Case study: The Chixoy Dam, Guatemala

The Guatemalan National Institute for Electrification (INDE) began construction of a hydro-electric dam on the Chixoy River in Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, in 1978. Built with funds from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, it was fully operational by 1983. It has been blamed for forcibly displacing 3,500 Maya-Achí and negatively affecting a further 6,000 households.[1]

Between 1980 and 1982 – during a particularly brutal spell of the country’s civil war – some 376 Mayans were massacred when they resisted eviction from the village of Rio Negro to make way for the Chixoy Reservoir. According to Witness For Peace[2], the massacres were carried out by the Civil Defence Patrols, one of the notorious paramilitary units used by the Guatemalan state as death squads.[3]

The Guatemalan Truth Commission found that state-sponsored violence constituted genocide and that the massacres illustrate how “many resistant attitudes to administrative decisions, even though they were peaceful, as occurred in relation to the construction of the hydroelectric dam, were a priori conceived to be instigated by the guerrilla and were resolved through violent repression”.[4]

Community members fought for reparations and, along with human rights groups, pressured the World Bank to carry out an internal investigation into the repression in 1996. The (REPORT NAME) concluded that massacres had taken place but the Bank refused to take responsibility for them.[5]

Then in 2004, around 3,000 held a peaceful protest at the dam. This forced the Guatemalan government to convene a commission to verify the damages suffered by the local population.[6] The Commission is comprised of representatives of the Guatemalan government, the World Bank and the Inter–American Development Bank. It is facilitated by a representative of the Organization of American States.[7]

International Rivers is working with the Environmental Defender Law Center to engage the US law firm Holland and Knight to represent the communities at the negotiations table.

[1]  International Rivers Network, (accessed 06/08/09).
[2] Witness For Peace describes itself as “a politically independent, nationwide grassroots organisation of people committed to non-violence and led by faith and conscience. WFP’s mission is to support peace, justice and sustainable economies in the Americas by changing US policies and corporate practices which contribute to poverty and oppression in Latin America and the Caribbean.” (accessed 15.08.09).
[3]  International Rivers Network, ‘Report Reveals 376 Murdered After Resisting Eviction’, (accessed 06/08/09).
[4]  Barbara Rose Johnston (18 May 2005) ‘Chixoy Dam Legacy Issues Study’, The Centre for Political Ecology, Santa Cruz, (accessed 06/08/09).
[5]  Op.cit. (International Rivers Network).
[6]  Intercontinental Cry, ‘Chixoy Dam Reparations Campaign Announced’, (accessed 06/08/09).
[7]  Op.cit. (International Rivers Network).