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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Guatemala : le barrage pas pacifique de Hidro Santa Cruz

by Damien Roustel

Guatemala: the tumultuous Hidro Santa Cruz dam

Translated Monday 15 June 2015, by Adrian Jordan

La Corporación Interamericana para el Financiamiento de Infraestructura (CIFI) is a Panamanian institution which finances small to medium scale infrastructure projects in Latin America. In 2008, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) granted it a loan of 20 million dollars and invested a further 10 million dollars in equity. CIFI then loaned 8.2 million dollars to Hidro Santa Cruz (HSC), a subsidiary of the Spanish company, Hidralia. With this money, HSC bought land, through intermediaries, in Santa Cruz Barillas, a quiet region of Guatemala. Officially, it was to produce coffee and cardamom. In reality, HSC planned to construct a hydroelectric dam called Cambalam.

These lies and the commencement of works around a sacred waterfall, have strained relations with the inhabitants of Barillas. “We are not against hydroelectric power … what we are against is the treacherous way these men act...”, explains a representative of the village. Faced with escalating violence, Guatemala declared a state of emergency in 2012. “A variety of civil and political rights were suspended in the area. Local people reported house raids, warrantless arrests, sexual violence, theft, intimidation, destruction of property and other forms of abuse of authority”, relate Oxfam. “I never imagined that there would be deaths, kidnappings, and all of the chaos they brought us”, attests Barillas resident, Catarina.

Four years from the start of the project, operations have ceased on the construction of Cambalam. However, two opponents have been condemned to 33 years imprisonment for murders following a trial which, according to Oxfam, was “fraught with inconsistencies”. And, now, nine other activists are still being held while two HSC employees accused of murder have been acquitted. Oxfam contemplates: “Questions remain around why a relatively small project has generated such a disproportionately large conflict, and why HSC has devoted so many resources to a confrontation with local communities even though it continues to fail to realize any economic benefits.” We await the World Bank’s response.

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