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Skeletons in the Closets of World Bank & Inter-American Development Bank: March 13, 2020 marks 38th anniversary of Chixoy dam/Rio Negro massacres in Guatemala

Chixoy Dam: No Reparations, No Justice, No Peace
By Lazar Konforti, this 15 minute film (2013) summarizes how, at the height of the genocides in Guatemala, the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank invested close to $1 billion in the Chixoy hydroelectric dam project.  Thirty-two Mayan communities were forcibly displaced; hundreds of Rio Negro villagers were massacred. View:
March 13, 2020, marks 38th anniversary of Chixoy dam/Rio Negro massacres. Skeletons in the closets of World Bank & Inter-American Development Bank
By Grahame Russell, March 13, 2020 (Earlier version of this article published in Nate Einbinder’s book, referenced below)

March 13, 2020, marks the 38th anniversary of the March 13, 1982, massacre of 177 Maya Achi children and women, at a spot known as ‘Pak-o-shom’, high in the mountains above Rio Negro, a village that had been nestled along the Chixoy river (also known as Rio Negro) for over 1000 years, before the violent, illegal construction the Chixoy hydro-electric dam (1975-1985).
The March 13, 1982 massacre was one of five large-scale massacres in 1981 and 1982 that killed over 444 Rio Negro villagers, men and women, young and old, and literally served as the project’s “relocation” of the village of Rio Negro.
Other Rio Negro villagers, who survived the massacres, perished in the mountains due to hunger and disease, after the final massacre in September 1982.
In total, over 30 Mayan communities were forcibly evicted in whole or part, up and down river from the Chixoy dam wall, to make way for the filling of the dam’s flood basin.  No community suffered more than Rio Negro.
The Chixoy dam was a very profitable investment project of the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in partnership with the U.S. backed genocidal regimes of Generals Lucas Garcia and Rios Montt.
As Nate Einbinder wrote in his book: “There is no means by which to quantify what was lost in Río Negro.” (“Chixoy dam, displacement and development: Perspectives from Río Negro, Guatemala”,
Nate is correct. It is difficult to understate the breadth and enormity of the World Bank and IDB’s Chixoy dam crimes: massacres, individual killings, death by disease and hunger, dispossession of lands, destruction of home, food and property. The impact of these ‘resource development project’ crimes continue today in multiple ways as Rio Negro survivors, their children and grand-children, scratch out lives of subsistence in chronic poverty.
Directly related to this, it is difficult to understate the degree of corruption, violence and impunity of the World Bank, IDB and successive U.S.-backed genocidal regimes that were directly responsible for the Chixoy dam massacres and other crimes. Almost 40 years have passed, and still no justice has been done against the intellectual authors, beneficiaries and profiteers of the ‘Chixoy dam’ resource development crimes and destruction; only partial reparations have been paid for all that was killed, destroyed and lost.
A Chixoy dam reflection, 38 years later, can best be understood in terms of the subsistence living and on-going work and struggle of the Rio Negro survivors to tell the truth and seek justice and full reparations.
Most Rio Negro survivors live today – with children and grandchildren born since the Chixoy dam crimes – in the former military-controlled concentration camp of Pacux, or on the dry mountainside above where the original Rio Negro community now lies under close to 100 meters of Chixoy dam flood basin silt buildup and water.

Sebastian Iboy Osorio, survivor of and eye-witness (as a 16 year old boy) to the March 13, 1982 massacre wherein most of his family was killed, walking in Rio Negro today, high above the mud and silt that has filled in the Chixoy river basin since it was dammed in 1983, soon after the final massacre. Most of the original community of Rio Negro lies deep below the mud level.
Their on-going life conditions of poverty, joblessness, trauma and varying degrees of hopelessness are complicated and toxic, and are a direct result of the Chixoy dam crimes.
Yet survive they do, and re-build, and continue to tell the truth and demand justice.  One might say it is “miraculous”, but it is not. It is a testament to the Rio Negro survivors’ (specifically) and the Mayan peoples’ (generally) courage, dignity and spiritual strength rooted deeply in their ancestors, Mother Earth, gods and ceremonies.
Since the first exhumation of victims of the Chixoy dam massacres was carried out in 1993-94 by the EAFG (Guatemala Team of Forensic Anthropology), precursor to the FAFG (Guatemalan Foundation of Forensic Anthropology), at the place known as ‘Pak-o-shom’ high above the original village, the survivors have been truth-telling for any and every one to hear.
Since this first Chixoy dam-linked exhumation, the survivors have been supporting other mass grave exhumations and carrying on with efforts to seek justice (summarized below) in Guatemala and internationally.
Massacre survivors and eye-witnesses, like Jesus Tecu Osorio and Carlos Chen Osorio, have written testimonial books; documentary films have been made; articles and reports written; survivor-activists have travelled the world giving testimonials in conferences, and protesting at World Bank and IDB meetings.
Despite widespread documentation about the Chixoy dam crimes, no justice has been achieved against any institution (IDB, World Bank) or government (Guatemalan, U.S.) for their roles as the intellectual and material authors of these ‘resource development project’ crimes and destruction.
National courts
There is a partial exception to this last statement. Since 1994, the Rio Negro survivors have courageously pressured Guatemala’s corrupted legal system to put on trial, find guilty and send to jail nine former Civil Defense Patrollers (PAC) and military commissioners, mainly from the neighboring village of Xococ.
On one level, this is an important achievement. In Guatemala’s corrupted legal system, war crimes trials are few, and convictions fewer.
However, on most levels, the jailing of nine of the lowest ranking “material actors” of the Chixoy dam crimes is proof of the impunity with which the “intellectual authors” of the crimes act.
Not one single military officer in the chain of command, who ordered and carried out the Chixoy dam massacres, was captured, tried and sentenced. Not one official or program officer from the World Bank and IDB was subjected to any investigation into the role of these “development” banks in partnering with the U.S.-backed genocidal regimes of Guatemala (1975-83) in planning and carrying out all aspects of the project.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Because only low-ranking “material actors” were found guilty of the Chixoy dam crimes, the Rio Negro survivors filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, arguing impunity and lack of justice.
After years of delays, manipulations and threats to Rio Negro survivors leading this quasi-legal struggle, on October 20, 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the Guatemalan government responsible for the Rio Negro/ Chixoy dam massacres and ordered the government to: legally investigate the massacres; prosecute the perpetrators; search for the disappeared; carry out exhumations and identify the victims; publicly acknowledge its responsibility; build basic infrastructure and services for Rio Negro survivors in Pacux; implement projects to rescue the culture of the Maya Achi people; provide medical and psychological treatment to the victims; and pay compensation to surviving families for material and non-material damages suffered.
While this ruling of the Inter-American Court is also an important achievement of partial justice, it is noteworthy that the Court did not individualize responsibility - the ruling had no impact on the intellectual authors of the Chixoy dam crimes. The Inter-American Court refused to investigate the roles and responsibilities of the IDB and World Bank, reinforcing their impunity.
Finally, it was not until 2019, that the government of Guatemala made the first partial payments to some of the surviving family members, not complying with any other terms of the Court’s sentence.
Chixoy Dam Reparations Campaign
While not a formal legal process, this Chixoy Dam Reparations Campaign was and is an extraordinary achievement. After years of exhumations and other truth-telling struggles, in 2004, Rio Negro survivors united with the other villages harmed by the Chixoy dam crimes to demand comprehensive reparations.
A clarification: the Inter-American Court sentence deals with the Rio Negro massacres directly linked to the Chixoy dam project; the Reparations Campaign deals with other losses and destructions caused by the project.
As with the Inter-American Court case, it was only after years of delays, manipulations and threats to the survivors leading this struggle, that on November 8, 2014, then president and former army general Otto Perez Molina (now in jail on corruption charges) formally apologized on behalf of the government for the human rights violations and sufferings caused by the Chixoy dam project, and signed into law Decree #378-2014, “the Public Policy of Reparations for Communities Affected by the Construction of the Chixoy hydro-electric dam project”.
As of 2020, the government of Guatemala has made only partial payments of the total amount to be paid in family compensation and re-building projects for the communities harmed and destroyed in varying degrees by the project.
Again, the World Bank and IDB resisted all pressures to be included in the Reparations Campaign investigation into roles and responsibilities. Impunity and corruption of the “international community” was again reinforced.
38 years later, a measure of reparations has been paid to some of the Chixoy dam victims. No justice has been done for the roles and responsibilities of the “intellectual authors” in the Guatemalan government, World Bank and IDB that promoted, designed, implemented and profited financially from the project.
Pointing out the impunity and corruption of the authors and profiteers of the Chixoy dam crimes highlights the enormity of this global human problem. Across the planet today, governments, “development” banks, corporations and investors push ahead with ‘resource development projects’, violently displacing populations and destroying habitats, violating a wide range of individual and collective rights, and ravaging Mother Earth.
The Chixoy dam was one such project, perhaps more deadly, violent and destructive than most.
The Enormity of Courage, Dignity and Strength
Pointing out the enormity of the impunity and corruption of the authors and profiteers of the Chixoy dam crimes takes nothing way, and indeed highlights even moreso the courage and dignity, strength and vision of the Rio Negro survivors. Since I first met Carlos, Jesus, Antonia, Bruna, Cristobal and other Rio Negro survivors in 1994, I have been in awe of their heart, their spiritual strength, their dignity, their commitment to re-building lives, families and community, and their courageous, relentless struggle truth and justice.
Since 1994, Rights Action has been a proud supporter of dozens of truth and justice, community development, human rights and re-building projects initiated by the Rio Negro survivors. We are committed to continue doing so, and to continue to demanding that the World Bank and IDB be held fully accountable for their role in the Chixoy dam crimes.
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Chixoy Dam: No Reparations, No Justice, No Peace

By Lazar Konforti, this 15 minute film (2013) summarizes how, at the height of the genocides in Guatemala, the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank invested close to $1 billion in the Chixoy hydroelectric dam project.  Thirty-two Mayan communities were forcibly displaced; hundreds of Rio Negro villagers were massacred. View:
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