The following is a press release issued by the Departmental Assembly of the Peoples of Huehuetenango (ADH), together with other organizations who accompanied the “Caravan for dignity, resistance, and freedom for political prisoners from northern Huehuetenango.” NISGUA joined the Caravan as international observers, documenting testimony of communities in the micro-region of Ixquisis who have had their human rights violated during the imposition of hydroelectric projects in the area. 

From April 6 – 8, 2016, the Departmental Assembly of the Peoples of Huehuetenango (ADH) and other organizations in defense of territory and human rights carried out the Caravan for dignity, resistance, and freedom for political prisoners from northern Huehuetenango. We visited the municipalities of Santa Eulalia, Santa Cruz Barillas, San Mateo Ixtatán, and the communities of Pojom and Ixquisis. In light of what we observed, we share the following information at the community, municipal, department, national and international levels:

Over the last eight years, the people of northern Huehuetenango have suffered the serious affects of violence inflicted by extractive companies like Hidro Santa Cruz, PDHSA, Hidro San Luis and ENEL. Without consultation, these companies have illegally reaped benefits from the government in being granted 50-year concessions to important water sources in the municipalities of Santa Cruz Barillas, Santa Eulalia, San Mateo Ixtatán and San Pedro Soloma, located in northern Huehuetenango. They have dramatically altered the ecosystems in the region and community ways of life. Their goal is to build hydroelectric megaprojects and their eagerness to develop these projects has led to the killing and imprisonment of land defenders and the further harassment and threats of others. In response to the unpopularity of megaprojects, the companies and government instill fear and repress the population.

By way of this press release, we want to make visible the suffering that Promoción de Desarrollo Hídrico, S.A. (PDHSA) and its affiliates, Generadora del Ríos, Generadora San Mateo and Generadora San Andrés, are bringing to the area. They are changing the political, economic and cultural landscape of the Ixquisis region, made up of 11 communities located in the municipality of San Mateo Ixtatán. These communities live from and develop around the Negro, Yalanhuitz and Pojom rivers, which are now intended to be diverted to construct four 40MW hydroelectric dams spread over three projects, named Pojom I, Pojom II, and San Andrés. When put into operation, they will cause irreversible damage to the Rio Santo Domingo watershed, one of the most important watersheds to human life and mother earth in the Huehueteco and Mexican territory.

Part of the strategy used by stakeholders in these hydroelectric projects has been to create community divisions, promote confrontations, revive old [paramilitary] structures of people who participated in civil defense patrol units [during the internal armed conflict], and exacerbate religious differences between Catholics and Evangelicals. Incidents of violence against communities who oppose megaprojects continue without investigation, while the government allows for the existence of “security companies” and other unidentified armed civilians in the area who continue to harass the population and remilitarize the region. The establishment of the “Ixquisis Frontera” military base is another clear indication that the Guatemalan State is supporting external interests that are at odds with the community; the base has been located adjacent to the offices of PDHSA since August 7, 2014.

All of these actions form part of a strategy of terror implemented by the company PDHSA, with the goal of silencing community voices that are defending their rivers and fresh water.

The corporate and government discourse follows that those who live in these regions and oppose these economic interests are backwards, violent, confrontational, and don’t want development. After witnessing the harms caused by the company PDHSA, those of us on the Caravan for dignity, resistance and freedom for political prisoners from northern Huehuetenango, and those who gathered at the community meeting in Ixquisis with authorities and representatives of that region, can testify that we met with peaceful communities who want to be heard by the municipal, departmental and national authorities. We corroborate, through our conclusions, the racism and extreme poverty that allows for these companies to promote their own models of “development.” It isn’t that the people want it. But the existence of poverty is not a reason to take away their dignity and sense of justice for their communities. For this reason, holding up the feelings, thoughts, hopes, and demands of the women, men, children, youth, and elderly, we ask:

  1. All of the organizations, national and international institutions, and governmental authorities whose mandate it is to support the building of democracy and the preservation of human rights to accompany the communities of San Mateo Ixtatán – particularly in the Ixquisis region and northern Huehuetenango more generally – in recovering peace and tranquility. The more they feel alone, the easier it will be for PDHSA and other companies to come into the region.
  2. That the Human Rights Ombudsman and particularly the Office in Huehuetenango guarantee the human rights of the communities who are exercising their legitimate right to oppose hydroelectric projects, mining, and other projects that harm community life and their natural resources.
  3. The Departmental Ministry of Interior Affairs of Huehuetenango, the National Army, the National Civil Police, the Minister of the Interior and the Public Prosecutor’s Office:
    • Act in favor of the population and not in the interests of the extractive companies. Avoid remilitarizing communities.
    • Withdraw the Army, as its presence invokes a climate of fear and panic in those who lived through the armed conflict.
    • Clarify the role of armed actors who work for the company and investigate whether they carry appropriate licenses.
    • Stop controlling, threatening and criminalizing land defenders. We demand the immediate release of those defenders who have been unjustly imprisoned for more than a year, including: Rigoberto Juárez, Domingo Baltazar, Adalberto Villatoro, Francisco Juan, Arturo Pedro, Bernardo Ermitaño López and Mynor López.
  4. That the international community not be fooled by the defamation campaigns that not only promote violence, but also frame men and women human rights and land defenders and communities as violent who are threatening the rule of law in Guatemala.

Lastly, we re-affirm our strongest demand in saying, “in Huehuetenango, we only want to live in peace. We don’t want extractive projects. All we want is justice for our Peoples.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Signed and ratified:
Asamblea Departamental de Pueblos de Huehuetenango, ADH
Asociación para el Desarrollo Sostenible de la Juventud, ADESJU
Asociación Política La Cuerda
Centro de Estudios y Documentación de la Frontera Occidental de Guatemala, CEDFOG
Consejo Ciudadano Maya Mam Culquencito
Consejo Maya Mam Barbarence, Consejo Maya Mam Coloteco
Consejo Maya Mam Integral Gasparence, Consejo Maya Mam Integral Sampedrano
Consejo Maya Mam Ixtahuacaneco
Consejo Maya Mam Libertence
Consejo Maya Mam Petzaleña
Consejo Maya Mam Sanjuanerita
Consejo Maya Mam Sansebolla
Consejo Maya Mam Tectiteco
Consejo Maya Sa´x T´ot
Frente de Defensa Miguelense, FREDEMI
Miembros del Consejo Comunitario de Desarrollo, Alcaldes Auxiliares and Representantes de las comunidades de la Micro-Región Ixquisis, San Mateo Ixtatán, Huehuetenango
Organización de Mujeres Mamá Maquín
Resistencia Pacífica de La Puya

The Latin American organizations who participated in the 6th Conference on Mining Conflicts in Latin America (Sexto Encuentro del Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros en América Latina – OCMAL) also sign this press release. The conference took place in El Salvador from April 20-24, 2016 and was in support of the Peoples of Huehuetenango who are defending natural resources and fighting for the release of imprisoned land defenders. Signer organizations are listed below:

Acción Ecológica, Ecuador
Articulación Afectados por la Vale, Brasil
Asamblea por el Agua del Guasco Alto, Chile
Asociación para la Promoción y el Desarrollo de la Comunidad-CEIBA, Guatemala
Censat-Agua Viva, Colombia
Centro de Investigación sobre Inversión y Comercio – CEICOM, El Salvador
Centro Hondureño de Promoción al Desarrollo Comunitario – CEHPRODEC, Honduras
Centro Humboldt, Nicaragua
Comité de Integración del Macizo Colomb