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PRESS RELEASE Guatemalan citizens harmed by World Bank-financed dam seek justice

September 10, 1999

More than 17 years after a series of violent repressions stemming from Rio Negro’s opposition to the World Bank-funded Chixoy hydroelectric dam, three civil patrol commanders are being tried as material authors of the massacre.

Rio Negro massacre trial opens

More than 17 years after 177 women and children from Rio Negro were brutally killed by the Guatemalan army, three civil patrol commanders are being tried as material authors of the massacre in a case that opened September 7. The March 15, 1982, massacre was one of a series of violent repressions stemming from Rio Negro’s opposition to the Chixoy hydroelectric dam. The Chixoy dam was funded by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

In the 1970s, the World Bank loaned US$72 million to the Guatemalan government to build the dam, while the IDB lent US$105 million. The people of Rio Negro – mostly indigenous Achi Indians – whose lands were due to be flooded by the dam, refused to move unless they received fair compensation. In an intimidation campaign between February 1980 and the filling of the reservoir in January 1983, death squads and the army killed over 400 men, women, and children. Earlier this year, the United Nations-sponsored “Truth Commission” ruled that these massacres were genocide.

Then three years after the last massacre, the World Bank granted the Guatemalan government a second loan of US$44.6 million for cost overruns. The IDB also extended additional loans totalling US$127 million. Corruption and technical problems ultimately raised the cost of the 300-megawatt dam from $340 million to $1 billion. Although the World Bank eventually recognized that the massacres happened, it has not assumed any responsibility.

A church worker from the region summed up the sad facts: “The Chixoy dam was built with the blood of the inhabitants of Rio Negro.”

Although the case against the three civil patrol commanders is a step toward justice, the Rio Negro survivors, who were moved into impoverished villages and kept under strict military control, are now demanding compensation for the loss of their lands and for the physical, psychological, cultural, and material losses caused by the violence. They are also calling on the World Bank to pressure the Guatemalan government to guarantee a fair trial and protection for witnesses, and to stop funding governments which commit human rights abuses.

Toronto-based Probe International, which campaigned against the banks’ support for the Chixoy dam in the 1980s, predicts that more and more cases of injustices and economic losses suffered in the past will come back to haunt development agencies like the World Bank. Each year, Canadians contribute about one-quarter of a billion dollars to the World Bank and the IDB.

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