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Santa Cruz Barrillas dam and Hidralia, Guatemala

Santa Cruz Barillas dam and Hidralia bringing violence, repression and impunity into local communities; the case was brought to the Permanent Peoples Tribunal hearing in Geneva. Communities finally won: in Dec 2016 Hidralia cancelled the project!


The conflict is related to the project of a small hydroelectric plant in Santa Cruz Barrillas, Guatemala, part of the bigger project Cambalam 1. The transnational corporation (TNC) at the center of the conflict is the Spanish Hidralia S.A., a TNC specialized in water-cycle management processes which include hydroelectric energy, dams, infrastructure, civil engineering, water supply and sanitation. The conflict relates to the activities of Hidro Santa Cruz, which is owned by Hidralia's subsidiary Ecoener-Hidralia Energía, which itself is dedicated to project development, engineering and consulting. The contentious activities were carried out between June 2007 and January 2013, in Santa Cruz Barrillas, Huehuetenango, Guatemala. They include in particular the complicity with the Spanish and Guatemalan governments for their role in the invisibilization, criminalization and persecution of the Q'anjob'al people who were legitimately resisting the hydroelectric project. All parties are also complicit in the violent response to this resistance which took the form of, inter alia, intimidation, murder, illegal and arbitrary detentions, land spoiling and dispossession, all in violation of applicable human and peoples' rights established in international and national law, and in particular in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the International Labour Standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous Peoples, the American Convention on Human Rights, and in the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Santa Cruz Barrillas dam and Hidralia, Guatemala
State or province:Huehuetenango
Location of conflict:Santa Cruz Barrillas
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The proposed hydroelectric project would produce 4.9 MWs in each of its two phases. It would be installed in an area traditionally used as a center for recreation and ceremonies and would limit the domestic and agricultural use of water in an already fragile environment, home to several endemic species of amphibians and insects. The affected communities were never consulted about the project, despite the result of a popular consultation in which 45,000 inhabitants (a third of the entire population) opposed industrial activities in the area.

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Level of Investment for the conflictive project30,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:130,000
Start of the conflict:2007
Company names or state enterprises:Hidralia Energia from Spain
Hidro Santa Cruz from Guatemala
Ecoener-Hidralia from Spain
Relevant government actors:Government of Guatemala, Ministry of Energy and Mines (Guatemala), Relatoría de Derechos de los Pueblos indígenas, Relatoría de Defensores y Defensoras de Derechos Humanos, Procuraduría de Derecho Humanos, Consejos Comunitarios de Desarrollo (COCODE), Congreso de la República (Guatemala)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Spain), Defensor del Pueblo
International and Finance InstitutionsInter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH)
Corporación Interamericana para el Financiamiento de la Infraestructura (CIFI)
Bankia from Spain - As investor of CIFI
Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica (BCIE) - As investor of CIFI
The World Bank (WB) from United States of America - As investor of CIFI
Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) - As investor of CIFI
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:CEIBA – Amigos de la Tierra Guatemala, Amigos de la Tierra Internacional (FoEI), la sociedad civil de Barillas y el Gobierno Plurinacional de las Naciones Maya: Q’anjob’al, Chuj, Akateka Popti, con apoyo de Amigos de la Tierra España y ATALC – Amigos de la Tierra America Latina y Caribe, Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, Permanent Peoples Tribunal
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Social movements
Comunidad Q’anjobal, chuj, akatexo y popti'
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Presentation of the case to the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Deaths
Potential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Malnutrition, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economical 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, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Other socio-economic impacts
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Institutional changes
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Project temporarily suspended
Assassination of Andrés Francisco Miguel in 2012; Daniel Pedro Mateo in 2013. Pascual Pablo Francisco was killed on 24 March 2015
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The construction of the plant has not started yet and is paralyzed due to the actions of local organizations. There is a company office in the project area.
UPDATE Dec 2016: The hydroelectric company Hidro Santa Cruz has announced that it will not continue in Guatemala, after eight years of indigenous resistance. In El Diario, the NGO Friends of the Earth and Women of Guatemala explain that "there is still much to be done. The conflict caused by the presence of Ecoener-Hidralia in the area brought, according to the NGO, "high levels of human rights violations human rights" among those denouncing "murders, kidnappings, threats, assaults on women, imprisonment of community leaders and a serious deterioration of the social fabric".
For this reason, one of the most important challenges in the scenario left by the withdrawal of the company is, in Moreno's opinion, the reconstruction of relations in the community fabric, damaged by the division created by a project of these characteristics. "It is a community with enormous fragility with roots in the conflict of the 1980s. The violent irruption of the company opened old wounds," he explains.[3]
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN
[click to view]

International Labour Standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO)
[click to view]

ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous Peoples
[click to view]

American Convention on Human Rights
[click to view]

International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights
[click to view]

Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Gloabl Witness 2015 report, On Dangerous Grounds
[click to view]

[2] Telesur tv, Published 27 December 2016- Protest Pays Off As World Bank-Funded Guatemalan Project Killed
[click to view]

[3] El Diario 26/12/2016 - La empresa española Ecoener-Hidralia anuncia su retirada de Guatemala tras años de lucha indígena
[click to view]

CEIBA (FoE Guatemala)
[click to view]

Guatemala Human Rights Commission
[click to view]

"We are all Barillas"
[click to view]

Friends of the Earth
[click to view]

Global Campaign to Stop Corporate Impunity
[click to view]

Testimony of the case in the Permanent Peoples Tribunal Hearing - Corporate Human Rights Violations and Peoples Access to Justice. Geneva, 23 June 2014
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Radio Mundo Real
[click to view]

Other comments:See more at:
Meta information
Contributor:Global Campaign to Dismantle Corporate Power, Transnational Institute - TNI, Friends of the Earth International, Amigos de la Tierra Guatemala - CEIBA y Amigos de la Tierra España y con la colaboración de Andrés Cabanas
Last update28/02/2017
Conflict ID:1839
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