A group of Q’eqchi Mayans in Guatemala is fighting back against a hydroelectric project that puts the Cahabon River valley, and its community of indigenous peoples, at risk of dangerously low clean water levels. Due to construction of a pair of dams, Oxec I and Oxec II, water along the river has either been contaminated or has dried up, leaving the region’s roughly 30,000 Q’eqchi in danger. The company behind the dam project is the Spanish Grupo Cobra, owned by Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez; he visited the site of the project site in 2014 to initiate construction.
Members of the Mayan communities recently marched on the Spanish embassy in Guatemala City, demanding that construction be stopped along the river. They also protested the Constitutional Court and the palace of President Jimmy Morales. This comes after the collective scored a big victory last month, when a judge for the country’s Supreme court halted construction on the project while a more permanent decision was made.
That ruling was upheld following the protests this month, as the Constitutional Court ruled that Grupo Cobra had to consult the locals before construction could resume. However, the leader of one of the indigenous groups, Bernardo Caal Xol, said that construction had not stopped since that first ruling in January.
Caal Xol also stated that up to 50 communities are affected by the project, which includes two dams and will extend up to 19 miles along the Cahabon River, with a total cost estimated to be around $270 million. Ana Icál, another community leader for the Q’eqchi people, stated that “for us, the TzuulTaaq’a [the God that provides water] is the most sacred thing we have, and we will fight to defend it with our lives.”
As of now, no decision has been made on the permanent status of the construction, but Q’eqchi leaders are hopeful following the victory in the Constitutional Court. There is also an online petition created by the Alianza por la Solidaridad, urging Florentino Pérez to stop construction of the dams.