San Mateo Ixtatán Fights for Water

What a tiny town in the mountains of Guatemala has in common with Standing Rock, North Dakota

San Mateo Ixtatan, Huehuetenago, Guatemala, is situated in a cloud forest of the Chuchumantes Mountains just south of the Mexican border. The small town is home to about 30,000 indigenous Chuj people. For decades this area has had an abundance of water, an attribute not shared with neighboring cities in their municipality.

Right now, they are protesting against a Spanish owned hydroelectric plant being built against their will. The plant has been under construction for several years even though citizens unanimously voted against it.

How is the plant moving forward?

The Spanish owned company went to Guatemala City, the country’s capitol to receive permits and went to work. Legally, however, the capitol city didn’t have the right to grant permission. The mayor of San Mateo at the beginning of construction opposed the plant. However, when his term limit was up, the hydroelectric plant funded the campaign of another man, with a similar history with women as our current president in the US. He came to power and has allowed the construction to continue.

San Mateo does have a shortage of electricity, and when citizens have appealed to the government, the government has reminded them of this and told them they have no other options, hydroelectric plant or no electricity at all.

What’s the big deal?

The construction reroutes two rivers affecting farmers and water supply to the town, and citizens have taken every legal route possible to fight it’s construction. They organized meetings, appealed to the capitol, and tried to discuss the situation with their new mayor to no avail.

What is happening now?

In neighboring cities, where similar hydroelectric plants began construction, people destroyed the equipment and halted construction after they ran out of options. This gave the plant in San Mateo reason to place armed police outside of their own site. When people of San Mateo went to the site of the plant in protest, the police opened fire killing one protestor.

This happened last week, and there has been no word of new developments since that time.

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