Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Second solidarity festival for political prisoners in Huehuetenango

"This is all of our struggle. Who doesn't breathe this air? Who doesn't drink this water? Who doesn't feel the rays of the shining sun on their face? Standing up for life - this is my husband's crime. How many of our brothers and sisters have given their lives for life? For more than 500 years, people have tried to instill fear into us. We need to join together in this struggle....it's all of our struggle." - Juana Mendez, wife of political prisoner Rigoberto Juarez.

Photo credit: NISGUA
Saturday, people gathered in Huehuetenango for the second Solidarity Festival with political prisoners. Since the first festival last December, six more land defenders from Huehuetenango have been arrested on trumped-up charges, as part of a state and corporate strategy to silence opposition to resource extraction projects in Guatemala. This brings the total to eight.

Those in attendance sign letters of support to those imprisoned.
Photo credit: NISGUA
For more information on community consultations in Guatemala and the pattern of criminalizing leaders, read NISGUA's latest report: Commemorating 10 years of community consultations in defense of life. The report is also available in Spanish.

Musician Tito Medina performed in the square, and then went
to the prison to sing to several of the political prisoners.
Photo credit: NISGUA
The messages of the day were simple: Stop criminalizing legitimate struggles for the defense of land and freedom for political prisoners. Musicians came to show their support and unite struggles, including from La Puya who know first hand what it is like to have their movements criminalized by the heavy hand of an unjust legal system manipulated by corporate power.

Rubén Herrera, who has spent the last several years either in jail or battling arrest warrants was present. "I know what it's like to be in prison," he said. "These courts won't give us justice. These arrests are supported by the companies, but I'm here to tell you what those who are in prison would tell you if they could be here. We won't accept this - not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow. The struggle we're in is to change our country. That's why we're here."

Rubén Herrera, together with his partner Cecilia Mérida.
Photo credit: NISGUA
Over the next few months, we invite you to participate in NISGUA's summer of base-building and host a house party. Those gathered will be invited to send a letter of encouragement to the political prisoners and one to the U.S. Embassy, expressing concern for the growing manipulation and corruption of the Guatemalan justice system in order to persecute human rights defenders. Gather together to celebrate, find inspiration, and draw connections from community-based movements for self-determination occurring throughout Guatemala, and strengthen our home network for justice and social change.

House parties are already being organized in San Francisco, Madison, Portland, Los Angeles, Austin, Seattle, and Toronto, Canada. Don't see your city on the list? Write to megan[at]nisgua.org to host an event or find other ways to get connected. Stay tuned for an online version of our action to support political prisoners in Huehuetenango.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Commemorating 10 years of community consultations in defense of land and life

For generations, indigenous communities in Guatemala have held consultations to make decisions on issues affecting their people and their lands. While the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996 facilitated the adoption of national laws and international agreements that recognized the particular rights of indigenous peoples, the post-conflict neoliberal economic model prioritized resource extraction — a practice fundamentally at odds with upholding these rights. Specifically, the 1997 Mining Law weakened oversight and lowered royalty rates for mining companies, and the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement further established foreign direct investment as a pillar of the Guatemalan economy.

Transnational mining and hydroelectric companies were given free rein to begin operations without the consent of impacted communities, and they quickly gained access to huge swaths of land in order to carry out resource exploration and exploitation activities. In a land mass comparable to Tennessee, over 360 mining licenses have been issued and more than 600 are pending.

This month, NISGUA releases a report documenting the referenda movement in Guatemala as a community strategy to defend land against mining and other mega-development projects. We invite you to read the full report, "Commemorating 10 years of community consultations in defense of land and life" in English here. The report is also available in Spanish.

Communities in Santa Cruz del Quiché unanimously vote
against resource extraction. Photo credit: James Rodríguez, mimundo.org
Over the past ten years, more than a million people have voted in community referenda to ban mining activities on their lands. This ancestral decision-making practice is an act of resistance and expression of people power that has been a source of inspiration for movements for self-determination throughout the country and the world. 

But together with the force of the Guatemalan government, resource extractions are fighting back and actively seeking the detention of those who oppose their projects. In the past few years, dozens of people opposed to mining projects have been arrested on trumped-up charges and have spent months - and even years - in prison awaiting a trial. Today, eight community leaders from Huehuetenango who played key roles in the organization of consultations in their territory are in prison. These husbands, fathers, brothers and sons stood up to demand respect for the results of the consultation even as state violence and repression mobilized to impose the projects against communities’ will.

We invite you to read the full version of the report and take action to support the political prisoners from Huehuetenango who continue to stand up for land and life.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Petition to remove Pérez Molina's presidential immunity moves to Congress

On June 10th, Guatemala's Supreme Court unanimously voted to accept Congressman Amílcar Pop's petition to remove President Otto Pérez Molina's immunity. Pop is accusing President Molina of playing a role in the corruption scandals in the tax and health sectors, which were recently unveiled by the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) – revelations that have led to widespread protests throughout the country and calls for Molina's resignation. According to the constitution, the Supreme Court was then required to turn the file over to Congress, where five members were selected at random to form an investigative commission. The President is being accused of concealment and illicit association.

With one Congressman from CREO, one from Molina's own Partido Patriota, and three from LIDER - a party which allegedly spent the last three years making deals with the current government to stack the judiciary – the commission is now tasked with determining whether sufficient evidence exists to recommend stripping the president of his immunity. While this would not necessarily lead to an impeachment, it would allow for a full investigation and could possibly lead to the President's resignation. 

Congressman Amílcar Pop appears before the Commission.
Photo credit: Prensa Comunitaria  
The Commission's final recommendation will be voted on in Congress, with 105 of 158 votes needed to pass. Congress can also vote to invalidate the recommendation and send the process back to the commission for further consideration. There is no set time limit for making the recommendation. Although the Commission has so far moved quickly and is set to hear Pop's arguments today (Tuesday, June 16), analysts warn that the process could drag on. The President has assured the public that he has no intention of stepping down and welcomes the investigation. 

Protests in the country continue, criticizing the behind-the-scenes maneuvers by powerful economic and political actors to gain control of the crisis and thus the outcome. Chants and posters frequently seen and heard at the demonstrations denounce the intervention by the U.S. Embassy, and call for respect for autonomy as people push for real, systemic change.

A woman holds a sign that reads, "Gringos: Mind your own business."
Photo credit: Nelton Rivera, Prensa Comunitaria
On June 2nd, President Molina and U.S. Ambassador Todd Robinson announced that the U.S. would provide polygraph tests for workers at the national tax agency. This announcement, together with the stark visual of Ambassador Robinson at the presidential podium with President Molina, has been seen as a strong signal of support for the embattled President, and has become a focal point in denouncing U.S. intervention in the country.

Ambassador Robinson with President Pérez Molina in June 2015
Photo Credit: Nómada
In an interview with Nómada published on June 10th, Robinson re-stated multiple times that he is “not in charge in Guatemala.” He gave this statement in response to questions about the message the public event sent at a moment when “nobody wants to be photographed with President Otto Pérez.” Robinson emphasized that the U.S. remains committed to combating corruption in Guatemala, with the billion-dollar Alliance for Prosperity at the center of its foreign policy strategy. The Ambassador revealed that the U.S. had “one word” in the resignation of Vice-president Baldetti, but maintained that it was primarily the decision of the President and the Guatemalan government. He stated that the U.S. government “is looking forward to working with [President Pérez Molina] during the rest of his period.” 

While the Embassy remains committed to Molina, popular support throughout the country is waning. For the eighth time last Saturday, thousands of people gathered throughout the country and in Guatemala City's central square to demand Molina’s resignation. Protestors also gathered last week outside of Congress to demand a speedy response from the Commission as they deliberate their recommendation to remove or maintain immunity. 


The joint CICIG / Public Prosecutor investigation into two separate corruption rings have resulted in the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti and six cabinet members. So far, 42 people, including President Molina's former personal secretary and the head of the National Bank, have been arrested. The Public Prosecutor's office has carried out searches in three of the properties owned by former Vice President Roxana Baldetti under suspicion of illegal enrichment due to involvement in the La Linea customs scandal.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Accompanier Perspectives: Huehuetenango

Dear Family and Friends,

Thanks to those of you who’ve responded to my recent call for action in solidarity with political prisoners in Huehuetenango and for financial support in NISGUA’s successful May Match campaign! Those of you who’ve signed in support of the release of Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velasquez will have your voices heard in the coming weeks as NISGUA’s partners in Madrid coordinate the presentation of the petition to Guatemalan embassies in North American and Europe.

It has been a while since I’ve reached out to you all with more substantive updates and reflections on my work as a human rights accompanier in Guatemala, but I’ve been thinking of you. Firstly, with the (bittersweet) excitement of knowing that I’ll be seeing many of you soon as I conclude my six-month contract this week and start to make my way back north. And secondly, with curiosity and hope in the histories converging in the current moment in both the U.S. and Guatemala that have provoked diverse forms of protest and commentary in response to the specific violences of institutionalized racism and corruption. 

Throughout the unfolding of what many are calling a “black spring” in the United States, I have been doing my best to stay well-informed and vocal from afar, but have learned that while social media helps me keep my anger current, it also affirms distance and lends itself to feelings of powerlessness. For this reason, I am especially looking forward to opportunities for shared, in-real-life reflection (and action) with those of you who’ve been directly engaging (as listeners, as actors) in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Even from where I stand in Guatemala, it is clear that the questions we need to ask ourselves are difficult, the answers complex, and the stakes as high as they have always been.

Right now in Guatemala, the same is true. This spring, in the largest wave of popular protests since the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, the population has demanded the resignation of public figures (including the president) believed to be linked to the crime syndicate “La Linea,” which compromised customs revenue by waiving import tariffs in exchange for bribes. The protests (connected by their shared usage of #RenunciaYa or #StepDownAlready) have led to the resignation of the vice-president last month (which analysts have also linked to the influence of the U.S. embassy and American economic interests) and have energized similar investigations aimed at undermining impunity. In a country where an indigenous majority experiences some of the deepest poverty in the region and where the current regime frequently cites a deficit for the deplorable conditions of its education and health systems, it is not surprising that the abuse of public funds has been met with unrest. 

#BlackLivesMatter and #RenunicaYa have emerged from distinct contexts and reflect varied objectives, but they have something important in common: a dawning recognition that the creation of a just present requires deep and critical engagement with the past. Beyond expressing just rage in response to specific instances of extreme police violence, #BlackLivesMatter protests address the pervasive reality of institutionalized anti-black racism as a direct legacy of African slavery in North America. Similarly, the diverse perspectives represented in #RenunciaYa question the meaning of democracy and peace since the signing of the Peace Accords and reflect a shared acknowledgement that today, as they have long been, terror and impunity are the rule in Guatemala, while justice is the illusive exception. 

So, what does all of this have to do with human rights accompaniment? 

While the theft of public funds by La Linea may seem petty in comparison to the genocidal violence exercised by the state against poor and indigenous Guatemalans for decades (and centuries), the scandal is emblematic of the institutional precarity that permits human rights abuses to thrive in Guatemala. Weak courts, racist police, and highly corruptible public officials are easily utilized by transnational companies to repress movements that challenge their extractive, exploitative logic. In the midst of #RenunciaYa’s unfolding, three more leaders of the resistance to hydroelectric development in Huehuetenango have been incarcerated, and over a dozen more have had warrants issued for their arrest. The most recent arrests bring the total number of political prisoners in the north of Huehuetenango to 9, with every organization that I’ve accompanied experiencing the threat of the incarceration of its leaders. 

While criminalization has intensified in my time as an accompanier (six new prisoners in six months), it is not a new phenomenon in Huehuetenango. In May 2012, five years after the people of Santa Cruz Barillas had unanimously refused the presence of extractive mega-projects in their territory in a consulta comunitaria, an activist who had vocally opposed the installation of two hydroelectric dams on the Cambalam River was murdered by the company’s private security. In the days following his murder, anticipating impunity, the people of Barillas rose up to demand justice for his death. The state responded with a state of siege, militarizing the city and its outlying villages, suspending civil liberties, and making massive arrests alleging destruction of company property and threats to its employees. For survivors of the internal armed conflict, the presence of the military was traumatizing; many took refuge in the forest, convinced that the war had started again, and some still suffer effects of post-traumatic stress. 

While military intervention in Barillas sought to terrorize a public in unrest, the justice system has sent clear messages about its take on the value of rural Guatemalan life and transnational private property. The employees of Hidro Santa Cruz who murdered Andrés Francisco Miguel have yet to be successfully sentenced three years after his death, while community leaders have spent months and years in pretrial detention accusations based on their leadership, and not in their proved participation in criminal activity. Often, it has taken years to close their cases even after they have been released for lack of proof or faulty investigations. 

In my last update, I introduced criminalization as a strategy for repressing and neutralizing social movements. In simple terms, criminalization literally makes activist leadership a crime. In the cases I’ve witnessed in my time as an accompanier, leaders have been charged as the intellectual authors of spontaneous protests that have demanded justice and accountability for state sanctioned violence. But many have actually played mediating roles in conflictive situations, attempting to minimize the risks that protesters take in expressing their desire for justice while maximizing the possibilities for dialogue. But the character of their participation is not of interest to prosecutors; their mere presence has made them the subject of criminal investigations. In some cases, being present isn’t even requisite for being charged.

The repressive impact of incarcerating leaders is made more effective by the issuing of arrest warrants against entire organizations and communities. While an arrest warrant does not guarantee an arrest, the threat of arrest may be even more debilitating to the capacity of movements to demand justice. The most recent arrests have been made in the capital, where leaders have traveled between 8 and 13 hours to attend hearings for their peers or file police reports against violent public officials. An arrest in the capital, as opposed to in rural Huehuetenago, sends a strong message: Leaving home means increasing risk of arrest, and the police knows when you leave home.

What’s more, these arrests have been highly public and visible to movements based in other regions, where the impact of criminalization is felt as well. Where I work in Huehuetenango, the impacts are palpable: Those with warrants live in fear of arrest and must navigate the need to limit their movement and participation as movement becomes more necessary than ever. The families of those incarcerated adapt to long, frequent, and expensive trips to capital cities to visit their loved ones, while living the consequences of a lost income, all while movements require their collaboration to build broad support for political prisoners. For indigenous campesinos especially, navigating legal spaces and processes is an uphill battle, and language barriers and ethnic discrimination often mean total exclusion. On the periphery, some still talk about seeking refuge. 

These are the kinds of conditions of abuse and threat that make human rights accompaniment a necessary and valued solidarity strategy in Guatemala, especially in Huehuetenango. As criminalization intensifies, the people I accompany have asked that we maintain our presence in the region and expand it into new spaces — to court rooms and prisons, and in activities where potentially criminalized activists risk arrest. More than anything, this has meant that my team and I have been present to observe the legal processes starting at the moment of incarceration, and that we’ve heightened our attention to factors of security that threaten the capacity of the people we accompany to live, work, and organize for their communities safely. 

In this context, it is clear that international accompaniment alone does not wield sufficient dissuasive power to prevent the unjust imprisonment of activists. Rather, as our presence continues to be felt and valued by the people who request it, we must think of ways in which accompaniment can support a variety of strategies for reducing harm while working to undermine exploitation and abuse.

On my last day as an accompanier, I observed the first hearing for the case of three leaders from Barillas who were arrested almost exactly three months before. The outcome of the hearing wasn’t positive; the judge denied the defense’s request to revise the charges in consideration of various irregularities in the investigation, and it remained unclear how long they’d have to wait for their next hearing. But as we left the courtroom, things got worse: another community leader who’d traveled from Barillas in support of his three compañeros was presented with a photocopy of a warrant for his arrest. Nearly two hours passed before he was presented with a legal version of the warrant, and we accompanied him as he was handcuffed and taken to the basement holding cells to await his arraignment. 

As I observed his entrance into the jail, I heard my name being called from a nearby cell, “Don Davíd! Aquí! Don Davíd”! The three men who’d had the hearing earlier that day were waiting to be transferred back to their long-term cell assignment in a nearby prison. They called me over to ask me questions about the arrest of their compañero, to advocate for the safest placement possible for him in the prison where’d they’d been held previously in Huehuetenango, and reached their hands up out of the dark cell to touch mine through the narrow bars. They smiled as I said goodbye.

While I reciprocated the joy of seeing them, the feeling was hard to sustain. I’ve never seen places so ugly and hopeless, so unapologetically violent, as the prisons where I’ve made visits in the last six months. It isn’t possible to witness the horror of mass incarceration without feeling some level of powerlessness and rage, without feeling exasperation with common sense notions of justice that rationalize such contempt for human life. I’ve been holding these feelings for several months now, perhaps longer, and I think those feelings are important, but I am so grateful for those smiling hands in the darkness reminding me that joy is necessary in survival.

There are lots of ways that I will remember my work as an accompanier, and there are many ways in which I intend to continue in its spirit in other contexts. I'll be transitioning back to my "normal" life in the next few weeks, but I feel more aware than ever that while working as a human rights accompanier has been a unique experience in my life, the ongoing work of shared survival is everyone's. That work didn't start six months ago and it doesn't end now. 

As always, thanks for sticking with me throughout my experience. 

In Solidarity,


Friday, June 12, 2015

Communities defend right to clean water, continue to speak out against Tahoe's dirty mine

In honor of World Environment Day, communities impacted by Tahoe Resources' Escobal mine did what they have consistently done since the mining company came on to their lands - stand up for land, water and life against mega-development extraction. The situation is critical: just over a year into the start of commercial production at the massive silver mine, water contamination and scarcity is already being reported and confirmed by community members, government officials and environmental organizations.

Beneath the rain, over a hundred people gathered outside the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) to denounce the Initial Environmental Assessment (EAI) for the Juan Bosco exploration license, owned by Tahoe Resources' subsidiary, Minera San Rafael. Despite widespread resistance to the mine and a 2013 referendum where the community of San Juan Bosco overwhelmingly rejected the presence of the mine, MARN approved the initial assessment in December 2014, putting Tahoe is one step closer to constructing its second mine in the area. Its flagship Escobal project in neighboring San Rafael las Flores began commercial production in January 2014.

Major concerns about the impact the Escobal project is having on the local water supply motivated people from San Juan Bosco and surrounding communities to take legal action to prevent the company's expansion. A preliminary injunction filed by the Center for Environmental Legal Action (CALAS) against MARN was recently accepted by a Guatemala judge. The complaint centers on the fact that the Juan Bosco EAI is for a low impact project, which is inappropriate for a mining project. The positive decision by the judge means that the approval of the EAI has been temporarily suspended. Nevertheless, community members report that the company continues to purchase land in the area.

"They call us terrorists. They say our demonstrations are violent. But look around. We're here, peacefully demanding that MARN stop authorizing these EIAs. We're talking about our land. This isn't just our struggle - it should be everyone's," said one community member from San Juan Bosco at the protest outside of MARN. 

In 2012, CALAS also filed a complaint for contamination of the Escobal Creek and the El Dorado River, located near the community of Los Planes, just steps from Tahoe’s project. The alleged offense occurred while the project was still in the exploration phase. In April of this year, Tahoe's administrative manager for its Guatemalan subsidiary, Carlos Roberto Morales Monzón, was indicted by a Guatemala judge on charges of industrial contamination and sent to pretrial detention. He was released on bail several weeks later, but remains under house arrest awaiting trial.

The charges in this case were recently backed by a report published by the MadreSelva Collective, an environmental organization that has been monitoring water quality at six points located up and down river from the Escobal mine for the past three years. The report concludes that the monitoring point closest to the mine on the Escobal Creek is the site of water discharges from underground mine operations and contains high concentrations of chemical elements and potentially toxic metals, which present serious implications for the health of residents, their crops and animals. It also documents the drying up of at least 18 wells in communities within the municipality of San Rafael las Flores, were the mine is located. 

Those gathered outside MARN also highlighted the 250 complaints related to concerns over water that were filed against the Escobal project before the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) granted the exploitation license. Even thought Guatemalan law states that all complaints must be resolved before the exploitation license can be granted, all 250 were dismissed the day the license was granted. A lawsuit is pending in Guatemala’s Constitutional Court for lack of due process in this regard, which has raised questions about the legality of Tahoe’s exploitation license.

"We already see the negative impacts of the Escobal mine," says one community member from San Rafael las Flores. He works digging wells in the community and surrounding areas for potable water. "Since Escobal started operating, we're seeing these wells dry up.... Enough is enough. It's time that the government and company stop intimidating the people in San Rafael las Flores and the surrounding areas for standing up against the mine.” he says.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Accompanier Perspectives: Ixcán

Since the mid-1990s, members of the NISGUA network have provided a physical international presence to threatened human rights defenders and communities in the Ixcán.

We invite you to read the following reflection piece from one of our current accompaniers, Kayla Myers, about the violence of the past and the ongoing imposition of megadevelopment projects in the area. For more information about accompaniment, please read "The Power of Presence."

The river Chixoy, which runs from the south of Guatemala all the way up into Mexico, is the life that runs through both the geography of the region and the continued struggles that define our work there. The Cobán-Ixcán region is in the extreme north of Guatemala next to the Mexican border. Cobán is the municipality located on the East side of the river Chixoy. Uspantán. On the West side of the river and in the extreme Northern region is the Ixcán, which is where we will also be working. Surrounding these municipalities are many smaller communities connected often only by foot-trails through the jungle, pickups and small buses, or boats along the Chixoy. 

Many communities in this region were victimized by the Guatemalan military during the armed conflict. For example, in 1982, a pueblo in the north of the Ixcán suffered the largest massacre in the history of Guatemala. On March 14th of that year the army arrived in this pueblo corralling the people into the town marketplace with gunfire, and on the 15th the army burned the Evangelical Church with people trapped inside. On that day, 324 Guatemalans were mass murdered. This history is not a forgotten page, this particular massacre only occurred 33 years ago, and its repercussions still echo into the present and future of this region.

Burial of massacre victims in the Ixcán region, 1996.
Photo credit: S. José Rio Negro, © A. Huet,
Center for Independent Media 
The reason given for the massacre was that the towns-people "supported the guerrilla movement." This was often the reason given during the time of internal armed conflict, a reason masking genocidal and economic motives. It was considered a genocide as Mayan villages were targeted and 84% of those killed or disappeared during the conflict were Indigenous Mayan Peoples. Economic motives are seen in the fact that the government planned the Xalalá hydroelectric project, a dam that will stop the Chixoy river and be used to generate electricity, in the 1970's. Their plan was inhibited, in party, by the presence of communities along the river. The project was paused during the time of massacres and re-vamped in 2004 as a top national priority. After the conflict, the survivors in Cobán-Ixcán were vulnerable from the loss of family, community and land and this vulnerability is now being exploited to gain access to their land and the Chixoy River for the benefit of multi-national companies and the elite class of Guatemala.

Yet, hydroelectric projects do mean clean energy and development in a place isolated and beneath the shadow of extreme poverty. Several questions arise:

"Question:" Why don't they want clean energy and development?
"Response:" If the Xalalá dam is built, over 50 communities around the Chixoy River will be either flooded or completely deprived access to water.

"Q:" What about relocation and compensation?
"R:" The Xalalá dam would be the second largest project in Guatemala next to the Chixoy hydroelectric project built in the 1980s. Those forcibly evicted from their homes and land at that time are still awaiting compensation.

"Q:" What about the trickle down affect of development projects, won't they benefit in the long run?
"R:" The Xalalá project will create energy to be exported, not to be used locally. Those who benefit will be the elite who partner with international companies.

These questions are usually the first to arrive in the minds of people from the Global North, but the implications of damming this river go far deeper than questions of logistics and money.

The Indigenous Mayan peoples are the majority of the population in Guatemala with a culture and tradition alive as the river. The languages spoken in Cobán-Ixcán are principally Q’eqchi, Quiche’, Mam, and Spanish. The Mayan Cosmovision, or view of the world, emphasizes real connection to the Earth and the resources that are life for the Mayan peoples. The river is life, a life under threat.

Indigenous Communities say NO to the Xalalá Hydroelectric
project. Photo credit: NISGUA
There has been no justice for the communities that survived massacres in this region during the armed conflict, instead there is continued tension and re-traumatization. This does not mean that they have given up, on the contrary, the tide for justice in Cobán-Ixcán flows strong. As an example, here is a time-line of their struggle against the Xalalá hydroelectric project:

  • 2007 and 2010 – good-faith community consultations are held in Ixcán and Uspantán respectively. Over 18,000 community members, 90% of the population in the region, said NO to the project in these organized votes.
  • 2008 - the community consultations, which are legal under International Laws of which Guatemala is a signatory, were ignored by the government and INDE started the project and began looking for investors.
  • 2008-2013 – the Xalalá hydroelectric project is stalled by lack of investors due in part to the awareness raised by communities.
  • November 2013 - a contract was signed by the Brazilian Company Intertechne Consultores SA to carry out the feasibility studies necessary for dam construction.
  • April 2014 - the communities filed a injunction against contract in the Constitutional Court of Guatemala for illegality and irregularities.
  • December 2014 – the National Electrification Institute (INDE) cancels the contract with Intertechne and declares that Xalalá is no longer a top national priority. The Constitutional Court has yet to give their decision on the legality of the contract and the people are suspicious of INDE's change in tactics.
INDE has been using any tactic available to weaken the resistance of the local peoples to the project. They attempt to buy out local leaders, seize land in any way they can, start community strife to divide peoples, and offer much needed resources only in return for support of the project. They are even suspected of flying helicopters over these post-conflict communities to scare them into submission.

That is a part of the complex history of this region of Guatemala, so how does that translate to our work? As international human rights accompaniers in this region, my partner and I will provide moral support and a dissuasive presence to the communities and individuals who survived massacres as well as support individuals and organizations struggling against the Xalalá hydroelectric project.

Three of several of the organizations we partner with are:

1. AJR- the Association for Justice and Reconciliation- created by Guatemalan survivors and refugees to bring cases from the armed conflict to trial

2. ACODET - the Association of Communities for the Development of the Defense of Land and Natural Resources - communities in the area organized to resist the Xalalá hydroelectric project

3. Puentes de Paz- Bridges of Peace- they work in the region on several community support projects

They say that this region is the region of walking. From community to community we pack along our belongings and our notebooks, ready to listen to the voices of these powerful defenders and survivors, ready to share information globally to break the ugly silence and isolation in which oppression and violence thrive. I am so ready to learn from the undercurrent of strength that has sustained these people in their struggle, a struggle for the preservation of life, land, and water. In a world being drained of our human connection to nature, this is a struggle we all face together. The implications of their work and survival will be felt through Guatemala and through our global struggle for natural resources and human rights.

Thank you for reading this reflection, for taking time on your path to connect with me and with the people of Guatemala. Please check out www.nisgua.org for updates.

In Solidarity,

Kayla Myers

Victory for communities threatened by the Xalalá dam: Contract for feasibility studies canceled

NISGUA's 2014 Rivers for Life speaking tour featured ACODET, an association made up of more than 50 communities whose livelihoods and culture are threatened by the possible construction of the Xalalá dam. During the tour we mobilized our grassroots base to stand in solidarity with impacted communities by calling for the cancellation of the geological feasibility study - a necessary precursor to the dam's construction. The granting of the feasibility study to Brazilian company Intertechne Consultores S.A. was fraught with anomalies and a lack of consultation with indigenous communities.  

We are excited to report that earlier this month, the National Electrification Institute (INDE) announced that the contract was terminated in December 2014! This explains why the Xalalá project, declared a national priority by President Otto Perez Molina in 2012, was publicly removed from the national agenda at the same time. It remains unclear why INDE took months to announce that the contract had been revoked. 

INDE announced that the revocation of the $4.9 million contract with Intertechne S.A. for the Xalalá geological feasibility studies was due to the company's failure to fulfill the requirements. MEM and INDE also reported that they will request Intertechne to return the $1.4 million advance given for the project, which was double the percentage companies are typically given as an advance for similar work. 

As a result of this scandal, and others that have rocked the government since April, high-level officials from the National Electrification Institutes (INDE), the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) and the Ministry of the Environment (MARN) have been forced to resign. Erik Archila, former head of MEM was part of the mass resignation of cabinet members on May 15th, and is also facing multiple allegations of corruption in other cases related to the granting of illegal contracts. 

The communities threatened by the Xalalá dam have taken action to denounce the lack of transparency and illegality of the agreement signed with Intertechne in November 2013 ever since learning about the contract in January 2014. At the request of communities, the General Comptroller's Office (CGC) carried out a hearing with the Congressional Integrity Commission in April 2014 to present the numerous irregularities and allegations of corruption in this and other license granting processes. In June 2014, ancestral authorities from the region presented an injunction against INDE for irregularities and the lack of consultation with communities. 

“By canceling the geological studies contract [for the Xalalá dam project], INDE is attempting to distance itself from the illegal acts committed by signing the contract with the Brazilian company Intertechne Consultores S.A., possibly to cover up corruption, justify costs already incurred and evade penal prosecution of those responsible.” Press release from communities threatened by the Xalalá dam, May 4, 2015 

Today we can celebrate this victory while continuing to demand investigation into contracts that benefit transnational companies at the expense of local peoples and blatantly disregard legitimate community decision-making processes that have rejected these types of megaprojects.