Ten years ago, community members from the Ixcán exercised their ancestral traditions and rights as indigenous peoples, holding a municipality-wide community referendum in which 89.7% of the 21,555 participants in the referendum voted against allowing resource extraction companies into their territories.
On April 20, 2017, Ixcán communities celebrated 10 years since the vote and honored generations of struggle to protect land and life. Despite the community’s clear opposition to mega-development projects, however, the threats remain real. Over the past 10 years, communities have organized against the construction of the Xalalá Dam – a proposed project that, if built, would be the second largest hydroelectric dam in Guatemala. It would flood the lands of some 58 communities along the Copón and Chixoy rivers in the municipalities of Ixcán, Cobán, and Uspantán, directly impacting more than 13,000 people; indirectly, it would impact an additional 18,000 people from at least 44 communities.
For more on community resistance to the Xalalá Dam, read NISGUA’s blog.
The construction of the Xalalá Dam currently appears to be stalled, after the National Institute of Electrification (INDE) canceled the feasibility studies contract amidst revelations of corruption in the granting process. Today, communities continue to uphold the results of the referendum and remain firm in their opposition. They used the 10th anniversary as an opportunity to show documentaries about their process in carrying out the referendum and shared their experiences with younger generations. Children in the community acted out a dramatization and others read aloud selections of a community declaration that attested to the legitimacy of the referendum results.
Víctor Caal Tzuy, a Q’eqchi’ leader and the general coordinator of the Association of Communities for Development, Defense of Territory and Natural Resources (ACODET), spoke about the importance of communities exercising their legitimate right to consultation and their long-term resistance to INDE’s attempts to impose projects on them. He said, “More than 130 communities demonstrated their opposition to mega-development projects in the Ixcán. With so many people standing against the project, INDE discovered that it wouldn’t be so easy to force their way into our territories.”
The Monitoring Commission of the Ixcán Community Consultation, a broad coalition of the regional social movements who organized the referendum process, was formed to monitor the outcomes of the referendum and ensure respect of the municipality’s decision. On the 10th anniversary of the referendum, they released the following statement: