Monday, November 3, 2014

Reflections on the "Rivers for Life: Cultural Resistance to the Xalalá Dam" fall speaking tour

Tour speaker, Víctor Caal Tzuy, shows NISGUA's Rivers for Life solidarity banner to ACODET members from Las Margaritas Copón.
The goals for the 2014 NISGUA speaking tour were much like those which have guided us during our 33 years as a human rights, solidarity organization: amplify Guatemalan voices and experiences, connect grassroots struggles across borders, inspire, educate and strengthen our partners in the US and Guatemala. This year's tour exceeded our expectations, and we have Víctor Caal Tzuy of the Association of Communities for Development, Defense of Territory and Natural Resources (ACODET) and the NISGUA grassroots base on both coasts to thank.

Víctor's message of cultural resistance, community organization and unity reached more than 1,000 people during more than 20 events and interviews. Spanish language radio spots helped our tour reach immigrant communities in Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area. The tour petition gathered nearly 700 signatures demanding respect for indigenous communities’ right to consultation and the cancellation of the Xalalá pre-construction studies.
Víctor Caal Tzuy speaking at the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center

Presentation to NISGUA supporters at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, VA
Preparing for a radio interview during Indigenous Peoples Day Sunrise Ceremony on Alcatraz Island

Tour events in Seattle, San Francisco and San Jose, CA, opened space for horizontal exchanges between indigenous leaders and local activists working against displacement and in defense of territories. Our final days were spent in Washington D.C., where Víctor had the opportunity to provide decision-makers in the US government, at the Brazilian Embassy and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) with first-hand information about the damages of the proposed dam project.

Especially moving were the opportunities for horizontal exchange between Víctor and similarly affected peoples –including indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest and Bay Area activists fighting for self-determination in Palestine, the Phillipines and Richmond, CA. During one such exchange in Seattle, WA, Víctor, a Maya-Q'eqchi' leader and Ken Workman of the Duwamish Tribal Council, found common ground as indigenous people with shared legacies of river stewardship and common experiences of displacement from colonization. “Ken and I have much in common–we both live on the shores of rivers, and we will defend our rivers”, reflected Víctor. Ken, the great-great-great-great grandson of Chief Si'ahl (Seattle) drew connections between past suffering of the Duwamish people and the current situation facing Q'eqchi' communities opposing the Xalalá Dam. “The potential effects on culture and environment that Victor describes are exactly what occurred here in Seattle 100 years ago..."

Indigenous leaders, Víctor Caal Tzuy and Ken Workman

Sharing culture and struggle with New Fire in San Jose, CA

During meetings in Washington, DC, Víctor expressed the concerns shared by the 51 indigenous communities that compose ACODET about the lack of respect for consultation and the intensification of government pressure to accept the project in return for vital social programs. He shared specific instances of attempts to militarize peacefully resisting communities in the name of fighting supposed drug activity in the region.

In a meeting with the IDB, we discussed a 2008 grant that provided technical support to establish the Xalalá Dam as a “pilot project” for future hydroelectric projects, and we encouraged the Bank to refrain from future funding of the dam given ongoing human rights abuses. We also raised concerns about ongoing IDB loans to the Guatemalan government for rural electrification as these funds are being used to condition local electricity projects in Ixcán communities based on their acceptance of the Xalalá Dam.

At each of the tour stops, Víctor explained the significance and importance of international solidarity in their struggle. He encouraged people to come and visit his community, which is located at the confluence of the Chixoy and Copón rivers, precisely where the Xalalá Dam would be built. “I invite you to come and visit our river. You will be welcomed if you come with NISGUA, but not if you come with the companies. One of the reasons our resistance has been successful is international accompaniment. We need your support.”

Horizontal exchange with Bay Area activists fighting for self-determination

Media links:

Interview at KEPX Seattle, WA
"Letters Home: Dawn in the Ixcán" published on The Outsider 

No comments: