Over the past few weeks I have had the privilege to visit various remote communities in both Baja and Alta Verapaz that have been affected either directly or indirectly by the Chixoy Hydroelectric Facility. I have heard testimonies from so many voices expressing frustration, disgust and often hope that their lives will improve. While I was taking in these oral histories of survival and witnessing the struggle of family after family, another subtext to the story emerged.
Since June 24th, 2008, the last day of community-wide meetings regarding the contract to verify damages caused by the construction of Chixoy, representatives of the electric company, INDE, and the Commission of Energy and Mines have been taking a small tour of the affected communities on their own. The purpose of their community visits has been to offer incentives to affected families, supposedly to minimize the palpable resentment that is felt against INDE in the regions affected by the dam.
In several villages I visited, INDE had already offered a variety of housing repairs and solar panels for families who have so far lived for over twenty-five years without electricity. INDE representatives have most likely not visited most of these communities in twenty-five years, much less offered them any new ‘incentives’ like solar electricity. Apparently, electricity from Chixoy is too difficult to for INDE bring to these rural villages, although they had no trouble displacing these families to build the largest hydroelectric facility in the country right in their backyard.
Unfortunately, none of these projects are being offered in the interest of community development. Rather, INDE is attempting to appease and ultimately persuade as many of these extremely vulnerable families that they have not been as neglected as one might think, given the clear history of Chixoy.
Wherever INDE makes their case heard and accepted, there is always the possibility that it will affect the final outcome of the Chixoy reparations plan in their favor. To be fair, without having a clear understanding of INDE’s position, one might only suggest that undermining negotiations is their ultimate objective. As the President of the Commission of Energy and Mines is the son of the former general director during the period of construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam, the suggestion seems more likely to be fact.
My question today is this: If your family lived with serious daily food stress in substandard housing and had no access to work, would you refuse a development project even if it were purely politically motivated?
No one would deny even one of these families the opportunity to improve their standard of living, but the possible repercussions for the more than 8,000 affected individuals seem far greater than the cost of a few solar panels for a dozen families in Chitomax.
As this aspect of the negotiation process develops, I will revisit the issue with more details.
Posted By Heidi McKinnon
Posted Aug 8th, 2008