Chixoy Dam and Rio Negro massacre, Guatemala

One of the saddest chapters of Guatemalan history is written in Rio Negro. Hundreds of people murdered for criminal development plans. In 2014 the recognition of the violence by the state and 2015 first compensation checks given to the Mayan families


Chixoy Dam was built in Verapaz, a region that holds approximately 75,000 Achi speaking Maya people. The hydro-electric project was initiated during the Guatemalan military dictatorship, and the violent civil war between 1976 and 1983. When community members from Rio Negro opposed relocation and sought better compensation, the army and paramilitary forces murdered 444 people, the majority of them women and children (facts later known as the Rio Negre massacre). The few survivors, only 23 families and a few young people, had to flee to the mountains and far away villages. While some young men were captured by the army, tortured and then enrolled by force, 18 children were reduced to slavery by the military and paramilitary forces.

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Basic Data
NameChixoy Dam and Rio Negro massacre, Guatemala
ProvinceAlta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsLa hidroeléctrica Chixoy es la más grande de Guatemala. Forma un lago artificial de 14 kilómetros cuadrados, similar al de Amatitlán, almacenando 313 millones de metros cúbicos de agua.

El embalse se encuentra próximo a San Cristobal Verapaz, a 803 metros sobre el nivel del mar.

El costo global anunciado de la presa fue de US$ 365 millones, pero se elevó posteriormente a US$ 825 millones más intereses
Project Area (in hectares)14000
Level of Investment (in USD)825,000,000 mas intereses
Type of PopulationUrban
Start Date1976
Company Names or State EnterprisesUnion Fenosa from Spain
Sacyr from Spain
Cogefar from Italy
Hotchief from United States of America
SISBORIS from France
Salini Impregilo from Italy
Relevant government actorsMEM - Guatemala, INDE - Guatemala
International and Financial InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersCommittee of Communities Affected by Chixoy Dam - Guatemala, MAPDER
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Social movements
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Soil erosion
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Potential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseRepression
Under negotiation
Criminalization of activists
Institutional changes
Negotiated alternative solution
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Development of AlternativesThey demand re-settlement and the reparations that the Government has promised for over twenty years. Indigenous communities end their protest after signing an agreement with the Guatemalan and International authorities involved in the project.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The project has caused irreversible damage to indigenous communities.
Sources and Materials

THE CHIXOY DAM IN GUATEMALA AND THE MAYA ACH GENOCIDE. Campagna per la riforma della Banca Mondiale. 2000

Los recursos naturales no se venden. Boletin resistencia de los pueblos. 2007

Represa aqui, represa all, que esos planes paren ya. Boletin resistencia de los pueblos. 2007

Nuestro intercambio de experiencias. Boletin resistencia de los pueblos. 2006

Represas. La lucha contra los modernos dinosaurios. World Rainforest Movement. 2003

Chixoy Dam Legacy Issues Study, 2005, Rivers International
[click to view]

The Chixoy Dam: The Maya Achi' Genocide. The Story of Forced Resettlement. Colajacomo, J., World Commission on Dams.
[click to view]

Chixoy Dam Legacies: The Struggle to Secure Reparation and the Right to Remedy in Guatemala, by Barbara Rose Johnston
[click to view]


Heidi McKinnon: “Se ha cancelado el acuerdo de la reparación de los 444 asesinatos de Río Negro en Guatemala”, 02/06/2010
[click to view]

La presa de Chixoy, Heiskel, T., 11/2011, Aguas, Rios y Pueblos project
[click to view]

ADIVIMA, Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral de las Víctimas de la Violencia en las Verapaces, Maya Achí
[click to view]

Diga di Chixoy in Guatemala, giustizia dopo i massacri degli anni ottanta, 2014, Recommon (Italian)
[click to view]

Video testimonio: Me llamo Jeronimo y vengo de Rio Negro (Spanish)
[click to view]

Gobierno promulga política de reparación de daños por Chixoy, 06/11/2014, Prensa Libre
[click to view]

Después de 30 años se cumplirá la reparación prometida a las comunidades de Chixoy, Acoguate, 13/03/2015
[click to view]

Mi chiamo Jeronimo e vengo da Rio Negro, (Italian), 28/10/2015,
[click to view]

International Rivers - Chixoy Reparations at Last: Checks Are In
[click to view]

Media Links

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La Represa Chixoy: 30 años sin reparaciones ni justicia ni paz
[click to view]

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Meta Information
ContributorLucie Greyl
Last update12/04/2019