In 1996 peace was signed in Guatemala after 36 years of civil war (around 200,000 deaths, mostly Mayan people) and a new electricity law was ratified as a strategy of privatization and liberalization to attract foreign investment based on the exploitation of natural resources, laying basis of what is turning out to be nowadays an ecological and economical genocide.
The peace agreement states the obligation to “obtain the favorable opinion of the indigenous communities prior to the realisation of any project based on natural resource exploitation that may affect their subsistence and lifestyle”, which is strengthened by the adoption of the ILO Convention No.169. However, when looking at Santa Rita hydroelectric project, the practice seems very different.
The Santa Rita Hydroelectric Plant is one of three projects that are under development on the Icbolay River, in the municipality of Cobán, in the Alta Verapaz region in Guatemala. The project is subject to community opposition over the environmental and social impacts and over violation of community consultation rights which are at the heart of the Guatemalan Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples. To enforce this right, the Council of Peoples from Tezulutlán asked the CDM Executive Board not to register the project.
The company first entered the area by means of the Center for Rural Development – CEDER in its Spanish acronym, an NGO in charge of implementing the social responsibility policies of Hidroeléctrica Santa Rita. The public consultation started in 2009, but as a negotiation instead of a previous, free and informed process. The company claimed that it implemented a thorough stakeholder consultation process involving all affected local people. However, the reality looks different: only people from 8 out of 22 communities were invited to a meeting in a hotel where the common practice is that Maya-Q´eqchi´ people usually discuss these matters in the surroundings of the whole community together.
In 2010, the 22 communities who would be affected by the hydropower project began organising meetings to discuss the project and made it clear to CEDER that they do not want the project. Since then, a pacific resistance against the project has started, including demonstrations and negotiation processes with the company. This process resulted in the removal of the building machinery in 2012. However, current developments suggest that this communitarian success resulting in peace will no longer remain in the region.
The Guatemalan Government, which is supposed to play the role as a warrant of peoples´ rights recently strengthened its position to promote private investments. For example, a military camp was set up but was later removed upon the urge of community members.
Since then, the Department Governor is promoting a roundtable for dialogue on the hydroelectric plant construction. However, rather than promoting dialogue, the roundtable is used to investigate who is against the project, further intimidating the local communities who keep opposing the project.
One of the CDM goals is to promote sustainable development but Santa Rita does not reflect anything sustainable. It is a showcase of human rights violation, deaths and lack of indigenous people´s consultation in the implementation process of a CDM hydroelectric project in Guatemala. Unfortunately the Santa Rita project is not the only case in Guatemala. In Cambalan, Palo Viejo and Xacbal cases, the same leaders´ criminalisation, creation of conflicts between communities and corruption are observed. Resistance movements for the natural resources protection are criticised for not understanding what development is, but what is the benefit for the native populations when electricity is produced but they cannot access it and instead only suffer damages? Why should they have to change to their worldview and their construction of good living for profit of the national oligarchy and multinational trusts?
It is ironic that the CDM, a symbol of global cooperation in the fight to protect our planet, is allowing projects that directly threaten the lives of local people. These projects must be stopped.
The opposition of the communities to the project remains due to the fact that their lifestyle is highly linked to the river as they use it for locomotion, food, irrigation, drinking water and spare-time. In Guatemala, there is no regulation on water and the “ecological flow” is defined as a 10% of the dry season flow. According to human rights ombudsman report, after a dam, the population has commonly only access to mud.