Violent Protests Follow Murder of Guatemala Dam Opponent
11 May 2012 - 11:26 by OOSKAnews Correspondent
GUATEMALA, SANTA CRUZ BARILLAS — Allegations of human rights abuses are emerging from the town of Santa Cruz Barillas, Guatemala, after the government declared a state of emergency at the beginning of the month.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina called in the military on May 1, in the wake of violent demonstrations against construction of the Canbalam I hydroelectric plant in Santa Cruz Barillas.
The demonstrations were sparked by the murder of Andres Pedro Francisco, a local community leader who opposed the plant and had refused to sell his land to make way for its construction.
The Guatemalan government declared a one-month state of emergency in response. And while government officials say the military has behaved responsibly, some community members do not agree.
“The soldiers stopped my husband,” said a local resident, Griselda Martinez. “When he asked why, they threatened to beat him if he kept asking.”
A Guatemalan organization, Convergencia Nacional Maya Waki’b Kej, which represents indigenous people’s rights, said some people have fled into the mountains or over the border into Mexico for fear of being captured and abused by security forces.
The organization has requested the presence of UN observers to monitor the situation.
However, President Perez, who toured the region on May 8, says there have been no violations of human rights.
“There has not been one single violation of human rights,” he said. “There are personnel who are specifically responsible for overseeing respect for human rights. We have been concerned about this respect, and not one single violation has occurred.”
He reiterated: “This is the reality: there has not been one single denouncement of any person’s rights being violated.”
Local residents say they believe Francisco was assassinated, and two other community leaders injured, in an attack by private security forces working for Hidro Santa Cruz, a subsidiary of the Spanish company Hidralia Energía S.A.
The three were ambushed by gunmen on May 1. However, the company denies any involvement.
Hidro Santa Cruz is behind the construction of the Canbalam I project, a hydroelectric plant the company says will generate in excess of 35,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy annually.
The project received its environmental license from the National Office for Clean Energy in May 2011 and was approved by the National Commission for Electric Energy two months later.
However, the community of Santa Cruz Barillas has demonstrated long-standing opposition to such initiatives.
Back in 2007, during a municipal consultation held in the area, the granting of hydroelectric, mining and petroleum concessions was rejected by a vote of 49,481 to nine.