The Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón is made of more than 190 q’eqchi’ communities who live in the Cahabón River basin. Since 2015 they have organized around defense of territory and against the launch of the OXEC I and OXEC II hydroelectric projects installed on the Oxec River, a tributary of the Cahabón River. These projects are operated by OXEC S.A. company who belongs to the Energy Resources Capital Corp (ERCC) group registered in Panama.
The communities’ livelihoods are sustained by agriculture. They have denounced the impacts on their way of life and the denial of the right to water due to the presence of the hydroelectric projects. They demand respect for their collective rights as q’eqchi’ peoples and that the company’s licenses will be revoked as they were granted without a good faith consultation in accordance with national and international instruments on the protection on the rights of indigenous peoples. Because of their demands the communities suffer threats, intimidation, defamation and processes of criminalization against their leaders.
The Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) ruled in January 2016 in favor of an injunction filed by the communities forcing the company to suspend all activities due to lack of consultation. However, this verdict was overturned by the CC in May 2017 and the higher court ́s ruling allowed the company to continue operations and granted a period of one year to consult communities. This judgement as been widely criticized as it contravenes the principle of free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples and because the consultation will take place in only some of the communities affected by the hydroelectric projects. As the Constitutional Court ́s President stated, this judgement is emblematic because it goes beyond trying to resolve a concrete case and aims to set precedent to regulate the procedure of consultation of indigenous peoples. After this ruling, the Guatemalan government started a process to regulate consultations that has been highly criticized because it was not done in consultation with indigenous peoples and does not take into consideration their ways of participation.
The communities decided to organize a good faith community consultation in response to the May 2017 ruling and because the mayor of Cahabón failed to back a municipal consultation. Since then, the levels of conflict as well as attacks towards the communities have increased in the area. PBI started accompanying the Resistance in July 2017 observing assemblies, being present in communities, spreading information about this case and requesting that Guatemalan and international entities provide protective measures for community members.
On August 27, the communities held a community consultation in which 26,537 people professed against the hydroelectric projects while only 11 people showed support. PBI observed the activities in coordination with other human rights organizations which according to community members contributed that no violence erupted despite high levels of tension.
After the consultation, at the request of the Resistance, we facilitated a workshop in q’eqchi’ on security for about 60 participants. The overwhelming interest shown by communities in increasing their own self-protection capacities has prompted us to plan a series of workshops on the subject in different communities in 2018.
PBI ́s accompaniment helped community members feel more secure and supports them to continue their actions in defense of rights of the q’eqchi’ peoples even in a hostile context.
Thanks to your visit I am no longer bothered. There have been no more threats since you came to my community. It seems that a lot of people saw you all and became aware of PBI ́s presence. We now live more peacefully. (community member from the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón communities)
PBI’s political advocacy work also contributed in increasing international concern for the conflict situation in the area. One example of this is Grupo Filtro ́s, composed of representatives from different embassies and other international entities, visit to the Cahabón River territory. During this visit diplomats met with communities affected by the hydroelectric dams, local authorities, and the OXEC company.
Communities continue to demand respect for their decision to not implement the Oxec hydroelectric complex in their territories. As a result of the peaceful actions of protest that they were carrying out, the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) responded by announcing that in December 2017 that MEM had concluded the process established by the CC for the consultation of 11 communities directly affected by the Oxec project in September. The lack of knowledge of this process by implicated communities and social organizations that accompany the Resistance and the MEM ́s affirmations that the consultation process does not contemplate the possibility to deny the installation of the project but had the aim of reaching agreements among communities, company and State, have increased concern for the possibility of scaling conflict. For this reason, ongoing international attention on this case is suggested. PBI will continue to accompany communities in resistance so that the space for peaceful defense of their collective rights as q’eqchi’ peoples is kept open.