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.  



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