I have been quiet about the negotiation process for some time because it was not going well in late summer and early fall. So as not complicate COCAHICH’s work, I preferred to leave those details out of my blogs. As things have taken a turn for the better, I feel somewhat at liberty to discuss the complications and where the process is headed.
During the past seven months of negotiations between COCAHICH and Vice President Espada’s staff, an entire range of government ministers and functionaries attended, often numbering twenty or more. This included INDE staff and representatives as well. As COCAHICH negotiators numbered three or four, there was a clear imbalance that set a tone to the meetings and seemed to favor one side over the other. My understanding from interviews with COCAHICH negotiators is that they felt that Vice President Espada should have sent representatives with more negotiating power and not allowed the INDE representatives to have as much input in the negotiation.
In late October 2008, COCAHICH staff opened a dialogue with First Lady Sandra Colom de Caballeros, who heads a government program called Cohesión Social. Their goal was to ask for President Colom’s intervention in the negotiation, although they would have been happy to continue with Vice President Espada’s staff had he changed spokesmen. During the weeks that followed, President Colom and the First Lady demonstrated a great deal of support and willingness to revise the negotiation process.
As the latest ADIVIMA press release stated, a new political accord was signed on November 20th, 2008, between Luis Velásquez of the Office of President Colom, Roberto Menendez of the Organization of American States, and Juan de Dios Garcia, spokesman for COCAHICH. President Colom signed it later that day.
The first negotiation took place last Wednesday, November 26th, 2008, in the offices of the OAS in Guatemala City. The accord limits the number of government officials involved to offer more balance to the process. As well, President Colom felt that INDE representatives had no reason to be at the negotiating table at all, which was a great victory for the COCAHICH staff and lawyers. The new negotiators for the Colom administration include: Luis Velásquez and Luis Surita of the Office of the President, Jorge Ruano of the Office of the Vice President, Karen Slogans of SEGEPLAN, and Orlando Blanco of SEGEPAZ.
During the meetings with President Colom on November 20th, he also agreed to remove essential wording from the previous agreement that resulted in an historic acknowledgement by the Guatemalan government of damages and violations caused by the construction of Chixoy Dam. Unfortunately, during last week’s initial meeting between COCAHICH and Colom administration negotiators, Colom’s lawyers and staff attempted to backtrack from a perceived or implied acceptance of responsibility for damages on the part of the Colom administration. According to witnesses, this point of discussion lasted nearly three hours. As the accord had been signed, COCAHICH’s position was clear. The acknowledgement had been made and would remain on the record, and so it has for now.
This coming week the new Technical Committee will have its first round of meetings to decide when the contracted companies, ARS Progetti and Movimundo, will begin the verification interviews in the affected communities. Their work was slated to start in August 2008, but was delayed for methodological reasons and then further complicated by the collapse of the negotiations with Vice President Espada’s staff. A best guess would be that verification will begin after the holiday season in mid January.
So after some tense weeks of dialogue and some perceived good will on the part of the Colom administration, the reparation negotiations continue. Hopefully, the Colom negotiators will respect this accord and finalize the reparations in the coming months.
Pending funding, I have every intention to continue following the story and monitoring the process of verifying damages in the affected communities starting in late January.
Posted By Heidi McKinnon
Posted Dec 5th, 2009