development at Its Worst

Dear Mr. President:

We live in chaotic times, where the costs of fueling our energy-dependent global lifestyles are all too apparent, as evidenced by the human suffering and environmental dead zone resulting from BP’s oil spill last summer, and more recently, the unfolding horrors of nuclear disaster occurring in Japan.

Disasters such as these prompt feverish efforts to secure alterative energy sources, as illustrated by the recent increase in foreign funding and state-sponsored initiatives to build new hydroelectric dams, expand biofuel production, tap into natural gas deposits, efforts that local and regional energy needs, including the mining and processing Guatemala’s many precious minerals.

Sadly, Guatemala’s historical efforts to develop their natural resources offers the world profound lessons, illustrating the horrific human costs that can occur when development is imposed without fundamental respect for the rights to life and livelihood. The Chixoy Dam, for example, is known throughout the world as an illustration of development at it’s worst: where internationally-financed construction occurred in ways that sustained state-sponsored terror, massacre, and genocide.

As you know, Mr. President, Chixoy Dam construction was financed by the World Bank and InterAmerican Development Bank, and their loans were the primary source of foreign aid to a nation ruled by a military dictatorship engaged in systematic state-sponsored destruction of Mayan peoples, a fact demonstrated in Memory of Silence, The Report from the Commission for Historical Clarification. In the 1970s and 80s, millions of dollars were transferred to Guatemala’s electrical utility, INDE, to acquire land for the hydroelectric works, reservoir, and other development infrastructure; to craft resettlement and compensation plans; to acquire replacement land and build resettlement villages; and to issue compensatory payments and services. My audit of development project records published in 2005, the Chixoy Dam Legacy Issues Study, demonstrated that funds were misappropriated and contractual obligations were never met, resulting in the failure to secure legal title and safely move and appropriately compensate affected communities.

What were the consequences of these failures?  It bears repeating: Chixoy Dam construction occurred without securing legal title to the land. Involuntary resettlement took place at gunpoint. When the reservoir waters rose in January 1983, ten communities in the Chixoy River Basin had been destroyed by massacre, including the village of Río Negro. Survivors were hunted in the surrounding hills, and forcibly resettled at gunpoint. In the few instances where compensatory agreements had been made, the signed Actas disappeared when leaders of those communities were assassinated. While resettlement villages were eventually built, the original development plans were discarded and a militarized guarded compound was built in its place.  Compensatory efforts at the time, and in later years, were grossly inadequate to meet the basic needs of displaced communities, let alone provide redress for the full extent of lost land, property, communal resources, livelihoods and lives.

The lessons from this story? For development to succeed in its goals of sustaining governments and their economies, it must first and foremost sustain local peoples and their environments. Mr. President, as you well know, the role of government in such efforts is to insure respect for the fundamental human rights of all its citizens, including the fundamental rights to life and livelihood. And, when such rights are abused, it is your obligation to insure that your citizens are able to exercise their right to reparation and meaningful remedy.

It is these points which prompted me to write to you on 14 March 2011, to applaud your Administration’s efforts to come to terms with Guatemala’s recent history of human rights abuse, as evidenced by your support for and your administration’s participation in a negotiation process involving the World Bank, InterAmerican Development Bank, INDE, and COCAHICH (the representative for the 33 Chixoy dam-affected communities). The resulting “Reparations Plan for the damages and negative impacts suffered by the communities affected by the construction of the Chixoy Dam” signed by your representative in the Organization of American States-facilitated negotiation on 10 April 2010 is truly an historic precedent.

I also wrote to express my deep concern that your commitment to a sustainable future appears to be wavering, as evidenced by protracted delay over this past year in issuing the executive order that allows your government to use Congressionally-allocated funds to implement this plan.

My concern was shared by some 16 signatories, people who are hugely familiar with the truth and reconciliation process in Guatemala, such as Ms. Marcie Mersky, the Former Chief of MINUGUA’s Transition Unit in Guatemala and the Former Coordinator of Guatemala’s Historical Clarification Commission. Dr. Alain Breton, the French ethnologist who has since the 1970s documented the traditional way of life for the Maya A’chi residents of the Rio Negro and Chixoy River Valleys. And, Dr. William L. Partridge, a Senior Advisor for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and Former World Bank Unit Chief for Environment and Social Development. Dr. Partridge conducted the independent audit of the Chixoy project in 1982 and 1983, identifying for the InterAmerican Development Bank numerous violations and shortcomings in the social program work.

Signatories also included some of the most esteemed environmental and social science experts in the world, people whose life’s work helped establish the social and environmental safeguards used to guide international development. Dr. Michael Cernea, the former World Bank Senior Adviser for Social Policies helped established the Bank’s guidelines for resettlement to prevent impoverishment, and reviewed the Chixoy Dam Legacy Issues Study, as did Dr. Thayer Scudder, the key architect of reparation plans for World Bank-funded hydrodevelopment in Africa and Southeast Asia and a former Commissioner on the World Commission on Dams. Dr. Robert Goodland, the former World Bank Group Environmental Adviser who helped establish the Bank’s environmental impact assessment framework, was the initial consultant hire to assess the environmental impacts of the project in 1973.

Why this open letter? Mr. President, last week some 500 members of the 33 affected communities traveled to Guatemala City to protest the lack of action in implementing the agreed upon plan. Your spokesperson announced that you would meet with community representatives on March 23, 2011. Media coverage was sparse and largely critical of “radicals” who demanded reparation. Most alarming are press reports that suggest your administration’s position on implementing the Chixoy Dam Reparations Agreement has changed.

Mr. President, in signing the governmental decree to implement the “Reparations Plan for the damages and negative impacts suffered by the communities affected by the construction of the Chixoy Dam” you will send an important signal to the world, and most importantly to your people. In implementing this plan – with its social, political, and economic projects, mechanisms, and processes – you will help bring about meaningful remedy that respects fundamental rights and restores human dignity.

Very sincerely,

Dr. BARBARA ROSE JOHNSTON
Center for Political Ecology
Santa Cruz, California, USA

BARBARA ROSE JOHNSTON is an anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Center for Political Ecology. She is the co-author of The Consequential Dangers of Nuclear War: the Rongelap Report. Look for her latest book from Left Coast Press, Life and Death Matters: Human Rights, Environment, and Social Justice, to be released in July 2009.  She can be reached at: bjohnston@igc.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Barbara Rose Johnston is an environmental anthropologist and Senior Fellow at the Center for Political Ecology, an independent environment, health and human rights research institute based in Santa Cruz, California.  

November 21, 2018
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Action Would Kill Imperialism
Kenneth Surin
Return to Denver: Clouds on the Horizon
Jonathan Cook
Netanyahu’s Ceasefire is Meant to Keep Gaza Imprisoned
John Steppling
Liar Liar
Bill Hackwell
Paradise Lost
Gary Leupp
“Maybe He Did, and Maybe He Didn’t:” Reflections on Morality in 2018
W. T. Whitney
Criminal Behavior: US May be Developing Biological Weapons
Zhivko Illeieff
How Media, Tech, and News Networks Normalize Trump’s Propaganda
NEVE GORDON - NICOLA PERUGINI
Migrant Caravan: Branding Migrants “Human Shields” Has a Deadly Motive
Wouter Hoenderdaal
Jordan Peterson’s Disturbing Views on Inequality
Dean Baker
Nicholas Kristof and the China Trade War
Colin Todhunter
Approaching Development: GMO Propaganda and Neoliberalism vs Localisation and Agroecology
November 20, 2018
John Davis
Geographies of Violence in Southern California
Anthony Pahnke
Abolishing ICE Means Defunding it
Maximilian Werner
Why (Mostly) Men Trophy Hunt: a Biocultural Explanation
Masturah Alatas
Undercutting Female Circumcision
Jack Rasmus
Global Oil Price Deflation 2018 and Beyond
Geoff Dutton
Why High Technology’s Double-Edged Sword is So Hard to Swallow
Binoy Kampmark
Charges Under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange
Rev. William Alberts
America Fiddles While California Burns
Forrest Hylton, Aaron Tauss and Juan Felipe Duque Agudelo
Remaking the Common Good: the Crisis of Public Higher Education in Colombia
Patrick Cockburn
What Can We Learn From a Headmaster Who Refused to Allow His Students to Celebrate Armistice Day?
Clark T. Scott
Our Most Stalwart Company
Tom H. Hastings
Look to the Right for Corruption
Edward Hunt
With Nearly 400,000 Dead in South Sudan, Will the US Finally Change Its Policy?
Thomas Knapp
Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago
November 19, 2018
David Rosen
Amazon Deal: New York Taxpayers Fund World Biggest Sex-Toy Retailer
Sheldon Richman
Art of the Smear: the Israel Lobby Busted
Chad Hanson
Why Trump is Wrong About the California Wildfires
Dean Baker
Will Progressives Ever Think About How We Structure Markets, Instead of Accepting them as Given?
Robert Fisk
We Remember the Great War, While Palestinians Live It
Dave Lindorff
Pelosi’s Deceptive Plan: Blocking any Tax Rise Could Rule Out Medicare-for-All and Bolstering Social Security
Rick Baum
What Can We Expect From the Democrat “Alternative” Given Their Record in California?
Thomas Scott Tucker
Trump, World War I and the Lessons of Poetry
John W. Whitehead
Red Flag Gun Laws
Newton Finn
On Earth, as in Heaven: the Utopianism of Edward Bellamy
Robert Fantina
Shithole Countries: Made in the USA
René Voss
Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore
Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail