Monday, September 22, 2014

Summer Review

Entrance to the Chixoy relocation community of Pacux

"We are a community abandoned. Abandoned by the state of Guatemala, the municipality of Rabinal, and abandoned by the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank [financial backers of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam, whose construction led to mass evictions, loss of property, loss of life and community, and present state of poverty and exclusion].  
- Carlos Chen Osorio

It was a particularly difficult summer for those living in the Chixoy-relocation community of Pacux. A prolonged canicula - the typically short dry spell during the wet season - led to extreme drought conditions and crop failure, meaning an increase in prices for basic staples. For those residents fortunate enough to grow their own milpa - the traditional Mayan agriculture of corn, beans, and squash - up to 100% percent of the harvest was lost. Already the community is experiencing issues with malnutrition and food shortages.

Aside from the this, violence and crime appear to be on the rise - a trend mirrored throughout the country - yet more pronounced in regions where displacement and conflicts over resources and land exist. While numerous residents have been victims of extortion, attempted murder, assassination, and theft, almost no cases are investigated by authorities, as Pacux and other relocation communities are often last to receive local assistance.

Law student and Pacux resident Pablo Chen (left) translating from Achi to Spanish during a 2012 interview with massacre survivor, Theodora. Earlier this year Pablo was extorted money from a gang in nearby Rabinal and had to temporarily leave his studies in order to earn back the money he lost

In regards to the long and tiresome struggle for justice and reparations, the process appears to be at a impasse. Since the early 2000's it has been painstakingly documented - in every Chixoy-affected community - the apparent lack of services, employment, and land to continue their agriculturalist background - all of which were guaranteed before their unlawful evictions in 1982. Yet despite numerous promises by the government, including a signed Reparations Plan by former President Alvaro Colom in 2010, nothing has been delivered.

Separate from this case lies the 2012 verdict from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, awarding survivors from Rio Negro financial compensation and public apology from the state of Guatemala for the murder and forced disappearances of 444 family members and resulting trauma. Yet again, despite international law, the Guatemalan government has yet to comply with these requirements.

Ceremony commemorating the Inter-American Court decision in 2012. Final due date for government compliance passed earlier this month.

While the situation in Pacux is unlikely to significantly improve without the fulfillment of these long-overdue reparations, the movement towards community recuperation is constant and in many ways strengthening. Through the help of our kind donors, The Rio Negro Project is able to support numerous community development projects aimed at improving the lives of at-risk youth. Our current projects include: 

Director Cristobal Osorio Sanchez giving a "field school" workshop at the Pacux Sustainable Agriculture and Cultural Restoration Center

Amidst the impoverished and often bleak scenario in Pacux, the Center is a verdant oasis of growth, restoration, and empowerment. Since its initiation in March 2013, director Cristobal Osorio Sanchez has fulfilled the Center's mission of experiential learning and recovery by taking 40+ youth off the street each week and into the classroom, offering workshops in nutrition, agroecology, and small business management, as well as gender equality and Maya-Achi culture.

"While the skills we teach are important for many reasons," claims Sanchez, "what's even more essential, in my opinion, is teaching the youth about who they are: Children of massacre survivors, a once proud and self sustaining people. Without this knowledge we cannot move forward as individuals or as a community."

Intercultural exchange between US and Pacux high school students at the Center's floriculture gardens this past July

This summer the Center received numerous visits from groups such as the Geography Field School from The University of Northern British Columbia, agronomy students from San Carlos University in Guatemala City, a Rights Action human rights delegation from Minnesota, high school students from the Where There Be Dragons Cultural Immersion Program, and a Rio Negro Project delegation of contributors and graduate students from Oregon and New York state.

As part of our mission for north-south solidarity and educational outreach we were pleased to take in so many interested groups, and overwhelmed by the positive responses we received.

A huge appreciation, and congratulations, is deserved for the Dragon's high school group, whose fund raising campaign earned enough money for a new well, computer, and several scholarships for Center participants.

Mother and daughter Moxie and Lola Conde Danforth in Rio Negro during the August delegation

This summer's Rio Negro Project delegation had the opportunity, after several days in Pacux, to spend two nights at the Educative and Historical Center at the 'New' Rio Negro, where participants heard stories from survivors, visited with residents, and hiked the trail to the mass grave at Pocoxom.

Delegation participant Adam Danforth running high above the village towards Pocoxom

Stony Brook graduate student Sally Sabo along with Moxie and Lola, boating out from Rio Negro

Long time Rio Negro Project supporter Devin Huseby looking down to the Chixoy Reservoir from Choc' Yan last August

While we are deeply contented by our successes over the past year and a half - and indebted to our contributors and partners - we are currently seeking renewed support for the expansion and maintenance of our critical development work in the communities of Pacux and the 'New' Rio Negro.

If you are interested in supporting our work, or have specific questions about our projects and/or future community visits, please feel free to contact us directly at, or by phone at 619-922-2996.

You may also send checks directly to:
The Rio Negro Project
177 Garfield Street
Ashland, Oregon 97520

Tax deduction credits are available upon request.

Thank you for your interest and please stay tuned for more updates.  



Thursday, August 7, 2014

Visit from the Dragons

For several days this past July, The Río Negro Project was pleased to host 11 high school students and three instructors from the Where There Be Dragon's cultural immersion program.

As part of their month-long tour of Guatemala, Dragon's participants visited the Pacux Sustainable Agriculture and Cultural Restoration Center to learn about the youth program and meet with its director, Cristobal Osorio, his assistant Pablo Sanchez, and several students involved in the project.

(Demonstrative Field School)
After learning about the Center's objectives - along with the history of the community - the group spent the morning in the garden, weeding, watering, and receiving informal lectures from local participants.

Students explain the sustainable flower production program

(Diversification of Food Security)
Pablo Sanchez, Center instructor and Rio Negro massacre survivor
Local youth Luvia Sanchez Osorio explains to Dragon's instructors the sustainable flower project and the need for a new well, which busted this past Spring.

"To continue our success with the demonstration garden," says Luvia, "as well as the production of flowers for seed and sale in the market, we need water during the drought season for irrigation."

As part of their commitment and dedication to the critical work taking place at the Center, Dragon's students initiated a fund raising campaign in order to raise the necessary funds for a new well.

Please visit this site to learn more about this exciting campaign!

For more information about the Center, funding and visiting opportunities, please contact me directly at or by phone at 619.922.2996

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Pacux Sustainable Agriculture and Cultural Restoration Center

Don Cristobal and several of his students at The Center

Thanks to generous donations received in 2013, The Rio Negro Project was able to support the Pacux Sustainable Agriculture and Cultural Restoration Center, a new development initiative in the Chixoy Dam relocation community of Pacux, Guatemala.

For the history of this community please follow the link to Pacux Profiles


The Pacux Sustainable Agriculture and Cultural Restoration Center was founded this past March with the objective to improve the lives of at-risk Maya-Achi youth, ages 13-17, by teaching them about sustainable growing techniques and small business management, along with supporting the on-going process of cultural and community restoration.

After obtaining sufficient funds this past April, The Rio Negro Project, in conjunction with ASCRA, the local development committee in Pacux, was able to hatch the project by buying a parcel of land in which to develop demonstration gardens and beds for organic flower production, as well as a small house to hold workshops and classes. 

Since May, ASCRA's executive director Cristobal Osorio Sanchez, a Rio Negro Massacre survivor and master agriculturalist who specializes in soil conservation, has held weekly workshops with 40 local youth, teaching methods in organic agriculture, seed saving and permaculture design, nutrition, and small business management through the production of organic flowers for market sale.

While the main purpose of the Center is for skill building in the field of sustainable and indigenous agriculture, with the ultimate goal of increased food security as well as economic opportunity, Cristobal and members of ASCRA are also dedicated in teaching workshops and seminars in gender equality, social justice, and historical memory.

"In teaching the youth about organic and sustainable agriculture, as well as teaching them about who they are - indigenous Maya-Achi, the offspring of massacre survivors from Rio Negro - we hope to recuperate the youth of this community, many of whom are unemployed, uneducated, and suffer from low self worth," Cristobal told a group of international observers this past December. "We hope that, through this project, we can better our community by empowering the youth. And in just six months we already see amazing progress."
Here is a list of The Center's achievements since April 2013:
·      Purchase of land (~1 acre) and a small building in which to house center and propagation gardens
·      Construction of permaculture garden with traditional vegetables and herbs
·      Construction of 10 garden beds for organic flower cultivation
·      25+ workshops, successfully engaging some 40 boys and girls
·      Development and implementation of after school garden maintenance program

Don Cristobal and Center gardens
Organic flowers for market sale

Organically grown vegetables for seed and home gardens

Based on the success we witnessed during the December 2013 visit, The Rio Negro Project, in conjunction with ASCRA, hopes to expand the operation by purchasing more land, as well as maintain its regular scheme of workshops and outings. While the end goal of this project is self-sufficiency through the sale of organic flowers at the local market, at present we are counting on outside support to keep this successful pilot afloat.

Here is a partial list of objectives for 2014, with costs:

·      Weekly workshops in organic floriculture, permaculture, and small business management: $2500
·      Purchase of garden equipment, construction of new garden beds: $500
·      Biweekly workshops in Maya-Achi culture, gender equality, and trip to massacre site in Rio Negro on the March 13th annual commemoration: $2500
·      Salary for instructors and other staff: $1200
·      Expansion of Center through the purchase of additional one acre lot with well and irrigation, preparation of soil, seeds, equipment, construction of shed: $10,500
·      Purchase (2) computers, internet fees, printer: $1100 

For the full 2014 project funding proposal and project description please click here:

For those interested in supporting the project, and/or other initiatives funded by the Rio Negro Project, please send your kind donations to:
The Rio Negro Project
581 East Main Street #2
Ashland OR 97520

Anything over $100 will qualify for a tax deduction receipt. 

We are eager to see this project follow through in its objective in bettering the lives of massacre victims and their children, as well as improve the environment surrounding Pacux. If you are interested in visiting this Center please contact Nathan directly at

Thank you for your support with this important work.

December 2013 delegation



Thursday, December 5, 2013

PACUX PROFILES: Survivors Of The Rio Negro / Chixoy Dam Massacres, Thirty Years After

Survivors Of The Rio Negro / Chixoy Dam Massacres, Thirty Years After
Text and photos by Nathan Einbinder (with Grahame Russell of Rights Action)
Flooded valley of the Río Chixoy

It was in March of 1982 that surviving members of the Maya Achí village of Rio Negro escaped to the mountains, thus making way for the completion of the World Bank/Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)-funded Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam.

After a series of five military and paramilitary-led massacres, their population was effectively halved, with 444 women, men, children, and elders intentionally disappeared or murdered, often in brutal fashion.


Timeline of 1982 Rio Negro/Chixoy Dam massacres
February 13: 74 men and woman, in the nearby village of Xococ.
March 13: 177 woman and children, at the pass 2km above Rio Negro (Pocoxom).
May 14: 79 individuals killed at Los Encuentros, three miles downstream from existing village (by this time destroyed). 15 women are taken away by helicopter, never to be seen again.
September 14: 92 are killed in nearby village of Agua Fría


One of 33 destroyed and otherwise harmed villages, Rio Negro was a community of farmers, artisans and fisherman. Along the plane of the Rio Chixoy they maintained orchards of peanuts, oranges and jocote, and in the surrounding hills they cultivated their milpas of corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, and chile.

They were deeply traditional and peacefully isolated, and felt a strong sense of connection to the land they inhabited. For this, they collectively resisted their illegal and forced displacement from the dam and its subsequent reservoir, and in turn were labeled subversives, or Guerrillas, by the US-backed military regime. The targeted violence – the rape, murder, torture and enslavement of women and children – was legitimized due to their falsely accused links to the ‘enemy,’ and their so-called communist tendencies. And like so many other indigenous communities at the time, they were effectively wiped off the map.

This series of images, profiles and vignettes intends to document contemporary life in the 'relocation' community of Pacux, where most Rio Negro massacre survivors live along with their families.

It was here that community leaders were taken, back in January of 1980, to have a glimpse of their future life after displacement. Coming from a rich and open landscape, they were offended by what they saw – the grid of cramped housing, the lack of terrain in which to continue their subsistent, campesino lifestyle – and it was upon seeing this very same Pacux, back in 1980, their so-called relocation town, that their formal resistance began. The targeted violence, massacres, and forced evictions soon followed.  

After the massacres of 1982, with literally nowhere to go, survivors began to trickle into Pacux. Most had spent two years or more in the mountains, as internally displaced peoples, and due to starvation and disease, they were forced to turn themselves in to the relocation village. With a new military detachment constructed adjacent to the community, harassment, intimidation, and repression would continue for another decade.

Pacux inhabitants would come and go in search of work – to the capital, and to the large coffee and sugarcane plantations at the coast. But most would return, to occupy their poorly built homes, and to be near their families and remaining community members.

Now, 30 years later, besides the elimination of the military base and expanding population, their impoverished life has changed very little. Survivors still mourn their loved ones who died in the massacres, and work is scare. Limited communal land exists in which to grow crops, and people survive hand to mouth.

The purpose of this series is to educate people about what took place, and what life is like thirty years after. Our hope is that these images and testimonies reach those at the World Bank/IDB, and Guatemalan Government, whose promised Reparations Plan for the lost, stolen, and destroyed land, property, animals, trees, crops, homes, and sources of employment and livelihood, has yet to be delivered.



Thursday, January 17, 2013

Doña Theodora Chen: The One Who Got Away

Government repression in the countryside surrounding Rio Negro grew sharply throughout the fall of 1981. Following an army-led massacre of 200+ innocent civilians in Rabinal, the municipal capital, villages were forced to set up Civilian Patrols (PACs) in order to assist the military in their control over the district.

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 For a brief historical overview of the Rio Negro/Chixoy Dam massacres, please follow this link to the 'About This Project' page of this website
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The community of Xococ, located partway between Rabinal and Rio Negro, was not unlike countless other rural, predominately Maya villages of the time. Their first confrontation with the army was in October 1981, in which soldiers opened fire on a group of farmers harvesting peanuts, killing eighteen. After the PAC was formed, members expressed their willingness to cooperate under any circumstances with the military to avoid further confrontations.

Several months later, in February 1982, a group of arsonists, presumably guerrillas, burned down the market and killed five community members. The army was quick to blame community members from Rio Negro, who by this time were in conflict with the government due to their resistant stance on displacement from the Chixoy Dam.

From this point on, Rio Negro campesinos were considered part of the guerrilla and enemies of Xococ – despite their long history of friendship and trade. 

It’s important to note that by this time the Xococ PAC had received specific training, weapons, and guidance from the notoriously ruthless and far rightwing command at the local military detachment. They were participating in army-led massacres throughout the region, and several of the top commanders of this unit are now serving life sentences for their brutal acts of murder, rape, kidnapping, and torture.

It was just days after the market burning incident that 150 Rio Negro citizens were ordered to report in Xococ with their IDs. Upon their arrival, the head of the PAC accused them of being guerrillas and burning their market. Leaders denied the accusation, stating that the market was of importance to them as well, and that they had no reason to destroy it. The confrontation ended without violence, yet the commander held their IDs, saying that they could retrieve them the following week. 


Theodora Chen, then 46 years old, was one of the 74 individuals who returned to Xococ that following week to collect their ID's, and remains the only survivor of the massacre that transpired on that day, February 13, 1981.

It was on a cool and blustery afternoon this past December that Theodora gave me her testimony, from outside her home in Pacux. Speaking solely in Maya Achi, her words were translated into Spanish by my interpreter, Pablo Chen Chen.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sebastian Iboy Osorio and the 'New' Río Negro

It was in the winter of 1991 that the three men – Julian, Mario, and Sebastian –walked back to Rio Negro, to reclaim the land of their birth. For nearly ten years they had been away – in the mountains hiding, on fincas cutting sugar cane and harvesting cotton and coffee, and in the tight, military-controlled confines of Pacux. Life in relocation had been one of precariousness and unimaginable hardship, and each man, along with their families, decided that it would be worth all the apparent risks to live once again in the shadow of their parents and grandparents.

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 For a brief historical overview of the Rio Negro/Chixoy Dam massacres, please follow this link to the 'About This Project' page of this website
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Twenty years later and a community of one hundred or so children, men, women and elders live peacefully in the steep, undulating terrain above the floodwater. Beyond the two main quebradas, or drainages in which the majority of families live, people farm their milpas – the Maya trilogy of corn, beans and squash - and sometimes graze a few cows. Closer to home they keep their fruit trees, chickens, and hortalizas – small vegetable and herb gardens.

While many more survivors and their families wish to take root in the newly formed relic of the old community, there is always the issue of money, which is needed to start a proper homestead, as well as the issue of space, as the very best land – the most usable and well watered terrain – lies permanently inundated. There are also those in Pacux who could never dream of living in Rio Negro again, after what took place, and the demons that still lurk. 


Sebastian Iboy Osorio met me on a bright December day on the deck of Rio Negro’s Centro Historico, a fine wooden building perched several hundred feet above the Chixoy Reservoir. A hot, desiccating wind sifted through the pines, and from the houses and farms below you could hear the laughter of children, and the short yells and whistles of men communicating across the landscape.

At 46 years old, Sebastian appears much younger – his body is lanky and strong, and his smile boyish – yet the eyes speak of many lifetimes of struggle and determination. As with anyone born in Rio Negro before 1982, Sebastian is a survivor of attempted genocide. Both his mother and father were killed by the military, and his brother was murdered before his eyes after trying to escape from the military detachment outside Pacux. He himself nearly died in the base, upon his arrival to Pacux, in 1984.

“After so many days of interrogation and torture,” he tells me, “I lied and said I was a guerrilla, thinking they might let me go.” The result was another six days in the latrine, his hands bound to a filthy toilet. Upon his release the commander told him that he had spared his life, but that others wanted to kill him. Once in Pacux he joined the ranks of other survivors, forced into the Civilian Patrol, and destined for a life of poverty and restriction.

And this is where I let him begin…