On Tuesday, June 24th, I saw the Chixoy River for the first time while entering the community of Chitomax. June 24th is el Día de San Juan, or the day of Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of water. It is a good day to be near water, which is what I did.
Since the flooding of the river basins for the Chixoy Dam, the thousands of people who were resettled to the mountains around the village of Chitomax have only infertile, hilly uplands on which to grow subsistence crops. Villages scattered throughout the mountains on the north side of the river are only accessible by a suspension bridge in Chitomax whose cables are corroded. It is a serious concern for the hundreds of people who have to cross it daily.
Farmers have no other means by which to carry their crops into nearby towns like Cubulco or Rabinal to sell them aside from carrying them across this bridge. With the little floodplain land available, they grow corn and beans. However, the majority of their crops are planted throughout the mountains in the distance.
The bridge itself is a danger. There are wide open spaces between the wooden panels; it bounces and sways as you walk, making it hard to balance; and the cables are rusting and ready to collapse. Years ago, there were not even wood panels to cover the cables. Men, women and children cross it every day to go to work, school or into town, which is hours away.
Part of the reparations these communities are requesting from INDE will include the replacement of this bridge with something much larger that will allow motor traffic and offer the mountain villages safe and reliable access to the hospital, work, markets and shops in town. And that is a brief portrait of life from the south side of Chitomax. Later in July, I will report on the villages across the river.
Posted By Heidi McKinnon
Posted Jun 30th, 2008