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.