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." .