The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) supported genocide in Guatemala and ought to pay reparations, according to a recent report by Jubilee International.
This well-documented accusation surfaces as the Central American nation becomes the first country in the Americas to try a former president for genocide and crimes against humanity in a domestic court. But the prosecution of war criminals and the accusations against International Financial Institutions (IFIs) have so far done little to protect vulnerable communities from the ongoing expansion of mining, oil and other economic interests invading their territories and violating their human rights.
“Generating Terror,” the Jubilee Debt Campaign’s report issued in December, examines how international lending and debt by IFIs such as the World Bank and the IDB helped legitimize Guatemala’s genocidal regimes of the late 1970s and early 1980s and essentially subsidized their terror campaigns.”
The lending of Western States and banks and the multilateral banks they control (importantly including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Inter-American Development Bank) was an important element in sustaining the long period of military rule which followed the coup against President (Jacobo) Arbenz in 1954,” the report states. “Particularly worrying, however, is the very dramatic increase in lending that coincided with the highest waves of terror, which reached genocidal proportions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.”
Jubilee’s report uses the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam project as a case study.
“Communities threatened by new similar projects should not let their rights be violated because these projects result in the destruction of the social fabric and even in death,” said Juan de Dios, a Mayan Guatemalan who since 2005 has been spearheading, along with others, the formal Chixoy Dam Reparations negotiation process with the government of Guatemala on behalf of all the Chixoy Dam-harmed communities.
The World Bank and IDB initially agreed to fund the project with the murderous military regime of Fernando Romeo Lucas García in 1978. Between 1978 and 1989, the banks lent $400 million for the project. Between March 1980 and September 1982, there was a series of planned massacres carried out against the Mayan Achi villagers of Rio Negro in the area of Guatemala where the dam project was constructed, resulting in the murder of 440 men, women and children.
These massacres effectively “relocated” the village of Rio Negro to make way for the Chixoy Dam flood basin, and were part of a scorched-earth counterinsurgency campaign targeting the country’s indigenous population. According to the United Nations, this amounted to a genocide resulting in more than 200,000 murders, more than 45,000 people “disappeared” and other war crimes such as torture and rape.
Representatives from the World Bank and IDB failed to return phone calls and emails before this article’s publication.
“The institutions that finance and profit from international development are responsible for their actions, and organizations such as the World Bank, as a United Nations-chartered institution, are obligated to act in ways that reflect international human rights law,” said environmental anthropologist Barbara Rose Johnston, senior research fellow at the Center for Political Ecology who authored the “Chixoy Dam Legacy Issues Study.” “The major conclusion emerging from the Chixoy Dam Legacy Issues Study is that hydroelectric energy development occurred at the cost of land, lives and livelihood in violation of national and international laws, and considerable profits were achieved.”
The Jubilee report notes that 33 communities were adversely affected by the dam, more than 3,500 Mayan community members were displaced, and as a result many of the surviving families were sentenced to lives of extreme poverty.”
With respect to the lives and livelihoods of the former residents of the Chixoy River Basin, these profits have been accrued at their personal expense, and hydroelectric development has by no measure improved their quality of life,” said Johnston. “Many of those that survived the massacres were robbed of their ability to live sustainably as a result of forced displacement.”
Johnston documented in the Legacy report that all of the actors involved knew about the violence. This is evidenced by a formal complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights after the initial massacre at the village of Rio Negro in March 1980, as well as World Bank field reports and internal communications, news articles, and human rights reports by NGOs and the United Nations. But even before these massacres took place, there were articles and human rights reports during the 1970s that revealed the use of violence, torture and repression by the Guatemalan government and military. Nevertheless, this did not deter these IFIs from entering into loans with Guatemalan governments who paid no regard to human rights or international law.
“When even the US government came under pressure to reduce support for the regimes in Guatemala, these institutions were able to continue supporting these regimes without accountability to western parliaments, let alone the people of Guatemala,” the “Generating Terror” report stated. “But the general impact of propping up these regimes of terror means that debt accrued in this period should be regarded as ‘odious’: loaned to illegitimate and unaccountable governments, detrimental to the people of Guatemala, with the full knowledge of the lender. Successor governments should not repay odious debts, and should receive compensation for any debts that have been paid.” [more]