Monday, October 29, 2012

Communities denounce Xalalá dam and oil exploitation

The following press releases have been translated by NISGUA as part of its ongoing human rights accompaniment of communities threatened by the Xalalá dam project.

Press Release 1
25 October 2012

Imposition of Development Projects Threatens the Life of Communities in Ixcán

Considering that the Ministry of Energy and Mines recently announced a new bidding process for the construction of the Xalalá dam and oil exploration in the municipality of Ixcán, social organizations and community members from this region publicly state our concern and our rejection of the implementation of these megaprojects that threaten the well-being of our communities.

The expropriation and extraction of natural resources by the oligarchy, businessmen, and the army in territories inhabited by indigenous peoples (pueblos originarios), has historically generated displacement, poverty, repression and serious human rights abuses, including genocide.

We reiterate our concern and call for the support of other organizations, considering the risk that the imposition of these large-scale development projects (megaproyectos) could lead to further violations of community rights, as seen in Polochic, San Juan Sacatepéquez, San Raymundo, San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Barillas and Totonicapán.

We hope to strengthen alliances with different groups also participating in the struggle to defend land and territory, respect for community rights and referendums, and our rejection of the repression we currently face as indigenous peoples for engaging in this struggle.

We denounce the National Electrification Institute (INDE) for withholding information about the impacts of the construction of the Xalalá dam and for minimizing the negative effects it could have on the community.

For these reasons, we demand:
  • That the State respect the results of the good faith community referendums held in Ixcán (April 20, 2007) and Uspantán (October 29, 2010), in which participants voted against the large-scale development projects planned for our regions.
  • That the government and the Ministry of Energy and Mines, as a matter of urgency, cancel the Ministerial Agreement number 321-2,012, published in the official government paper (Diario Oficial) on October 15 of this year on the construction of the Xacbal Delta Dam in the municipality of Ixcan. We also ask for the cancellation of the Government Agreement 172-2, 012, published on September 4 on oil exploration and drilling in the Xalbal area in the municipalities of Ixcán, El Quiché and Barillas, Huehuetenango.
  • That the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources comply with its function to protect the environment and people’s lives, and refuse to allow dams and oil exploration and drilling in our communities.
  • That all governmental entities provide truthful information to the communities and engage in a dialogue that respects agreements and decisions reached with the communities.
  • That the President and other governmental entities respect that the communities defending their territory and demanding better living conditions for their people have the right to protest, and refuse to allow the army, the national police, or private agents to endanger peoples’ lives.

To defend our land and our territory is to defend the life and dignity of our people!

Association of Communities for Development and the Defense of Land and Natural Resources (ACODET)
Commission to Follow-up on the Ixcán Community Referendum
Movement of People’s Resistance for Life in Ixcán (MOPREVI)

A mural on a church in a community threatened by the Xalalá hydroelectric dam project reads, "The Maya people deserve respect for life, land, and natural resources."
Press Release 2
October 2012

On October 25, a delegation of community and organizational representatives from the municipalities of Ixcán, Cobán and Uspantán met with government officials in charge of implementing the Xalalá hydroelectric dam project. The delegates presented a document signed by authorities and representatives from 53 communities in Ixcán, Cobán and Uspantán that are threatened by the construction of the dam.

Juan Carlos Morataya, Project Development Manager for INDE (the National Electrification Institute), Edwin Rodas, Vice Minister of Energy and Mines, José Fernando Carrera, head of the SEGEPLAN (Secretary General of Planning and Programming for the Presidency), and the Vice Minister of the Environment all participated in the meeting. Congressional representatives Amilcar Pop and Carlos Mejía, presidents of the Transparency Commission and the Indigenous People’s Commission respectively, organized the meeting.

During the meeting, community representatives reiterated the decision made during the good faith community referendums held in Ixcán (April 20, 2007) and Uspantán (October 29, 2010). In the referendums, participants rejected the construction of the Xalalá dam, because it would flood the best land in 58 communities, affecting their rights to land, food, health, consultation, and participation in deciding development priorities. The representatives also expressed concern regarding potential human rights violations, pointing out that INDE has still not paid compensation for damages to the Achí communities affected by the Chixoy dam that was constructed over 30 years ago.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines affirmed that it has not received requests for, nor has it authorized, geological studies for the Xalalá area. The representative from INDE stated that the institution does plan to carry out geological, economic, and social studies to confirm the viability of the Xalalá dam. One of the officials explained that SEGEPLAN is conducting social work in order to raise consciousness among the COCODES [local development committees] and community members, so that they will accept the dam. INDE has determined that most communities in the region have no electricity and the institution plans to promote electricity projects in rural areas so that the communities will value the importance of electricity and will approve the construction of the dam.

José Fernando Carrera, head of SEGEPLAN and Vice President of the Executive Council of INDE, confirmed that SEGEPLAN and INDE signed an agreement in July to design plans, within the framework of the national electricity plan, for land use and regulation (ordenamiento territorial) in the municipalities affected by the Xalalá dam. INDE contracted and financed 8 people that earn between 12,000 and 14,000 quetzales [approximately USD $1,500 - $1,800]. Carrera said he recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples as established in the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169. He said not one employee of SEGEPLAN should try to convince the communities, much less pressure them or place conditions, such as approval for the dam, on development projects. He asked people to report the names of employees that try to manipulate the communities.

The representative of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources said that he is unaware of the Xalalá project. The law, however, requires that his ministry verify the environmental impacts and consent of the affected communities.


After the meeting, a group of Ixil Indigenous Authorities from the municipalities of Cotzal, Chajul and Nebaj asked for the immediate suspension of Ministerial Agreement 321-2,012, authorizing the construction of the Xacbal Delta Dam, because the affected communities and indigenous authorities were not consulted about it. The representatives from the Ixcán joined those from the Ixil in this request, due to the fact that the construction of this new dam will only intensify the environmental impacts on the Xalbal River.

The indigenous mayor of Cotzal also asked for further follow-up and compliance with the agreements previously signed in the case of the Palo Viejo dam. The congressional representatives asked the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources to share a copy of the approved environmental impact studies for dams in the Ixil area, so that the representatives can review them and analyze their legality. The Vice Minister of the Environment agreed to share and analyze the studies within 20 business days, and in the case of manipulation, he promised to suspend operations of the corresponding dams.

Association of Communities for Development and the Defense of Land and Natural Resources (ACODET)
Commission to Follow-up on the Ixcán Community Referendum
Movement of People’s Resistance for Life in Ixcán (MOPREVI)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Totonicapán rising: Guatemalan military massacres K’iche protesters

The deceased, all wounded by firearm, according to Dr. Jorge Destarac, regional head of the National Forensic Science Institute, were eight in total: Rafael Batz (Pasajoc), Santos Nicolás Menchú (Pasajoc), Jesús Baltazar Caxaj Puac (Chipuac), Francisco Ordoñez (Chipuac), José Eusebio Puac Ordoñez (Chipuac), Arturo Félix Sapón Yax (Panquix), Domingo Caniz (Chipuac), and one more from Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán whose family members did not permit INACIF to open the body because in their cosmovision this would not allow him to arrive complete to "Ajaw" (Heaven).

- "Totonicapán, todos los ausentes" by Oswaldo J. Hernández in Plaza Pública

Statue of K'iche leader Atanasio Tzul in Totonicapán, with black mourning cape. (Via Guatemala Indymedia Center)

The death toll of last week's massacre of Maya K'iche protesters in Totonicapán continues to increase, with reports of up to 8 or 9 killed; at least 6 of the 34 people injured in the attack remain hospitalized. Initial evidence, as well as eye-witness testimony, confirms the denunciation of the 48 communities of Totonicapán that military and police forces fired on the unarmed protesters. In addition to now iconic photos showing a bloodied protester surrounded by security forces and Guatemalan military personnel with weapons aimed at crowd level, the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman's office reported that shell casings from the Israeli Galil machineguns used by the Guatemalan army were found at the scene of the massacre. The government continues to claim that a private security guard initiated the violence and that soldiers sent to the scene of the protest fired in the air in self defense.

In video and witness testimony published by the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC) and Plaza Pública, survivors relate relate that the National Civil Police did not negotiate with peaceful protesters but used tear gas indiscriminately, and that soldiers fired immediately upon arrival at the scene of the protest, while a Cementos Progresos armed guard attacked other protesters in a separate incident. Guatemala Indymedia Center continues to cover breaking news in Spanish regarding the government and social movement responses to the massacre.

(Trauma warning: video depicting severe injuries and testimony of violence)

Yesterday a Solidarity Caravan from across the country converged on kilometer 170 of the Inter-American Highway at the mountain pass known as "Alaska," the scene of last week's violence. Social movements and civil society in Guatemala have expressed deep outrage following the massacre, denouncing the government's heavy-handed security policy as a continuation of the genocidal violence of the armed conflict and expressing a fundamental rejection of the use of the military for internal security. The incident in Totonicapán poses a serious domestic and international challenge for the Guatemalan government of Otto Pérez Molina. At the global level, it may demolish the adminstration's democratic and reformist image, jeapordizing government priorities such as the reinstatement of direct U.S. military aid. The government has already faced calls for investigation from the OAS and U.N., and recently met with the international diplomatic corps to face criticism of the military's role in citizen security and inadequate mechanisms for dialog with civil society. Diplomatic Chancellor Harold Caballeros took the opportunity to minimize the deaths, with El Periódico offering the following quote: "It pains me to admit that at some latitudes eight deaths is a big deal, and though it may sound bad to say it, our country has twice that many deaths every day. Because of this, I don't think it is such an urgent matter."

Nationally, the violence against civilian protesters is the most serious crisis yet for the Patriot Party's security regime, with calls for the destitution of Defense Minister Ulises Anzueto and Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla, Anzueto for his command responsibility over the soldiers presumed responsible for the killings and López Bonilla for his role as overseer of the National Civil Police and his denials and justification of the repression. As GuateSec noted earlier this year, both Anzueto and López Bonilla form part of the military hard-core of Pérez Molina's adminstration, where shake-ups could prove to have much wider repercussions for the government. The quasi-populist opposition party LIDER has called for the deaths to be investigated as extrajudicial executions.

Totonicapán unites many threads of resistance--indigenous self-determination, the assertion of civil and human rights against the imposition of state terror, opposition to the exploitation of the dominant economic model--and highlights a trend of increasingly authoritarian responses to social conflict that will harshly test Guatemalan social movements. Guatemalan writer Carlos Figueroa Ibarra characterizes this as a combination of the "habits of counterinsurgency and neoliberal dogma," with the government's militarized approach to security following a counterinsurgent logic through the demonization and use of violence against internal enemies, ultimately criminalizing and repressing dissent:
"However, in addition to the habits of counterinsurgency, what sustains the repressive project of this government is neoliberal dogma. Anti-communist paranoia undoutably persists, but today the energy of state terrorism is maintained by the need for savage accumulation created by neoliberalism. The 48 communities of Totonicapán were protesting against the infamously abusive electricity fees which have been imposed by a private company, now nown as Energuate. They were also protesting against an education reform which makes teaching careers inaccessible for the poor, and finally against constitutional reforms which have been made to deepen the implantation of neoliberalism. The objective of this unrestrained violence is not just to put a stop to discontent in Totonicapán, but to spread the terror that is needed to disarticulate growing popular protest against open-pit mining, hydroelectric dams, cement factories, highways, crops like african palm. The manager of a business lobby has said that what is happening is that there are groups interested in boycotting hardworking Guatemalans. It sounds like the old saw of the lazy poor and the industrious rich. What is happening is that all of these business projects require the displacement of campesino and indigenous communities, poisoning them with pollution and destroying their community fabric and way of living in order to achieve the highest profits."

- "Habits of counterinsurgency and neoliberal dogma" by Carlos Figueroa Ibarra in Rebelión
The violent repression of indigenous protestors may also entrench reactionary elements in Guatemala. In an essay titled "Estamos en guerra, mi amor," Julio Roberto Prado explores the deep fractures of Guatemalan society. While suggesting that questions of tactics (the use of roadblocks, unpopular with a middle class that imagines affinity with the economic oligarchy) have exacerbated political divisions, Prado is more horrified at the urban middle class and its response to the massacre, a "petri dish of the deepest and most wounding prejudices which circulate in our imagination. About the incident in Totonicapan, I have been able to find all kinds of phrases which justify, legitimize, and demand the application of violent measures against the protesters. Which disregard life, in sum. ...That is to say that our educated fellow citizens contemplate extermination. And this opinion finds enormous backing from the most conservative sectors of the country. It is enough to read the statements of [the business association] CACIF. They have stated that the actions of the government are justified and that they would be speaking with the Attorney General about the subject." CACIF has called for protest leaders to be prosecuted for violating the right to freedom of movement in their roadblock.

In the decade and half since the signing of the Peace Accords, Guatemala's social movements have found important points of unity around long-standing issues such as the struggle of campesino communities for land, and against the racism and exploitation to which indigenous people have continually been subjected. Urban and rural activists are united in campaigns for memory and justice, and new fronts have opened for the self-determination of indigenous communities through resistance to mining and other mega-development projects. While the repression in Totonicapán can hardly be claimed to be Guatemala's "first peace-time massacre"9 campesinos and 3 police died in the violent eviction at Nueva Linda in 2004, and 3 were killed and dozens wounded in evictions in the Polochíc valley last yearthe militarized character of the Patriot Party government and the specter of soldiers firing on civilian protesters is likely to sharpen already deep conflict between indigenous and social movements and the government and elite economic sectors.

K'iche leader Atanasio Tzul rejected taxation by the Spanish empire and won rights of autonomy for the 48 communities of Totonicapán, invested in indigenous authorities which have persisted for more than 500 years. (Photo via Guatemala Indymedia Center)

Blog post written by Phil Neff, member of NISGUA's grassroots network, former staff member and author of the Cascadia Solidaria blog. Original post here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Indigenous protesters killed in Totonicapan, Guatemala

At least six protesters were killed and dozens wounded this afternoon in repression of a protest organized by the representatives of 48 indigenous K'iche communities of Totonicapan, Guatemala. According to Guatemala Indymedia Center and social movement organizations, the protesters were shot by Guatemalan military personnel. The autonomous indigenous government of the 48 cantones (communities) of Totonicapan had announced earlier this week its call for the blocking of the Inter-American highway near the key highlands interchange known as Cuatro Caminos in protest of the rising price of electricity, which the communities argue is being manipulated illegally in benefit of private corporations, and against top-down proposals for constitutional and educational reform about which indigenous communities have not been consulted.
Carmen Tacám, President of the 48 cantones of Totonicapán, affirmed that military personnel had fired on the unarmed blockade. Guatemalan central government representatives offered conflicting information about the violence. In a press conference, Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla blamed the protesters for causing the violence, claiming that police and military forces at the demonstration were unarmed, despite eyewitness reports (and photographic evidence) to the contrary. El Periódico cited President Otto Pérez Molina's explanation that a shots were fired by the driver of a private vehicle travelling in front of two military troop transport trucks, while a military spokesperson said that the military trucks were attacked with rocks and seven soldiers were injured. As a Guate Twitter user commented, "Following repression like this, a THICK smokescreen is sure to come."

The autonomous government of Totonicapán is an ancestral structure of the K'iche Maya that has endured for hundreds of years, coordinating the indigenous mayorships of 48 communities, exercising self-governance in matters including environmental management and security, and mediating local conflicts. Protest leader Carmen Tacám, at 27 years old, is its first woman President. The economic importance of the highlands roads which wind through the mountain passes of Totonicapán, and the political unity of the communities, has led its prior representatives to proclaim, "When Totonicapán rises, the country shakes."

The strategic use of roadblocks by indigenous and campesino organizations as form of political pressure and re-vindication is harshly contested by the state and powerful economic actors, especially the business lobby CACIF*, which has campaigned for the prohibition and repression of blockades as violations of the right to freedom of movement. The Pérez Molina administration has previously used violence to break up roadblocks and occupations by students, teachers, and parents protesting exclusionary education reforms; if today's deaths are confirmed to be the responsibility of security forces, it will mark the first clear instance of mortal government repression against civilian protest under Mano Dura. While community leaders have called for investigation of the deaths, if the administration follows the blueprint established by its response to social conflict and protest in Barillas, Huehuetenango, repressive measures such as arrests of protest leaders or declaration of a state of exception could be implemented instead.

*A recent study by Plaza Pública found that the CACIF commands more loyalty from many Guatemalan congresspeople than their own parties.
Blog post written by Phil Neff, member of NISGUA's grassroots network, former staff member and author of the Cascadia Solidaria blog. Original post here.

"Otro golpe al pueblo maya, al estilo mano dura"

"Pobladores de Totonicapán velan a los seis campesinos muertos durante enfrentamiento." Foto: AFP

 Otro golpe al pueblo maya, al estilo mano dura

Por la Asamblea de pueblos de Huehuetenango por la Defensa del Territorio, ADH - Huehuetenango, 4 de octubre de 2012

La asamblea de pueblos de Huehuetenango –ADH-; a la opinan pública nacional e internacional; MANIFIESTA.

Nuestra profunda indignación por los actos violentos sucedidos y lamentamos el fallecimiento de 3 hermanos y 32 heridos [Ojo: Información actualizada indica que hubo por lo menos siete muertes y 34 heridos.] y condenamos una vez más la respuesta represiva del gobierno de Guatemala hacia la manifestación pacífica y legitima de los pueblos. El ataque del gobierno militar de Otto Pérez Molina hacia la lucha de los pueblos es sistemático. Hoy fue el pueblo maya Kiche de Totonicapán, los que sufren la represión del Estado.

La concentración pacífica convocada por las autoridades de Totonicapán desde un principio fue descalificada y amenazada de ser desalojada por el gobierno de Guatemala y efectivamente así sucedió; los gases lacrimógenos, la presencia policial y militar no se hicieron esperar, fue planificada.

Hacemos un llamado a los lideres y lideresas comunitarios de todo el país; mantenernos en vigilancia permanente; hoy más que nunca debemos unir nuestras voces y nuestras fuerzas. Estos ataques son dirigidos a los pueblos organizados; que luchan por la vida, ayer fue el pueblo Qanjobal de Barillas, ahora el pueblo Kiche de Totonicapan. Llamamos a la solidaridad internacional que se pronuncie para que el gobierno ponga fin a la imposición y represión a las justas demandas de los pueblos; porque la historia de opresión se repite y se profundiza.


La Asamblea de pueblos de Huehuetenango por la Defensa del Territorio (ADH) promueve la auto-determinación de los pueblos y para una visión alternativa del desarrollo en el Altiplano Occidental de Huehuetenango. La ADH recibe acompañamiento internacional por NISGUA en coordinación con el proyecto de ACOGUATE. La Asamblea participó en la gira de NISGUA del 2010, véase aquí para más información sobre su trabajo.

"Another blow to the Maya people, in the style of Mano Dura"

"Population of Totonicapán holds a wake for 6 campesinos killed during confrontation yesterday" Source: AFP
Another blow to the Maya people, in the style of Mano Dura
Statement by the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango
October 4, 2012

The Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango -ADH- before national and international public opinion, DECLARES:

Our profound outrage for the violent acts committed and mourning of the death of 3 brothers and 32 wounded. [Note: Updated reports indicate at least 7 people were killed and 34 wounded.] We condemn the repressive response of the Guatemalan government toward the peaceful and legitimate protest of the people. The attack on the people's struggle by the military government of Otto Pérez Molina is systematic. Today it was the Maya Kiche people of Totonicapán who suffered the state's repression.

From the beginning, the peaceful gathering called for by the authorities of Totonicapán was discredited and threatened with eviction by the Guatemalan government. This is exactly what happened; tear gas, police and military presence were immediate and planned.

We call upon community leaders throughout Guatemala to remain vigilant.Today more than ever we must unite our voices and our strength. These attacks are directed toward organized communities who defend our right to life; yesterday it was the Q'anjobal people in Barillas, today it is the Kiche people in Totonicapán. We call upon international solidarity to demand the government puts an end to imposing upon and repressing the  just demands of the people, because the history of oppression repeats itself and deepens.


The Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH) works to promote self-determination and alternative visions of development in the highland department of Huehuetenango. The ADH receives international human rights accompaniment from NISGUA through the ACOGUATE project and participated in NISGUA's 2010 tour; you can find more information about their work here.