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.

Visiting Chixoy

17 Oct

Last month I traveled a few hours north of Rabinal into Alta Verapaz to visit several communities living in resettlement villages near the Chixoy Reservoir. During this trip, I had the opportunity to visit the reservoir and see the Chixoy Dam and hydroelectric facilities at Pueblo Viejo.

At the entrance to the reservoir region is an INDE sign with clear blue waters flowing through the dam.

However the reality is that the reservoir and rivers are often filled with silt and sometimes look more like mud than crystaline pools of agua pura.

Silt is clogging the turbines and will need to be cleaned in order for the facility to continue functioning properly. Chixoy was designed to last 40 years, however some say it may not reach thirty years of production without attending to the silt.

The facility opens the floodgates regularly and sounds alarms beforehand to advise residents downriver of the imminent flooding. This was not always the case and many people died in the floodwaters in the first few years after construction.

Now, when the alarms sound, children from the nearby community of Santa Cruz are attracted to the river to collect fish. As the gates close and the floodwaters reside, dead tilapia and other local freshwater fish from the reservoir collect along the shore.

Often children can gather up to ten pounds of fish at a time, the quality of which is questionable, but it does supply a good source of protein to the community. I could not say that of many other communities I visited.

Strategically placed around the reservoir and above the hydroelectric facility are small guard posts used in the past by INDE security. According to some, the Guatemalan Army also used the posts to protect and monitor activities around the dam during construction.

Below one guard post is the tunnel in which several community negotiators were found dead in 1979 while on their way to a meeting.

These men were representing all the affected communities in negotiations with the government and INDE. They carried with them all of their records and minutes from meetings with INDE representatives outlining the reparations INDE had offered to date. Those records were never recovered. Thirty years later, the second round of negotiations on reparations still continues and the negotiators still have concerns about their safety.

Two new hydroelectric facilities are in the planning stages in Guatemala. One in Xalalá and another along the Polochic River. The Xalalá project is underway and out to bid until November 2008. Prensa Libre recently reported that interested parties have already forewarned the Colóm administration that they expect the government to be more involved in reparations negotiations with local communities before they agree to take on construction at Xalalá. ADIVIMA hopes to be involved in consulting with other communities as they face resettlement and negotiation as well.

Posted By Heidi McKinnon

Posted Oct 17th, 2008

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