30 years later, the World Bank still refuses to compensate the Guatemalan communities massacred for resisting the hydroelectric project it funded.

carlos chen osorio and juan de dios

Carlos Chen Osorio (right) and Juan de Dios (left) in Washington D.C.

Last week Carlos Chen Osorio made his way from Guatemala to Washington D.C. to meet with World Bank officials.  The meeting went the same way as all the previous meetings he’s held with representatives of the bank since 1995.  Chen told them about how in 1982 the Guatemalan military massacred at least 440 people in the village of Rio Negro.  He reminded them that the military government at the time was working with the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank to build a hydroelectric dam in the area, and that the Maya Achi that lived nearby were resisting the project because it was going to flood their farmlands.

The bankers shook his hand, smiled at him politely, and promised that they were working hard to provide reparations for Chen and the members of the 33 other communities that were murdered or forced from their lands by the flooding caused by the dam.  Then they showed him the door.

“This year, on the 13th of March, it’s going to be the 30th anniversary of the massacre where they killed 70 women and 107 children,” says Chen.  “In this case, there’s no progress, they haven’t heard us.  “They always just say, ‘yes, we’re going to see what we can do.’  But it’s only words, they don’t ever do anything.  That’s precisely why we’re here, looking for justice.”

Chen is part of the Association for the Integral Development for the Victims of Violence in the Verapaces, Maya Achi (ADIVIMA).  Along with the group’s president, Juan de Dios, the two men are fighting for a compensation package communities that were affected by the massacre that includes monetary aid, land, and community-based development projects.  De Dios, however, says it’s about much more than that.

“I want everyone to know that it’s not just the money, that’s not the reason we’re here,” he says.  “What we really want is for the these banks, and for the (Guatemalan) government to take full responsibility for what happened here.  And we want them to apologize publicly.  And ask for forgiveness.”

Back in their home country, events are unfolding that may help propel the struggle of ADIVIMA and the communities of Rio Negro.  Last month former Guatemalan dictator, Efrain Rios Montt was placed under house arrest to await trial for charges of genocide committed under his 1982-1983 rule.  While De Dios and Chen express doubts about whether the 85-year-old former general will be indicted, it remains a step forward in the long road towards justice, ever since the country’s 30-year civil war was officially ended in 1996.

“Whether or not they bring Rios Montt to trial, we’re going to keep focusing on our work,” says Chen.  We work on exhumations (of victims of massacres), we work with the museum we’ve created in memory of the survivors, we work in the legal field.  We’ve got a lot of work to do.”