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.



The Road to Pacux

16 Jun

Pacux is a resettlement village on the outskirts of Rabinal. In 1983, it was a concentration camp. To reach the settlement today, one must pass Cemetery #2 and the massacre monuments that line its edge, facing the soccer fields beyond. INDE, the national electricity company responsible for Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam, built Pacux in the early 1980s. It was planned on a grid system with walls and barbed wire fences surrounding a collection of 50×50 meter plots. The Rabinal River borders the eastern edge of the community.

Perimeter Road

After the 1982 massacres, numerous refugee families moved into these concrete and wood homes, most likely under threat of intimidation and out of a basic need for shelter. They were homeless.

Typical House in Pacux

Once they had arrived, Army patrols were stationed at the entrance to Pacux, and no one was allowed to enter or leave without authorization. After losing thousands of acres of land to the Chixoy reservoir, the refugees in Pacux were given no access to land where they could grow staple crops like beans and corn to feed their families. Neither were they allowed to seek employment beyond the Army base, as they were considered insurgents for opposing their own eviction. For nearly three years in the mid-1980s, they could not leave Pacux.

People were murdered in Pacux as well. In 2004, FAFG excavated a well on the former Army post and found more than seventy bodies. The deaths had occurred over a period of several years. The streets in Pacux are named after massacre survivors.

Avenida Pablo Uscap

I visited Pacux soon after arriving in Rabinal and returned this weekend to get to know the community better. Today there are 150 families, three general stores, a school, and an evangelical church. On one of the steepest roads in the settlement, I met Tomasa and her extended family of four.

Tomasa and Family

They were cooking dinner over a pit fire in front of the house, and were gracious enough to recount something of their living conditions to me.

Tomasa’s house is a typical wood and concrete one-room home with dirt floors and a small yard with one scrawny tree. Out back there is a water spigot, a toilet and a well.

Barnardín and the Well

She is lucky. None of the plumbing existed when she moved to Pacux in 1983, but it is of minimal use as residents receive only 30 minutes of water a day, if it works. There have been months without water from the local tanks, forcing families to go to the river, which is surely polluted.

Rabinal River

The bathroom facility and pila, or concrete sink with spigot and basin, were recently supplied by Plan International.

The well was purchased by the family three years ago. Three men worked several weeks to dig the well at a cost of $2,000 quetzales, more or less two months wages.

The well

There are only 15 families in Pacux with a well. Tomasa shares her water with neighbors whenever they need it.

Aside from a lack of water, the greatest irony of all is the amount of electricity available to residents. For an hour or two every evening there is light at Tomasa’s house. In a country where half of the electricity is supplied from energy generated on lands that are still under title to the people living a marginal life in Pacux, this is appalling.

INDE had promised free water and electricity to all dam-affected peoples in the 1980s, however they complied with their own agreements infrequently at best. When the company was privatized, the new owners stated they were under no obligation to honor such an agreement. So Tomasa and her family pay for water and electricity service, if one can call this service. [In the interest of full disclosure, my house in Rabinal only has water for half of the day, but there is no lack of electricity.]

Just outside of Pacux, there are plots of farmland between the cemetery and the community where crops are grown, but those plots are private property.

Corn Field at Entrace to Pacux

On a daily basis, then, residents are reminded of several things when they travel between Pacux and Rabinal. First, their family members were murdered and their remains are buried next to the road entering the settlement. This may not be as negative as it seems, but certainly families would prefer to have the burials near their own homes or on ancestral lands. Second, they pass fields of corn or beans every day when they themselves have no lands of their own and no means of sustaining their families in a traditional manner. Third, they essentially live in town and still have no reliable electricity when everyone else in Rabinal does.

Tomasa’s son, Bernardín, told me that aside from desperately needing agricultural lands and hoping for reparations, their immediate needs are clean water and housing repairs. Their homes are wood and concrete and as thick as an average piece of lumber. Sunlight shines through the slats and when it rains hard, there is nothing dry inside. Some houses I saw were tiled roof adobes, which is a vast improvement, but not all are so lucky.

Habitat for Humanity House

This is life in Pacux, a model resettlement village.

Children Playing in the Community Pila

The Voice of Our Children and Grandchildren Will Never Forget the Terror

The Main Road in Town

I invite anyone reading this blog to consider how successful you might be in raising a healthy family under such conditions? In the weeks to come I expect to profile other rural dam-affected communities that will hopefully benefit from the economic development plan that I will discuss next.

I am grateful to the Pérez and Lajuuj families for their time and generosity and will update their story as I can. Background information was taken from Barbara Rose Johnston´s work and the entire team of researchers who contributed to her report.

Posted By Heidi McKinnon

Posted Jun 16th, 2008

3 Comments

  • Cindy Rodriguez-Wewerka

    June 16, 2008

     

    The three men who built Tomasa’s well, where were they from and what type of tools do they have to complete that type of project? How did the Habitat for Humanity house get there?

  • Heidi

    June 17, 2008

     

    Hi there. I will ask Bernardín how the well was built this week and get back to you. They were day laborers from Rabinal for sure, but I don´t know what kinds of tools they had available. Most likely this was an extremely low-tech affair.

    As far as Habitat goes, they have an office in town, but I have not visited to talk with them about their work. I am hoping someone from their office can visit Tomasa with me to look into the repairs needed. And, of course, every house has needs.

    Thanks for being in touch. HH

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    June 17, 2012

     

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