Unión Fenosa

Founded in 1982, Unión Fenosa is a Spanish transnational company involved mainly in the energy sector in a number of Latin American countries. It has recently become involved in waterworks projects and privatisations in Colombia, Costa Rica and Chile, and has shown interest in providing mobile telephony in Bolivia and Peru. In Central America the company has been involved in the generation and distribution of electricity in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

In Panama, the company claims to be the country’s major distributor of electricity covering over 400,000 homes. Its principal Panamanian subsidiary is Unión Fenosa Edemet-Edechi, but it has also created Ufinet (Unión Fenosa Telecommunications Network) and ESEPSA which its website states is to develop renewable energy projects. Its parent company has been awarded ISO 14001 (2004) for its environmental management and ISO 9000 (2000) for its management quality.

In Costa Rica in 2003, Unión Fenosa began construction of the La Joya electricity plant on the Río Reventazón in the country’s Central Valley. The plant was inaugurated in 2007 and provides 3 per cent of the country’s demand for electricity. La Joya was developed under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol with the aim of limiting and reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. As such, great significance has been placed on its environmental sustainability, although there was considerable early opposition to the project on the grounds that it would affect the flow of and aquatic life in the Río Reventazón. These fears were in fact realised and life in the Río Reventazón is now a shadow of its former self. In 2008, Unión Fenosa’s second hydroelectric generating plant at Torito, also on the Río Reventazón, was approved by the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) which will buy all the electricity produced by the plant.

In Nicaragua in 2001, the Nicaraguan electricity network was privatised as demanded by the IMF. Unión Fenosa bought the network and divided its distribution system into two subsidiary companies to give the appearance of competition. The purchase included agreements about the reduction of charges, security of supply and investment in the network to improve quality and coverage. In reality, the opposite of these occurred, a situation which gave rise to public demands for re-nationalisation of the network. In 2005, the National Assembly refused to authorise price increases which the company claimed it needed in order to pay its suppliers, the generating companies. Thus began the round of power cuts – the energy crisis mentioned at the start of this chapter – suffered by Nicaragua through to the end of 2007.

The company has worked in Guatemala since the privatisation of electricity distribution in 1998. The company created two subsidiary companies, DEOCSA (Western Electricity Distribution) and DEORSA (Eastern Electricity Distribution). In the first five months of 2010 the CNEE (National Electricity Energy Commission) recorded 90,358 complaints against the two subsidiaries and the Human Rights Ombudsman´s Office had also received 78 complaints against the two companies. FRENA (the Resistance Front for Natural Resources / Frente de Resistencia por los Recursos Naturales) claimed that 16 of its activists were assassinated in 2009 and by half way through 2010 a further 8 had been assassinated.

Energy Information Administration (Topic Editor: Langdon D. Clough) (2009) ‘Energy Profile of Central America’, Encyclopedia of Earth (Washington D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment) www.eoearth.org/article/Energy_profile_of_Central_America (accessed 7 July 2010)
Klaus Hess (2009) ‘The EU Reaches for Central America’, Friedens Forum, 3/2009.
Martín Cúneo, (2010) ‘Ocho activistas opuestos a Unión Fenosa asesinados en seis meses en Guatemala’, Revista Amauta, 15 April, http://revista-amauta.org/2010/04/ocho-activistas-opuestos-a-union-fenosa-asesinados-en-seis-meses-en-Guatemala (accessed 12 July 2010)
Toni Solo (2005) ´Central American Strikes and the Energy Crisis´, ZNet, 25 September.
Wikipedia, ´Unión Fenosa´, http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uni%C3%B3n_Fenosa (accessed 12 July 2010)

The Chan 75 dam – points against

The location of the dam is the Palo Seco Protected Forest within the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve, in the province of Bocas del Toro, Panamá. The La Amistad Biosphere Reserve, part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is shared with Costa Rica. In 2008, the discoveries of three new species of salamanders were reported, found on the Costa Rican side of the Reserve very close to the Panamanian border.[1] Many environmentalists fear that the impacts of the Chan-75 project will be “manifold and immeasurable for the biologically rich ecosystems”[2] found in the Reserve, as the project will include a 1,400 hectare reservoir in “what is known to be Central America’s largest remaining expanse of untouched rainforest.”[3] Large-scale deforestation has already occurred.

Furthermore, the Changuinola River drains into an internationally recognised wetland, called the San San – Pond Sak Wetlands.[4] The construction of the dam means that many streams will be depleted, and there are concerns that the natural migratory patterns of fish will be altered due to changes in the level and quality of the water. According to Bill McLarney, “the effects upstream and downstream from the dams would be drastic, possibly involving the extirpation of eight to ten species of migratory fish and several species of shrimps.”[5] This will cause serious problems for the indigenous Ngöbe people whose main source of protein comes from the fish in this river system.

The construction of the Chan-75 dam will result in the relocation of 178 households from four communities: Charco La Pava, Valle del Rey, Guayabal and Changuinola Arriba. It is estimated that over 2,500 people live in the impact zone and will be affected in one way or another.[6] Although AES Changuinola promotes a process of “Participative Resettlement”[7] and has documented hundreds of meetings and support sessions with the indigenous population, the fact remains that free, prior and informed consent was not sought before the beginning of the project. This is classed as a violation of human rights by international standards, especially as the Ngöbe communities are regarded as vulnerable due to their lack of land tenure and reliance on natural resources.[8] Since construction work started on the dam the Ngöbe have experienced excessive noise well into the night, the generation of dust from heavy machinery and a decreased quality of water in the river that they depend on. They also live in an environment of fear and insecurity. There have been reports that Ngöbe people have been pressured to sign away their land on documents written in Spanish, a language that many Ngöbe are unable to read or speak.[9],[10] Peaceful protests have been violently repressed, and petitions against the construction of the dam have been ignored. In March 2008, two NGOs presented a petition to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) in an attempt to halt the construction of the dam while an investigation into the human rights breaches against the Ngöbe is carried out. As a result, in 2009, the IACHR called for the suspension of all activities related to the Chan-75 dam, although this ruling has been in vain as the Panamanian government continues to permit the construction of the dam.[11]

[1] BBC News (2008) Bio-rich Costa Rica’s new marvels, BBC http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7170205.stm (Accessed 22/09/2010).
[2] Monti Aguirre (2007) Dams Threaten Biodiversity and Indigenous People in Panama, World Rivers Review, Vol. 22, No. 4, P.6.
[3] Mireille Gold (2007) Hydroelectric Dams vs. Nature & Tradition, Mesoamerica, Nov 2007, P.11.
[4] Osvaldo Jordan and Peter Galvin (2008) ACD Comments on Changuinola 1 (Chan-75) Large Hydro Project (Panama), Alliance for Conservation and Development (ACD) and the Centre for Biological Diversity http://www.internationalrivers.org/en/global-warming/the-cdm-kyotos-carbon-offsetting-scheme/acd-comments-changuinola-1-chan-75-large-hydr (Accessed 22/09/2010).
[5] Bill McLarney (2007) Director of the Stream Biomonitoring Programme at the Asociación ANAI in Costa Rica, Cited in Monti Aguirre – see Note 2.
[6] H. González (2009) General Manager of AES Changuinola, Cited in Mary Finley-Brook and Curtis Thomas (2010) Treatment of Displaced Indigenous Populations in Two Large Hydro Projects in Panama, Water Alternatives, Vol. 3, No. 2, P.269 – 290.
[7] AES Changuinola (2008) Participative Resettlement, AES http://www.aeschanguinola.com/eng/resettlement.asp (Accessed 22/09/2010).
[8] James Anaya (2009) Informe del Relator Especial sobre la situación de los derechos humanos y las libertades fundamentales de los indígenas: Observaciones sobre la situación de la comunidad Charco la Pava y otras comunidades afectadas por el proyecto hidroeléctrico Chan 75 (Panamá), Report presented to the Human Rights Council at the UN General Assembly, 7 Sept 2009.
[9] Cultural Survival (2010) Panamanian Government Steps Up Dam Construction on Ngöbe Lands, Cultural Survival http://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/panama/panamanian-government-steps-dam-construction-ng-be-lands (Accessed 23/09/2010).
[10] Cultural Survival (September 2010) ‘Dam Nation’, www.culturalsurvival.org/current-projects/%5Bfield_program-raw%5D/dam-nation (Accessed 22 September 2010).
[11] Op.cit. (Cultural Survival, 2010).

Chapter 4: The Energy Crisis

Is there an energy crisis in Central America? There certainly was in Nicaragua during 2007 and into 2008 when some parts of the country, including the capital Managua, suffered electricity cuts for up to 12 hours a day. At the time John Perry wrote,

Daily power cuts, dramatic increases in fuel costs, public buildings closed half the day to save energy, generating plants unable to operate, water shortages caused by lack of power to work the pumps, hikes in food prices driven in part by escalating transport costs. Does this sound like a forecast of an energy-starved future in a few decades time? In fact, it’s the present-day reality in the small Central American country of Nicaragua.[i]

Whilst this Nicaraguan situation was rather extreme and was later resolved, electricity cuts are far from unknown in the other Central American countries. On the surface of it, such situations are due to a simple failure of electricity supply to match demand, but it is necessary to scratch below the surface to discover the reasons for this mismatch.

Key words: Biomass | Firewood | Electrical energy | Energy deficit | Privatisation | Renewables | Fossil fuels | Hydro-electric power | Wind energy |Geothermal energy | Solar power | Small-scale alternatives

[i]   John Perry (2008) ‘The debate on energy and climate change – a different perspective’, Ch. 17 of Housing, the environment and our changing climate.

Unión Fenosa in Nicaragua

The economic model developed in the USA and Britain in the 1980s was later imposed on developing countries by the international financial institutions (IFIs) – the World Bank, the IMF and in Latin America the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The model advocated cuts in public spending and the privatisation of state-owned enterprises, especially utilities such as energy companies.

Although most urban areas in Nicaragua had electricity, in 1990 half the population were still not connected to the grid … Nicaragua could ill-afford to challenge the impositions of these IFIs. But in any case, for 16 years it had governments that embraced them enthusiastically and were able to portray them to critics as inescapable requirements.

The crown jewel of privatisation was the electricity distribution system, … Only one company, Unión Fenosa, made a bid. It created two distribution companies and various offshoots to give the appearance of not being a monopoly, and bought the whole system with its bid of only $115 million (slightly more than half the value placed on it by the government). As well as the infrastructure, it acquired Nicaragua’s limited technical expertise – the engineers and economists who run the system, and even the laboratory which tests household meters.

Nicaragua therefore entered the current century with a newly-privatised electricity system covering only half the population, massively dependent on oil imports, and charging the highest consumer prices of any country in the region. The government had limited regulatory ability to control a multinational company whose contract was, in any case, underwritten by World Bank guarantees. It had also completely failed to develop alternative, more sustainable power sources, which might have increased its flexibility in dealing with the Spanish multinational. …

Despite the promises, privatisation brought little new investment, so not only was power generation based on imported oil, it took place in old and inefficient power stations afflicted by frequent breakdowns. A combination of mismanagement and large numbers of illegal connections meant that, of the power that was generated and passed to Fenosa, some 30% was still being lost before reaching legitimate end users. …

While higher prices in Britain affect transport costs and might lead people to curb optional travel or switch to public transport, in Nicaragua the effects of oil costing up to $100 per barrel have been much more dramatic. The cost of basic foods has increased by up to 40%, and the daily bus journey to work might consume most of your weekly earnings. …

Despite the fact that the original sale had factored in guaranteed profit levels, and had even assumed a high level (15%) of ‘technical losses’ in the distribution system, Fenosa has persistently sought higher prices or has added extra charges to bills. … Electricity prices in Nicaragua are higher than anywhere else in Central America. …

In 2006 and 2007, amidst widespread protests and a situation described by one of the main national newspapers as living “… in a state of ctastrophe”, the power cuts were extended and formalised so in most places they lasted up to ten hours per day. The effect on the economy was disastrous. …

Yet these problems only directly affect half the population, as the other half continue to have no connections to the grid. The system has hardly grown at all since Fenosa took it over. Although its bid contained promises of investment, there was no contractual timetable about how and where this should take place. In fact, … where rural areas have secured electricity for the first time, this has been through international aid rather than as a result of investment by Fenosa.

John Perry (2008) ‘The debate on energy and climate change – a different perspective’, Ch. 17 (pp 229-244) of ‘Opening Doors – Improving housing services for refugees and new migrants’, Chartered Institute of Housing.

Case study: energy privatisation in Honduras

In the early 1990s, the Honduran electricity sector experienced a severe financial crisis when electricity tariffs were not adjusted to cover the debt incurred by the El Cajón hydroelectric project. To combat this, privatisation of the Honduran electricity market was mandated in 1994, but it was not achieved and the state electrical energy company (ENEE – Empresa Nacional de Energía Eléctrica) remained the only energy buyer in the country. A number of private generators of electricity, mostly small-scale and mostly producing hydroelectricity, operated under power purchase agreements with ENEE. By the mid-1990s Honduran electricity generation was largely hydro-generated, but financial conditions improved for private developers of thermal power stations, and by the mid-2000s 62 per cent of the country’s electricity was generated by thermal power stations in 2007.[1]

Technical losses, mainly through theft and illegal connections, had increased up to 25 per cent[2] and ENEE’s performance had been consistently poor throughout this period. Its financial difficulties had not improved by 2006 when a commission was charged with the running of ENEE because of these problems.

Mario Zelaya, an electrical engineer serving as a technical advisor to the commission, dates ENEE’s financial problems back to the early 1990s when the government was forced to privatise substantial parts of the national energy production due to requirements from the International Monetary Fund. In the process, the production moved from being mainly hydroelectric to mainly thermal – the latter being more profitable for the private sector.[3]

The ESMAP report cited above referred to this crisis as both “the emerging energy crisis” and “ENEE’s financial crisis.”[4] ENEE, then, is in crisis; and following the 2009 illegal overthrow of the elected President Manuel Zelaya, there have been reports that the illegitimate government which followed the coup government from January 2010 deliberately failed to enforce payment for electricity in order “to bankrupt the company as a pretext to allow financial corporations to take it over and privatise it.”[5] Aware of this process, ENEE’s labour union protested in October 2010 and demanded that the preparation for privatisation be halted.

The re-entry of Honduras into the Organisation of American States (OAS) in June 2011 acted as a spur to stimulate a renewal of interest of transnational investors in energy projects in Honduras. The IDB, having already violated its own charter by providing funding to Honduras during its period of suspension from the OAS, now has a programme to strengthen the Honduran energy sector. Much of the programme relates to the drafting of the regulatory framework for the sector, which “often refers to the legal framework for privatisation.”[6] It seems increasingly likely, then, that ENEE will experience a process of privatisation up to 2015. But as another World Bank report indicates, “If efficiency gains cannot be achieved to counterbalance the need to increase prices to cover costs, then the net impact on poverty could be dramatic, especially in very poor rural households.”[7] On the other hand, ENEE has shown an extraordinary resilience to the process of privatisation, perhaps through serendipity, over the past two decades.

Honduran hydroelectric projects are a major cause of local opposition. Consultation is not on the agenda of the post-coup Honduran government, and opposition to the Agua Zarca dam (on the Río Blanco) and the Patuca Dams (on the Río Patuca in La Mosquitia region) has grown in response to the violence of the security forces used to defend the construction of the dams. Details of both schemes and opposition to them are given in ‘The Violence of Development’ website.

In September 2010, the post-coup Honduran National Congress gave approval to 47 concessions for private energy generation projects around the country, 41 of them for hydroelectricity. Perhaps the government was hoping to stretch the opposition to such developments so far that it (the opposition) would not be able to concentrate its efforts sufficiently for success in any of them?

[1] Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme (ESMAP) (2010) ‘Honduras: Power Sector Issues and Options’, The World Bank, Report 333/10.
[2] Gobierno de Unidad Nacional (2010) ‘Estado debe invertir más de US$1,500 millones para satisfacer creciente demanda energética’, Visión de País 2010-2038, p.34.
[3] Anette Emanuelsson (31 July 2006) ‘Electricity company trying to recover three million lempira deficit’, Honduras This Week, www.marrder.com/htw/2006jul/national.htm
[4] Op.cit. (ESMAP, pp.xvi-xvii).
[5] Annie Bird (17 October 2010) ‘Honduran Coup Authors Poised To Pillage Indigenous Territory And National Energy Company’, Indigenous Peoples’ Issues Weekly News, www.isuma.tv/lo/iu/indigenous-peoples-issues-and-resources/honduras-honduran-coup-authors-poised-to-pillage-indigenous
[6] Annie Bird (June 2011) ‘Honduras back in the OAS: Violations and militarisation will increase as the military coup authors ensure their economic interests, and the Resistance Front advances toward political power’, Rights Action, www.rightsaction.org/articles/Honduras_back_in_OAS_061111.html
[7] World Bank (2003) ‘Poverty and Social Impact Assessment (PSIA) – Demonstrations: Electricity Reforms in Honduras’, The World Bank.

Geothermal energy’s negative side

Hot water brought to the earth’s surface includes arsenic, mercury, boron, antimony and salt, all of which may contaminate surface drainage water if not injected back into the earth, which fortunately is the customary practice.[i]

These fluids also contain a number of gases: CO2, hydrogen sulphide, methane and ammonia, all of which may contaminate the local atmosphere, although the CO2 emitted is a small fraction of the emissions of conventional fossil fuel plants. The hydrogen sulphide is also very small in quantity but may cause offensive smells locally.[ii]

Plant construction and drilling have been known to cause subsidence.[iii]

Many of Central America’s volcanoes are located within national parks and other protected areas, and this may be a potential source of conflict, as explained elsewhere in the website in the case of Costa Rica.

[i] KTH Research Project database (2005) ‘Arsenic in geothermal waters in Costa Rica, Central America’, http://researchprojects.kth.se/index.php/kb_7806/io_9338/io.html (accessed 12.07.11); Hartman Guido-Sequeira (2010) ‘Environmental Management in Geothermal Development: Case History for Costa Rica’, Proceedings World Geothermal Congress 2010.
[ii] Wikipedia (2011) ‘Geothermal electricity’, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_electricity
[iii] ClimateTechWiki, ‘Geothermal Electricity Production’, http://c,imatetechwiki.org/technology/geoth (accessed 19.07.11).

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, www.internationalrivers.org/en/latin-america/mesoamerica/chixoy-dam-guatemala (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.” http://witnessforpeace.live.radicaldesigns.org (accessed 15.08.09).
[3]  International Rivers Network, ‘Report Reveals 376 Murdered After Resisting Eviction’, www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/47/158.html (accessed 06/08/09).
[4]  Barbara Rose Johnston (18 May 2005) ‘Chixoy Dam Legacy Issues Study’, The Centre for Political Ecology, Santa Cruz, www.centerforpoliticalecology.org/chixoy.html (accessed 06/08/09).
[5]  Op.cit. (International Rivers Network).
[6]  Intercontinental Cry, ‘Chixoy Dam Reparations Campaign Announced’, http://intercontinentalcry.org/chixoy-dam-reparations-campaign-announced (accessed 06/08/09).
[7]  Op.cit. (International Rivers Network).

The Patuca River and the proposed Patuca dams

The project was first proposed in 1997 and design and planning work was initiated, but the project went through a stop-start process for a number of reasons and years, including in 2009 the collapse of funding. In January 2011, however, the post-coup Honduran National Congress approved the construction of the Patuca II, IIA and III dams. The contract was awarded to Sinohydro, a Chinese company.

In terms of electricity production, scheduled to begin in January 2014, the project is ambitious, although estimates of the power to be generated vary according to the company and institutions involved. For the government, the project is stated to be firmly tied in with the goal of changing the country’s balance of energy generation from mainly thermal sources to mainly renewable sources.[i]

At 320 km long, the Patuca River is the longest in Honduras and is the central artery of the Moskitia region, a large expanse of tropical wilderness in the north-east of Honduras. For 3,000 years it has been home to the Tawahka indigenous people and to several communities of Miskito, Garífuna and Pech peoples. Virtually all the indigenous people who live in the region are dependent on the Patuca or its tributaries for all aspects of their lives. On its rich floodplain they grow crops for subsistence and sale, and its fish provide their main source of protein. Dugouts on the Patuca serve as the main form of transport.

Lorenzo Tinglas, president of the Tawahka people’s governing council, describes its importance: “The river is our life. Any threat to the Patuca is a threat to four indigenous peoples … and we will fight to the death to protect it.”[ii] Edgardo Benitez of the Green Alliance and the Platform in Defence of the Patuca River said that everyone is worried, particularly the Tawahka who are a small group of 500 at risk of extinction if the dam project proceeds.[iii]

In February 2011 the four groups formed a united front to protect the river against the dam project. Fears include:

  • Interruption of fish migration and spawning, leading to their disappearance from the river.
  • Alteration of flood cycles that regularly wash nutrients over the flood plain.
  • Road construction opening the region to an invasion of loggers, settlers, poachers, cattle ranchers and drug traffickers.
  • Restrictions on the movement of local people – the government is building a military base to protect the dam construction site.[iv]

The Tawahka and other indigenous peoples affected by the dams were used in 2006 as part of a fact-finding mission to discover information about the flows and flood regime of the river.[v] This did not constitute consultation about the dams, which under the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169 – see Chapter 8 – indigenous peoples affected by development projects should be given. Throughout the long process of negotiations regarding the dams, the local indigenous groups have been excluded and ignored. Indeed, whilst the “Honduran regime rules as unconstitutional a decree allowing farming communities occupying idle land to make legal claims on the land because this ‘violates private property’, it takes no issue with expropriating land from small farmers and communities against their will for the Patuca projects.”[vi]

Given that the project began in 2011 with the building of a camp, access roads, a quarry and a tunnel to divert river water, it seems highly likely that the government and Sinohydro have no intention of consulting the local inhabitants. Opposition to the dams will certainly be difficult. As Wong writes, “the ‘government’ can send to kill and blame it on gangs.”[vii]

At a workshop to discuss means of protecting the Patuca River below the dams, Jeff Opperman, Senior Advisor for Sustainable Hydropower to The Nature Conservancy, repeated a local man’s statement: “A ellos van siempre los dólares … a nosotros van siempre los dolores” – “to them always the dollars … to us always the pain.”[viii]

[i] Reynaldo Yanes (15 May 2011) ‘Patuca III, primer paso a la reconversión energética’, La Prensa Business section, www.laprensa.hn/Sintesis/Lo-ultimo/Ediciones/2011/05/16/Noticias/Patuca-III-primer-paso-a-la-reconversion-energetica (accessed 30.07.11).
[ii] Danielle DeLuca (2011) ‘Tawahka and Garífuna people to Honduran regime – Don’t Dam the Patuca River!’, Cultural Survival, Action Alert.
[iii] Rosanna Wong (2011) ‘Mega Dam Project on Patuca River Threatens Indigenous Communities’, iNewp.com, http://inewp.com/?p=7178 (accessed 06.07.11).
[iv] Intercontinental Cry (2011) ‘Don’t Dam the Patuca River!’, http://intercontinentalcry.org/dont-dam-the-patuca-river/ (accessed 06.07.11).
[v] Jeff Opperman (undated) ‘In Honduras, Scientists Try to Learn the Secrets of the Patuca River Before It’s Dammed’, The Nature Conservancy, http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/lessons-from-the-field-patuca-river-honduras/ (accessed 06.07.11).
[vi] Op.cit. (Wong).
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] Jeff Opperman (February 2011) ‘Dólares y Dolores Along the Rio Patuca’, The Nature Conservancy, Cool Green Science, http://blog.nature.org/2011/02/dolares-y-dolores-along-the-rio-patuca/ (accessed 30.07.11).

State terror in support of a Guatemalan hydroelectric project

Between 1980 and 1982 – during a particularly brutal spell of Guatemala’s civil war – some 376 Mayans were massacred when they resisted eviction from the village of Río Negro to make way for the Chixoy Reservoir. According to Witness For Peace[1], the massacres were carried out by the Civil Defence Patrols (PAC), one of the notorious paramilitary units used by the Guatemalan state as death squads.[2]

In March 1980, military police based at the site of the dam shot seven people in Río Negro. The villagers chased the police away and one, according to the people of Río Negro, drowned in the Chixoy River. The Guatemalan power utility company (INDE) and the army, however, accused the villagers of murdering the policeman and of being supporters of the guerrilla movement. In July 1980, two representatives from Río Negro agreed to a request from INDE to go to the dam site to present their resettlement documents. The mutilated bodies of the two men were found a week later.

In February 1982, 73 men and women from Río Negro were ordered by the local military commander to report to Xococ, a village upstream from the reservoir zone which had a history of hostility with Río Negro. Only one woman out of the 73 villagers returned to Río Negro. The rest were raped, tortured and then murdered by Xococ’s PAC.

On 13 March 1982, ten soldiers and 25 PAC members arrived in Río Negro, rounded up the remaining women and children and took them to a hill above the village. Witness for Peace’s account of what happened on the hill was pieced together from interviews with survivors.

They were strangling many of the women by putting ropes around their necks and twisting the ropes with sticks. They were also beating other women with clubs and rifles, and kicking and punching them. ‘I remember one woman,’ [Jaime, a 10 year old survivor at the time] relates, ‘a soldier jumped up and kicked her in the back. He must have broken her spine, because she tried to get up but her legs wouldn’t move. Then he smashed her skull with his rifle.’ The patrollers killed the children by tying ropes around their ankles and swinging them, smashing their heads and bodies into rocks and trees.[3] Seventy women and 107 children were killed. Only two women managed to escape. Eighteen children were taken back to Xococ as slaves for the PAC.

Two months later, 82 more people from Río Negro were massacred. In September 1982, 35 orphaned children from Río Negro were among 92 people machine gunned and burned to death in another village near the dam. Reservoir filling began soon after this final massacre.

[1]   Witness For Peace (WFP) 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.” http://witnessforpeace.live.radicaldesigns.org (accessed 15.08.09).
[2]  International Rivers Network (IRN), ‘Report Reveals 376 Murdered After Resisting Eviction’, www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/47/158.html (accessed 06/08/09).
[3]  IRN/WFP (9 May 1996) ‘NGOs Demand World Bank Investigation Into 1980s Massacres as Guatemalan Dam Report Reveals 276 Murdered After Resisting Eviction’, IRN/WFP Press Release.