Heidi McKinnon

Heidi McKinnon (Association for the Integral Development of the Victims of Violence in the Verapaces, Maya Achí - ADIVIMA): Heidi holds a BA in anthropology and Spanish from the University of New Mexico and has worked with indigenous communities throughout Latin America since1997. Heidi worked at Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in the late 1990s. Heidi researched human rights and sovereignty issues in every region of Latin America as she was developing content for the permanent exhibits at NMAI. Her research led her to ADIVIMA and the Chixoy Dam, which she recommended for inclusion at the Museum.

Chixoy: A Mirror for Xalalá

02 Mar

I find it rather difficult to write about Chixoy reparations when I cannot actually write about reparations negotiations. The accord is a closed political process. It is moving along with ups and downs, but it is not to be commented upon at the moment.

The complication of all of this silence for COCAHICH and the affected communities is that their story and struggle can become lost in the midst of so many other pressing debates in Guatemala. I noticed that not long ago at a meeting on the proposed Xalalá Dam.

I recently attended a press conference in Guatemala City for the release of a report on the effects of the next proposed megaproject on the Chixoy River, Xalalá Dam. The report was written by the Copenhagen Initiative on Central America and Mexico, CIFCA, and can be found here. During the press conference, I listened to the K’ekchi community members describe how they do not want to have their lives and lands affected in the same way as those poor people from Río Negro and other villages were affected by the Chixoy Dam. For one participant, Hugo Ramirez, Chixoy was like a mirror showing him a story he did not want to see repeated. Who would blame him?

Their listed concerns and demands as a community were clear: the dam would affect their rights to food, health, and a life lived with dignity. Xalalá would violate their rights to protect indigenous lands and would have serious environmental consequences. Their opposition stems first from the fact that the communities affected by Chixoy Dam have still not received a proper indemnification or reparation. Beyond that they understand that the laws are designed to support large multinationals and the proposed energy production would not serve the population of Guatemalan. All true, but most of it is not new. Their demands are the same demands made the Chixoy communities since the 1970s.

My interest in attending was to understand the case better and see where COCAHICH and these communities could help one another. No representatives from the Chixoy communities were officially invited to attend the meeting and share their experiences, so I went to observe and make connections where possible.

If there is one lesson learned from the structure of ADIVIMA and COCAHICH, it is that at a certain point in these campaigns, the communities themselves need to take the lead. I would not say that has happened yet with Xalalá from what I have seen and heard. Nearly sixty NGOs were in some way involved in the Xalalá report written by CIFCA, which is necessary and has its value. However, when one hears from the indigenous community organizations themselves that they don’t have money to travel to meetings or pay for capacity building workshops in their own communities, it makes one wonder what is being done by that “forest of NGOs” as panelist Maximo Bá commented during his presentation on the CIFCA project.

I do not intend to criticize, merely to point out a concern regarding the process thus far. There is much strength to be gained from a united movement when confronting megaprojects, and much to be lost if every community in Guatemala faced with the next Chixoy or Xalalá tried to take on that fight alone.

Posted By Heidi McKinnon

Posted Mar 2nd, 2009

1 Comment

  • Joy Agner

    February 17, 2010


    First off, I just want to say I really appreciate your blog. I lived in Guatemala for ten months in 2007 in the Ixcan and visited the Rio Negro communities as well. Your stories reflect many of my sentiments. I want to say though, that the communities affected by the Xalala dam took really amazing leadership during the consulta comunitaria — going to every village in the Ixcan municipality and involving the locals in the issue. So, although activism on the issue probably has many forms and writing such a report may not be their method, the affected communities have been involved.

    Take care!

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