Conflict over a hydroelectric dam flared up this week when police were called in to evict Maya Ixil communities defending their territory in the Quiché department in Guatemala.

“For defending their lands, the Ixil people are once again suffering state repression,” Miguel de León, one of the traditional Mayan authorities in the region, said during a telephone interview with FGER, which networks with various local radio stations around the country.

Comprised of the municipalities of Santa María Nebaj, San Gaspar Chajul and San Juan Cotzal, the Ixil triangle is one of the four regions of Guatemala where the UN Commission for Historical Clarification determined state officials committed acts of genocide in 1981 and 1982. Although the ruling was later annulled, former military head of state Efraín Ríos Montt’s May 10, 2013 conviction in a domestic court for crimes against humanity and genocide specifically related to the killings of 1,771 Ixil people, along with forced displacement and acts of torture and sexual violence.

Nearly 20 years have passed since the Peace Accords marked the end of the 1960-1996 armed conflict in Guatemala, but struggles over land and resources rage on throughout the country – particularly in Indigenous territories. As in much of the Mayan highlands, mining and hydroelectric dam projects pushed forward without free, prior and informed consent have sparked conflict in the Ixil triangle.

The 94 megawatt Hidro Xacbal hydroelectric dam on the Xacbal river was inaugurated in 2010. Construction of the 75 MW Hidro Xacbal Delta dam, a second project on the same river, is currently underway. Both projects have been subject to local opposition and protests over the years. They are privately owned by the Terra Group, a Central American energy, infrastructure and real estate conglomerate. The president of Terra Group, Honduran entrepreneur Fredy Nasser, is the son-in-law of Miguel Facussé, one of the richest and most powerful landowners and businessmen in Honduras.

On April 28, the Guatemalan police force was sent in to evict local community residents blockading a road by Sotzil, approximately 20 kilometers north of Chajul. Directly affected by a tunnel for the Hidro Xacbal Delta dam, Sotzil residents had demanded fair compensation. Several communities in the area have been denouncing the impacts of the four-kilometer diversion tunnel since at least last year. The company failed to make the payments to Sotzil residents and didn’t show up to a scheduled dialogue session with locals, prompting the blockade, according to de León.

A contingent of more than thirty national police vehicles transporting an estimated 200 police officers wound its way through the Cuchumatanes mountain range to evict the protesters. They were met with resistance. Police used tear gas on the Ixil protesters and detained four people. One police officer reportedly suffered a gunshot wound to the arm, several children reportedly needed medical attention due to the tear gas, and some community members reportedly suffered unspecified injuries but did not seek medical attention for fear of being arrested.

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Protests spread in response to the show of force and in particular to the detention of community members. Other blockades, including one in the town of Chajul, were set up in an attempt to prevent the passage of the police and pressure for the release of the detainees. Tear gas rained down on streets and houses in Chajul. The presence of soldiers in the area was later also denounced.

Video footage compiled by Guatevision includes a selection of brief clips showing some of the protests and state response. Watch the 45-second video here for a glimpse of what was going on (the header photo for this post is from a screenshot of the video). The recent events have been covered in Spanish to some extent by some community-based, alternative, regional and national media outlets, including Prensa Indigena y CampesinaCentro de Medios Independientes, Red Voces Mayas and Guatevision – coverage from which the brief sketch of events in English in the preceding three paragraphs has largely been compiled.

The four detainees were transported by police to Nebaj, but after talks mediated by traditional Mayan authorities, they were released. The authorities reported that the situation had calmed down somewhat but that tensions were still running high, as the conflict over the Hidro Xacbal Delta dam remains unresolved.

On April 30, police reportedly accidentally released a tear gas canister in the central park of Nebaj across the street from a local eatery. Four people were taken to the local hospital for medical attention.

The Convergence for Human Rights coalition of organizations, church officials and others have condemned the violent state response to Ixil community protests.

Communities affected by Terra Group’s Hidro Xacbal Delta dam as well as traditional Maya Ixil authorities have made repeated calls for the suspension of the project. Other existing and planned hydroelectric dam and high voltage transmission line projects in the Ixil region have also provoked disharmony.

“The Italian company ENEL that imposed the 84 MW Palo Viejo hydroelectric dam [in Cotzal] committed to respecting Indigenous rights as established by the ILO Convention 169 but later went about disparaging Indigenous authorities and abandoned the dialogue it had begun with Maya Ixil authorities,” the traditional Ixil authorities of Nebaj, Chajul and Cotzal wrote in a February 21, 2015 declaration.

“In the Ixil region, companies and successive governments are destroying the environment, mountains and forests in the name of development, causing increasing social conflict in our communities, disparaging our ancestral authorities, and using conditions of extreme poverty to try to win over youth with temporary jobs,” reads the statement, which ends with a clear, over-arching demand: No more aggression from multinational companies and Guatemalan state institutions.

Fuente: https://www.beaconreader.com/sandra-cuffe/dam-protests-met-with-repression-in-ixil-region-of-guatemala