In western Guatemala, a group of indigenous communities joined forces and formed the “Peaceful Resistance of the micro-region of Ixquisis”, to struggle against the construction of three hydroelectric dams in their territory (Pojom I, Pojom II and San Andrés).
The government gave the green light to these projects without consulting the local communities, violating their right to prior, free and informed consent. Their concerns about the serious health, social and environmental impact was completely disregarded.
The projects are being carried out by the company Energía y Renovación SA (previously called Promoción y Desarollos Hídricos S.A) and financed by development banks, including IDB Invest, the Bank Central American Economic Integration (BCIE) and Cordiant Cap, a Canadian financial intermediary that has funding from, among others, KfW, a German bank.
In August 2018, the affected indigenous communities filed a formal complaint with the IDB’s Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism, requesting an investigation and withdrawal of their investment due to non-compliance with the bank’s own operating policies.
According to a community consultation held in 2009, 99% of the population of San Mateo Ixtatán voted against the granting of licenses for the exploitation of natural resources in their territory.
As reported by Front Line Defenders, since 2009 the human rights defenders of the Peaceful Resistance of the micro-region of Ixquisis have faced stigmatization campaigns, defamation, human rights violations, threats, criminalization and brutal attacks. Three local activists have been killed in the past few years. In December 2018, the bodies of the brothers Neri Esteban Pedro and Domingo Esteban Pedro were found near the San Andrés hydroelectric plant, with bullet holes in their heads. In January 2017, Sebastián Alonso Juan was shot during a peaceful demonstration.
We speak with a local community leader about the impact of the dam and their struggle to protect their territory.
What’s the impact of the dams in your territory?
The land, nature, the rivers everything is at risk…we do not know what can happen, if a strong earthquake comes the dam can collapse… and the other problem is the diversion of the river, the company wants to divert the river, there are communities living here and many greenhouses that would run out of water if the company diverts the river, and that is another big problem…we want to protect the nature, we don’t want them to destroy the land where we live.
They killed many fish, shrimps, snails and aquatic animals and they say this is development, but development for whom? Development for them, that’s not for us.
How did the banks violate the rights of your community?
With regard to the bank, it has violated our rights because it did not investigate first to whom it was going to lend money. The money given by the bank has served only to destroy nature and to get people killed in our territory. For example, our comrade Sebastian was assassinated. We saw that the money they spent is only for killing people, and we are being persecuted by the company.
Arrest warrants, denunciations, people maquetted, bleached, intoxicated with teargas bombs, dead: this is the type of attacks the company and the bank committed here.
What’s your idea of development and how does this compare with the idea of development being pushed by the bank?
The company has been talking about development since they began to travel across our territory, here in our communities. They spoke of development, of energy, some of them were confused and probably they believed in what they were saying. But we saw that what they were talking about was a lie from the beginning, when they began to manipulate people. They speak of development, but what development do they leave behind? They destroyed the land, our forests, and now we see that the development that has been left behind is only destruction, and that we will never return to our nature. I’ve been living here all my life, I grew up here, many people used to come here near the river that is called Rio Negro, now they no longer come because everything has been ruined.
Development, says the bank, but it is development for them, what we want is development that is for the people. We wanted a turbine managed by the community, that is managed by the people, that is not transnational as they say. The hydroelectric power will be installed here and they will install a large cable and if God wants, within 10 years they will be able to complete the project, but we do not agree. We want development for the peasants, not for the big rich ones here in Guatemala.