plan puebla panamáarchivos de los protestos globales •

Reflections from the Mesoamerican Forum for Life

From the construction of the Chixoy Dam in Guatemala to the planned Three Rivers Dam in China, the creation of large dams have often come at the cost of human rights and precious ecosystems. Dam opponents have repeatedly lobbied for projects that account for energy needs without sacrificing human rights and ecological protection. As a result of the growing debate, the World Commission on Dams was formed in 1998. In 2000, the Commission released a comprehensive report, Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making, which found that dam construction has displaced over 40 million people while fueling the deterioration of local economies and the disintegration of communities. It also acknowledged that the construction of dams have resulted in an overwhelmingly negative effect on biodiversity, led to the extinction of aquatic species, and caused massive depletion of forests and farmable land. The benefits have largely gone to the rich at the expense of the impoverished indigenous and farming communities living in the vicinity of the dams. Now, with the assistance of the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, the Plan Puebla Panama threatens to expand dam building in Southeastern Mexico and Central America. Since the commencement of the PPP in June of 2001, dam opponents have continued to encounter violence. For example:

On June 30th, 2001, security forces for Energisa Corporation murdered Carlos Roberto Flores, a Honduran community organizer protesting the construction of the Babilonia River Hydroelectric Project. Two weeks later, on July 18th, police forces fired rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons at campesinos and indigenous peoples camped in front of the National Congress of Honduras in Tegucigalpa, demanding justice for Flores and the suspension of the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (BCIE) supported dam.

Along the Salvadoran-Honduran border, COPINH (the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) is protesting against the proposed creation of the El Tigre Dam which would displace up to 20,000 people. This has led to the illegal detention, harrasment, and injury to those who have voiced resistance.

On January 18th, 2002, Jacobo Martinez, leader of a community-based ecological group in El Salvador, evaded a murder attempt by supporters of the construction of the "El Chaparral" hydroelectric project . Upon completion, the project will displace over 1,500 families and effect more than 18,000 people.

Multilateral development banks have longed played a role in the violation of human rights and displacement of peoples related to the construction of dams. Over the past fifty years the World Bank has invested 75 billion dollars for the creation of 538 dams in 92 countries, displacing over 10 million people. This includes the Chixoy Dam in Guatemala where nearly 400 Mayan people were massacred in the early 1980's. Not until 1996 when human rights groups learned of the massacres did the World Bank acknowledge the conflict.

Given the unstable situation in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, tragic events such as those in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador could easily repeat themselves. There is concern that dams will be constructed on some of the 42 potential sites in the conflict zone, leading to the forced displacement of Zapatista autonomous communities. Many worry that eventually some of these sites will be used in order to sublimate the indigenous population currently struggling for autonomy in the area. Chiapas already produces over 45% of the hydroelectric energy in the country. However, 23% of state residents do not have electricity (opposed to 6.1% as a national average). As a result of the inevitable forced displacement of communities, the unequal benefits of the construction of the dams, and the lack of community consultation, the PPP looks to create hydroelectric energy by forced submission of poverty-stricken communities.

In response to such controversial plans, NGOs and effected communities have created the Regional Front Against Dams culminating in the First Mesoamerican Conference for Life in La Quetzal, Guatemala in March, 2002. Representatives from communities and organizations throughout Europe and the Americas came together to begin the long battle against dam projects within the PPP. Organizers made a concerted effort to bring representatives from effected communities throughout the Americas together with leading NGO leaders to formulate action plans to confront the projects. The conference was measured a success with local, regional, and global action plans created by representatives of 98 organizations from 21 countries convening in the isolated jungle town of La Quetzal; a community which potentially could be flooded by dams planned along the Usumacinta River. The next community and NGO based forum will be held next year in Colomoncagua, Honduras on the World Day of Action Against Dams. Below you will find find the Declaration from the conference released March 24, 2002.

The First Mesoamerican Forum for Life

Regional Front against Dams
Water, Light and Land for All!

Chiapas al Día, No. 283
Chiapas, México
March 27, 2002

The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is currently being created under the hegemony of the U.S. government. The Puebla Panama Plan (PPP) is one of its regional expressions of wealth accumulation, through the imposition of policies meant to achieve better comparative advantages in the world market. These political and economic plans are being accompanied by a process of militarization of campesino (subsistence farmers) and indigenous territories and regions. These territories contain strategic resources that are being privatized in an accelerated manner, dismantling State power and eroding national sovereignty. In this same way, the Colombia Plan is being extended into every corner of the hemisphere.

The United States wants to gain access to the strategic resources in the entire American continent. Corridors, roads, railways, electricity and telecommunications, gas and oil pipelines, canals, etc. Everything, absolutely everything, oriented towards satisfying the needs and demands of the United States. Plans, projects and works cross over the territories of Latin America. One of these ghosts continues to haunt poor communities: hydroelectric dams.

Facing this panorama, the Convergence of Movements of the Peoples of the Americas (COMPA) carried out it's second assembly in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas in October of 2000, where more than 100 organizations from 18 countries of the Continent elaborated a diagnostic about the effects of neoliberalism, and also proposed strategic focus areas. The social organizations, indigenous and campesino groups and foundations present defined 6 focus areas for struggle and action: the FTAA, rural development, foreign debt, gender equity, defense of indigenous territories, biodiversity and against genetic engineering, and against the Colombia Plan and militarization in Latin America ( Other movements have sprung from this meeting such as the Week for Biological and Cultural Diversity ( and the Forum "People Before Globalization, Alternatives to the PPP", that began with the Forum in Tapachula, followed by the forum in Xela and soon to be followed by another meeting in Managua. At the Xela Forum, participants saw the need to organize what is now called the "Mesoamerican Forum for Life" (

These social movements are growing and are being accompanied by an exchange of information, experiences and a search for alternatives and local and regional struggles of resistance. The organizations of diverse sectors in the PPP region are finding new links between the focus areas that mark the current political, economic and social events in the region. A new relationship with common agendas will more strongly link and unite the many hopes for a different political project.

But meanwhile, the governor of Chiapas, Pablo Salazar Mendiguchía is strongly attacking human rights defenders with slanders. The governor echoes the sentiment that: "you're either with me or you're against me." He does not accept any criticism or suggestions.

The governor has been distancing himself from and has had more confrontations with human rights organizations, the NGOs and the same social, campesino and indigenous organizations who have also withdrawn their support and credibility. The situation has not improved, rather it has worsened. The supposedly democratic government is becoming weaker and weaker, and civil society is divided. The indigenous communities are in a very alarming and critical economic situation. The divisions that are growing between the communities and the NGOs, especially those NGOs that receive governmental funds from the World Bank, which the governor visited in Washington after attending the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre this February. The government funds are also coming from projects of co-financing between the World Bank and some international foundations who decided to channel their funds to this "new government." In addition, in these same days, inhabitants effected by hydroelectric dams in Chiapas are demanding the reparations for damages done to lands and property many years ago.

At the same time, at the United Nations International Conference on Financing for Development that was carried out in Monterrey, the rich countries bickered over giving charity to the poor countries from which they have already extracted millions and millions of dollars. Cuba and Venezuela were the only governments critical of the swindle of the Conference when so-called democracy implied signing a document, the famous "Consensus of Monterrey", that no one consented to. This document was not achieved through consensus, but was drawn up previously, without possibilities for amendments, and was imposed by the United States.

In a parallel manner, and in the midst of all of this, CIID, CIDECA, CEIBA, CIEPAC, CALDH, CIEP, RMALC, COPINH, IRN, CPR, Global Exchange, Rights Action, indigenous communities from the Usumacinta river valley, as well as other social and indigenous organizations from many countries, convoked a meeting without precedent. An indigenous Guatemalan community, Quetzal, in the Peten jungle, threw a party to welcome the more than 300 delegates who arrived in buses, boats, walking, or however they could, despite many difficulties. People arrived from 21 countries, including Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, United States, Canada, Spain, Catalonia, Italy and Australia.

It was a democratic, plural, broad and cultural gathering. Reconciliation and the hope for unity were re-strengthened and gave us new breath. Experiences and reflections, alternatives and local and regional action plans emerged during these days. Later, through consensus and participatory democracy (unlike at the forum in Monterrey), the participants elaborated their own political declaration that we reproduce here.

Declaration from Quetzal

Cooperativa Unión Maya Itzá, Petén Guatemala

Between March 21st - 23rd men and women representing 98 organizations and communities from 21 countries met faced with the general preoccupation caused by the plans for the construction of dams with different ends in different regions.

We have shared information and experiences, as well as analyzed the negative environmental, cultural, economic-social effects that have already been caused and the potential damages of these projects.

We have confirmed information that states between 40 and 80 million people in the world have been displaced by the construction of these projects, which have been mostly to the benefit of those with economic power with the support of the international and multilateral financial institutions, highly tied to the projects of the Plan Puebla Panama, Plan Columbia, commercial trade agreements and the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

We have also confirmed that these projects, supported by transnational and national capital do not comply in its' totality, with environmental legislation at the national and international levels, which obliges us to adopt measure of resistance and to reiterate the validity of the proposed alternatives that have come from the people.

At the end of our discussions we agree:

  1. To oppose the construction of dams in our countries that alter or divert the natural flow of the rivers, flood, affect, or displace people from their communities, destroy sacred and historic sights, and cause the death of ecosystems and biodiversity.
  2. To oppose the construction of dams because with their effects they flagrantly violate the self-determination of our communities on our lands, affecting the patrimony and cosmovision of indigenous communities in the region.
  3. To reiterate our call to all Latin Americans to continue the popular resistance against the construction of the dams and all complimentary neoliberal politics.
  4. Our repulsion and condemnation of the institutions that have financed these projects (World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Central American Bank for Economic Integration) and the governments that support the transnationals involved in this dirty business (AES, Union FENOSA, Endesa, Harza, among others).
  5. Our solidarity with the threatened people and organizations that have been persecuted and have suffered from violations of human rights in the name of the struggle resisting the construction of dams.
  6. To stress our rejection of the construction of whichever dam on the Usumacinta River because it would seriously damage the communities and ecosystems in the area. At the same time, we reject whichever project related to the generation of electric energy constructed in the name of the Plan Puebla Panama.
  7. To confirm that the plan to displace people from the mountains of Mesoamerica, especially those integrated into the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, is an inseparable part of the regional plans for the occupation of the basins and constructions of dams.

Immediately we demand:

  1. Immediate justice and comply to the responsibilities related to genocides and the corresponding reparation of damages caused to the affected people by dams already constructed.
  2. The suspension of persecution, intimidation, disappearance, death threats and strategies of disarticulation against people and organization struggling against dams.
  3. To the national governments, the suspension of the imposition of projects that do not benefit the communities and towns in the region.

As a final resolution we agree:

  1. Our solidarity with the movements at the Latin American level in the struggle against dams (Usumacinta in Guatemala-Mexico, Chaparral in the border region of Intibucá El Salvador-Honduras, Itzantún and El Cajón in Mexico, La Maroma in El Salvador, Susuma in Honduras, El Tigre in the border region between El Salvador-Honduras, Chalillo in Belice, Bayano and Tabasará in Panama, Guaigüi in the Dominican Republic, among others).
  2. Our rejection of the complimentary projects to dams such as those in relation to biopiracy, commercial trade agreements, and intellectual property rights.
  3. On the World Day of Action against Dams, we will meet again next year in Colomoncagua, Honduras.

Unión Maya Itzá, Petén, Guatemala, March 23, 2002

Organizations which signed onto the declaration:

Belize: Belize Alliance Conservation (NGOs BACONGO).

Bolivia: Coordinadora por la Defensa del Agua y la Vida de Bolivia.

Colombia: Cabildo Mayor Embera-Katío del Río Verde y Río Sinu de Colombia.

Panama: Centro de Asistencia Legal Popular (CEALP).

Spain: Colectivo de Solidaridad con Chiapas.

Italy: Ya Basta.

Canada: Derechos en Acción.

Costa Rica: Asociación Espíritu de Lucha, Boruca; Asociación para el Bienestar Ambiental de Sarapiquí (ABAS); Federación Costarricense para la Conservación del Ambiente (FECON); Mujeres Indígenas Espíritu de Lucha (MIEL); Proyectos Alternativos para el Desarrollo Social (PROAL).

El Salvador: Ayuda en Acción; CESTA; Comité Ecológico del Cantón La Estancia; Comunidades Unidas de Bajo Lempa; Instituto Salvadoreño de Permacultura; Sistema Económico Social.

United States: Chiapas Support Committee; CONCERN-América; Global Exchange; Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); International Rivers Network (IRN).

Honduras: Confederación de Pueblos Autóctonos de Honduras (CONPAH); Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH); Convergencia de Movimientos de los Pueblos de las Américas en Honduras (COMPA); Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras (OFRANEH); Unión Revolucionaria del Pueblo.

Guatemala: Asamblea Consultiva de la Población Desarraigada (ACPD); Asociación Campesina Río Negro Rabinal Achí (ASCRA); Asociación Civil del Medioambiente Recursos Naturales; Asociación de Comunidades Forestales de Petén (ACOFOP); Asociación de Desarraigados en Desarrollo del Petén (ADEP); Asociación de Mujeres Ixmucané; Asociación para la Promoción y el Desarrollo de la Comunidad (CEIBA); CEDES; Centro de Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (CALDH); Centro de Educación Popular Padre Hermógenes (CEPAHER); Centro de Investigación y Educación Popular (CIEP); Centro de Investigaciones de Desarrollo Económico de Centro América (CIDECA); Colectivo Madre Selva; Comité ProMejoramiento de las Comunidades Fronterizas del Río Usumacinta-Petén; Comité Promejoramiento Retalteco Petén; Comunidad Vista Hermosa Los Chorros; Comunidades Populares en Resistencia del Petén (CPR-P); Cooperativa Canahan; Cooperativa Mario Méndez Montenegro; Cooperativa Nueva Guatemala, Sayaxché; Cooperativa Unión Maya Itzá; Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas (CNOC); Estudiantes Universitarios - Petén; Federación Luterana Mundial; Foro de ONG's; Fundación para el Apoyo Técnico en Proyectos (FUNDATEP); Guías Espirituales; Hijos e Hijas por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio (HIJOS); Instituto Mesoamericano de Permacultura (IMEP); Ixchel; Mamá Maquín; Parroquia Poptún; Red Comunitaria de América Central para la Gestión del Riesgo; Sindicato de Carbonera; Zona de Adyacencia-Petén.

Mexico: Tabasco: Asociación Ecológica Santo Tomás; Consejo Ciudadano del Agua del Estado Tabasco A.C. (CCATAC). Chiapas: Ayuntamiento Huitiupán; Centro de Investigaciones Económicas y Políticas de Acción Comunitaria (CIEPAC); Comunidades Indígenas de la Región de Simojovel de Allende (CIRSA); AMOR; Consejo de Organizaciones de Médicos y Parteras Indígenas Tradicionales de Chiapas (COMPITCH); Cooperativa Nueva Alianza; Coordinadoras Regionales de Chiapas de la Sociedad Civil en Resistencia de Los Altos, La Costa, Fronteriza, Norte-Selva y Marqués de Comillas; Ejido Huitiupán; Frente Independiente de Pueblos Indios (FIPI); Indymedia; Misión de Guadalupe; Misión San José Chiapas; Organización Campesina Emiliano Zapata (OCEZ-CNPA); Organización de Médicos Tradicionales y de Parteras Hwziltán; Organización de Obreros Agrícolas y Campesinos (CIOAC); Pastoral de la Tierra; Resistencia Civil; Resistencia de la Costa; Resistencia Independiente. Guerrero: Consejo Guerrerense 500 años; Consejo Guerrerense 500 años de Resistencia Indígena. Veracruz: Consejo Indígena de Uxpanapa Veracruz (CIUX); Cooperativa de Ganaderos de Carolina. Mexico City: Red Mexicana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio (RMALC).

The Declaration ends here. Now it is time for the participants to organize plans for struggle, resistance and also for local and regional alternatives. Many proposals were drawn up regarding legal strategies, communication, mobilization and organization. In some regions resistance will be organized or strengthened against the transnational companies that attempt to displace communities. In other regions, people will search for alternative ways to generate electric energy, protect rivers and river valleys or how to use international legal resources. These struggles are already well underway, and are now being strengthened. No one can stop them.


Gustavo Castro Soto
Center for Economic and Political Investigations of Community Action, A.C. CIEPAC is a member of the Movement for Democracy and Life (MDV) of Chiapas, the Mexican Network of Action Against Free Trade (RMALC), Convergence of Movements of the Peoples of the Americas (COMPA ), Network for Peace in Chiapas, Week for Biological and Cultural Diversity and of the International Forum "The People Before Globalization", Alternatives to the PPP

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