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Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities resist hydroelectric dams in Guatemala

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Facebook photo by PBI-Guatemala Project.

Resistencia Pacifica de Cahabón (Peaceful Resistance Cahabón) was formed in 2015 in Guatemala to defend the land, water, and rights of Indigenous peoples.

The Brussels-based international non-governmental organization Peace Brigades International (PBI) provides protective accompaniment to the Resistencia Pacifica de Cahabón.

PBI recently tweeted, "In December, PBI Guatemala visited members of the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón and heard from them about serious threats and attacks related to their defense of land and opposition to large-scale hydroelectric projects in the region."

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, also visited the area last May.

After her visit, she wrote in The Washington Post, "I went to Alta Verapaz, where thousands of people gathered to express their complaints against the construction of the Oxec I and II hydroelectric dams in the Cahabón River without consulting them."

Oxec is owned by Energy Resources Capital Corp, which is registered in Panama.

The Resistance is demanding that the licences granted to Oxec be revoked by the Guatemalan government because there was no prior consultation with Indigenous peoples.

In August 2017, Indigenous communities held their own consultation which rejected the construction of the dams.

PBI provided security support for that consultation in which the 195 communities of the Cahabón River overwhelmingly rejected the Oxec hydroelectric projects.

Opposition to the dams is based on their impact on local ecosystems and water supplies and the lack of consultation with local Q'eqchi Indigenous communities.

Telesur reports, "The communities of Alta Verapaz have been organizing themselves for years against several hydroelectric projects on the Oxec and Cahabon rivers and rue the fact that many of them have been left without water access."

PBI has noted, "On the Cahabón River and its tributaries Oxec, Canlich and Chiacté, seven hydroelectric plants currently operate: Renace I, II, III, IV, Oxec, Oxec II, and Chichaic."

Now, one of the leaders of the Resistance, a vocal opponent of the Oxec dams, has been imprisoned on trumped up charges.

In November 2018, Bernardo Caal Xol, a Mayan Q'eqchi' community leader, was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison. He had already been imprisoned through "preventative detention" since January 2018.

Telesur notes, "It was Caal Xol who filed three lawsuits against the Oxec construction company at different institutions, including accusations for failing to consult the local population, and illegally cutting down 15 hectares of trees."

Another Telesur article reports, "The communities claim the Oxec and Renace hydroelectric projects are illegal because the local Indigenous Q'eqchi' peoples were not properly consulted and informed about it, as established by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization."

Article 6 of C169 - Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, which entered into force in September 1991, states, "The consultations carried out in application of this Convention shall be undertaken, in good faith and in a form appropriate to the circumstances, with the objective of achieving agreement or consent to the proposed measures."

Convention 169 is a forerunner of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2007, which includes the right to free, prior and informed consent.

An interview with Caal Xol by PBI Guatemala can be read here.


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