A Spanish hydropower company refuses works in an indigenous river in Guatemala, after an international campaign 

Alianza por la Solidaridad and Amigos de la Tierra collected more than 20.000 signatures to demand the withdrawal of a draft project rejected by indigenous communities after almost ten years of conflict.

Alianza por la Solidaridad, Amigos de la Tierra and their partners in Guatemala, following local communities’ will, are celebrating that the Spanish hydropower Company Ecoener-Hidralia was forbidden to build a dam in Cambalan indigenous river, a project which generated serious conflicts: persecution, murders, criminalisation and imprisonment of indigenous leaders who advocated for their communities’ rights.  Finally, the project has been dismissed after an international lobby campaign counting on more than 20.000 signatures in its support.

The company had already stopped the works some months ago in the department of Huehuetenango, as well as dropped the charges against indigenous leaders who had been sued and imprisoned for rejecting the implementation of the project in a territory of great environmental value, which is considered sacred by indigenous populations Q’anjob’al, Chuj, Akateko, Popti’. However, the firm had not officially relinquished the concession contract, which was the reason why local communities feared an eventual restart.

The company, in a statement disseminated by Guatemalan media, admitted that the project “has not been accepted by a significant part of the inhabitants of the territory where its implementation was planned”. Ecoener-Hidralia’s presence in Guatemala started in 2007 with the aim of undertaking a hydropower project in Canbalam river, in the indigenous territory of Santa Cruz de Barillas.

The company settled in the country undermining human rights of the communities inhabiting the area, violating the right to a free and informed prior consultation, and fostering repression against the leaders of the communities opposing the project. Due to the lack of consensus, the communities themselves organised a popular consultation whereby more than 90% of the population flatly rejected the project envisaged by the Galician firm.

In 2015, Alianza por la Solidaridad (in the framework of the campaign TieRRRa in favour of companies’ respect of human rights and natural resources) and Amigos de la Tierra, started to collect signatures to claim for the project rejection and the end of actions against indigenous populations.

Finally, on 4 November 2016 all signatures were handed over to the Ambassador of Guatemala in Spain, Fernando Molina Girón. Some days before, the case had been presented before the UN by Amigos de la Tierra, as an example of the need for an international binding treaty to end impunity of multinational corporations in cases of human and environmental rights violations during their operations abroad.

It is worth remembering that, according to the research by Alianza por la Solidaridad, the hydropower company did not contribute to any improvement in the affected communities: neither employment, or services, or environmental or social benefits. Moreover, since its origins, the firm was plunged into a legal and social controversy casting shadows on the project.

For Alianza por la Solidaridad and Amigos de la Tierra, the withdrawal reveals the importance of supporting indigenous people’s demands against the arrival of transnational companies who do not take the rights of local communities into consideration.

Both organisations require Ecoener-Hidralia to keep its word and definitely leave the project, as well as any other future attempt to undertake new projects in the territory by any subsidiary. In this regard, they support the need for a binding treaty at the international level to end natural resources hoarding by big companies (national and foreign), with the support of Governments.

 

Rosa M. Tristán, Alianza por la Solidaridad