Community-Based Referendum Rejects Development Projects
Traditional Knowledge Story 26

Community-Based Referendum Rejects Development Projects

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John Ahni Schertow
 

BELOW: a press release of the Ixcán Community Development Council after a legally binding municipal referendum voted 90% ‘NO’ to big business hydro-electric dam and oil “development” projects. From Rights Action.

IXCÁN VOTES TO REJECT XALALA DAM AND OIL EXPLORATION
(translation by www.nisgua.org)

On April 20, 2007, the people of Ixcán, Quiché overwhelmingly rejected two types of proposed projects in their municipality. In 144 communities, 21,155 people – adults as well as children aged 7-17 – participated in the community consultation. They voted to approve or reject 1) the construction of the Xalalá and other hydroelectric dams and 2) the exploration and exploitation of oil and its derivatives in their municipality.

According to the official results, as reported by municipal mayor Marcos Ramírez Vargas, 18,982 (89.7%) voted against both projects while 1,829 (8.6%) voted in favor and 344 (1.6%) abstained.

GOVERNMENT MUST RESPECT THE RESULTS
A commission of 35 representatives of the Community Development Council and social organizations from the Ixcán traveled to Guatemala City to turn in the results of the vote. They met with representatives at the National Institute of Electrification, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, the Human Rights Procurator’s Office, and the Constitutional Court.

Elected leaders of the Ixcán request that the people’s decision be respected by the central government – specifically, that the permits for oil exploration and the construction of the hydroelectric dams, including the Xalalá project, be detained. They point out that the government has a legal obligation to consult with the local population before proposing projects of such magnitude. The Ixcán delegates also ask that the legislature review the renewable energy bill and the hydrocarbon law which, as currently written, do not benefit local communities.

THE MOTIVATION BEHIND THE CONSULTATION
President Óscar Berger’s announcement to open bidding for building the Xalalá hydroelectric dam prompted Ixcán’s Community Development Council to request the consultation. Meanwhile, the Minister of Energy and Mines revealed that the license (9-2005) for oil exploration in the municipality has been granted.

Moreover, representatives of the National Institute of Electrification (INDE) and the oil company Petrolatina Corps have pressured for the approval of operating permits in the municipality. So that the municipal council could act in the interests of Ixcán’s inhabitants, the consultation was carried out to determine people’s opinions.

THE VOTING PROCESS
Voting took place according to the customs and traditions of the communities –by a raising of the hand, a paper vote, or the signing of a list provided by the community mayor – monitored by 384 national and international observers, as well as delegates from the Human Rights Procurator’s Office (PDH) who were present in the majority of the communities.

LEGAL BASIS
The consultation has the legal basis provided by Article 46 of the Guatemalan Constitution; Articles 6, 7, and 15 of the International Labor Organization Convention 169; and Articles 63, 64, and 65 of Guatemala’s Municipal Code.

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