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Chixoy Dam and Rio Negro massacre, Guatemala


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.

Financed by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, and built by Italian (COGEFAR), German (Hotchief), French (SISBORIS), Colombian and United States companies, the dam forcibly displaced more than 3,500 people. An additional 6,000 families also suffered loss of land and livelihoods. Moreover, the dam and the reservoir submerged mass graves of the victims of the internal war. The victims claimed justice at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights but the case remains pending.

Ironically enough, in 2005 the Guatemala Government announced a new dam project, the Xilala dam, by saying “it will be the same as Chixoy”, assuming Chixoy is a positive and progressive infrastructure. Such a statement mobilized the survivors of the Rio Negro massacre who try since then to raise awareness among the communities which are under threat by this new governmental project. They organized expeditions with them to the Chixoy site, which means more than 150 kilometers journey. The opposition of the communities against the Xilala dam strengthens and is still ongoing.

Persistent efforts by massacre survivors at the Chixoy dam to seek accountability led to one of the first international investigations of a massacre site in Guatemala, exhuming in 1993 the remains of 107 Maya-Achi children and 70 women outside the rural village. In 1994, Río Negro’s survivors formed The Association for the Integral Development of the Victims of the Violence of the Verapaces, Maya Achí (ADIVIMA) to encourage exhumations of other massacre sites in the surrounding communities and the prosecution of those responsible.

In 1999, massacre survivors attended a regional consultation of the World Commission on Dams in São Paulo, they denounced the facts but no meaningful reparation for the violence, nor for the broader array of damages associated with the human rights violations accompanying dam construction, had materialised. Since the beginning of operations, the dam releases occurred with no warning and resulting flash floods destroyed crops, drowned livestock and sometimes killed people.

After years of struggle of the victims of the Chixoy Dam, the government finally signed a legal agreement in 2014 which compels the authorities to donate more than $US150 million to the 27 Mayan affected communities from Quiché, Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz. Among the measures to be undertaken, the State will return the stolen lands and will build homes and hospitals that had been destroyed. Along with money comes the formal recognition of the violence suffered by the Maya people and a public apology by the State.

On October 15, Juan Alfonso Cifuentes Soria, the new Vice-President of Guatemala, delivered checks in total of $11,205 to 120 families from Pacux and Río Negro. 206 more families will have to be compensated in Chicruz, and a total of 33 communities and individuals will receive an amount of $22,183,077.30.

According to International RIvers, "The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), financiers of the project, made payment of the reparations a condition of $550 million in loans made to Guatemala in early October because the country had breached the agreement to compensate Chixoy Dam-affected peoples. The news added extreme pressure to the Ministry of Finance at a time when it was discussing the sources of funding for the 2016 budget." [1].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Chixoy Dam and Rio Negro massacre, Guatemala
State or province:Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz
Location of conflict:Verapaz
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

La 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:14000
Level of Investment:825,000,000 mas intereses
Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:1976
Company names or state enterprises:Union Fenosa from Spain
Sacyr from Spain
Cogefar from Italy
Hotchief from United States of America
SISBORIS from France
Salini Impregilo from Italy
Relevant government actors:MEM - Guatemala, INDE - Guatemala
International and Finance InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
Inter-American Development Bank (IADB)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Committee of Communities Affected by Chixoy Dam - Guatemala, MAPDER

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
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-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, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Repression
Under negotiation
Criminalization of activists
Institutional changes
Negotiated alternative solution
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Development of alternatives:They 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 an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The project has caused irreversible damage to indigenous communities.

Sources & Materials

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

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

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

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

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

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

La presa de Chixoy, Heiskel, T., 11/2011, Aguas, Rios y Pueblos project

ADIVIMA, Asociación para el Desarrollo Integral de las Víctimas de la Violencia en las Verapaces, Maya Achí

Diga di Chixoy in Guatemala, giustizia dopo i massacri degli anni ottanta, 2014, Recommon (Italian)

Video testimonio: Me llamo Jeronimo y vengo de Rio Negro (Spanish)

Gobierno promulga política de reparación de daños por Chixoy, 06/11/2014, Prensa Libre

Después de 30 años se cumplirá la reparación prometida a las comunidades de Chixoy, Acoguate, 13/03/2015

Mi chiamo Jeronimo e vengo da Rio Negro, (Italian), 28/10/2015,

International Rivers - Chixoy Reparations at Last: Checks Are In

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

La Represa Chixoy: 30 años sin reparaciones ni justicia ni paz

Meta information

Contributor:Lucie Greyl
Last update12/04/2019



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