Oxec S.A. lawsuit (re consultation for hydroelectric plants, Guatemala)

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In December 2015, Bernardo Caal Xól filed a complaint on behalf of indigenous community Q´Eqchi against the Ministry of Energy and Mining (MEM).  The complaint, filed with the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice, challenges two hydroelectric dam projects by the Guatemala-based companies Oxec S.A. and Oxec II S.A., Oxec and Oxec II, to be built along the Cahabon river.  Both companies are owned by Energy Resources Capital Corporation, registered in Panama.  The complaint alleged that the construction of the dams would violate community members’ rights to life, health, environment & ecobalance, access to water, as well as principles of legality and consultation with indigenous peoples.  The plaintiffs demanded that the licenses for hydroelectric projects be suspended until the indigenous community in the Santa María Cahabón municipality was formally consulted in accordance with the ILO Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries.

On 22 April 2016, the Court allowed the case to proceed and issued a provisional suspension order for the construction works.  On 29 April 2016, Oxec and MEM presented the documents to the Court, presumably confirming that the community consultation had been carried out.  As a result, the Court revoked the previous provisional order.  The community members claimed that the consultation had never taken place and scheduled their own consultation for 31 July 2016.  The company petitioned the civil court of Coban to suspend the consultation, only 48 hours before the scheduled date.  The judge granted the petition, thereby preventing the consultation from happening.

Additionally, four workers of Netzone S.A., a company in charge of Oxec construction, pressed charges against indigenous leader Bernardo Caal, accusing him of illegal detentions and robbery.  In February 2018, the Cobán Tribunal ordered his pre-trial detention.  Bernardo Caal claimed that the accusations were false and were an attempt to silence criticism.  He led the opposition to the dams’ construction and had filed two lawsuits against Oxec, one alleging illegal cutting of trees and one alleging illegal use of national property in the area where the construction would be taking place.  Alianza por la Solidaridad and Greenpeace Spain launched a campaign demanding to free the imprisoned indigenous leader. On 9 November 2018, the court of Alta Verapaz sentenced Bernardo Caal to 7 years and 4 months in prison.

In January 2017, the Supreme Court of Justice pronounced a final decision on the complaint in favour of Bernardo Caal, halting the construction until the question of community consultation was addressed.  In February 2017, the Constitutional Court upheld the suspension of the Oxec hydropower plants construction due to alleged irregularities in the community consultation process.  In May 2017, the Constitutional Court lifted the suspension and granted Oxec permission to resume the works, at the condition that adequate consultation would be carried out within 12 months.

In August 2017, indigenous communities held their own consultation in the municipality of Santa Maria de Cahabon, voting against the dam construction by a large majority.  However, the results of this community-led consultation were not considered as valid by the authorities as the consultation did not comply with the consultation procedure set out in the Constitutional Court’s ruling.  In December 2017, the MEM announced that a consultation with 11 indigenous communities had been carried out in September 2017, resulting in five agreements submitted to the Supreme Court for approval.  The agreements tackle the company’s environmental obligations, elaborate a sustainable development plan for the communities and establish a monitoring mechanism.  The implementation of the agreements will be subject to periodic control by the authorities.

Civil society organisations argue that the consultation process was inadequate because it violated the legal requirement of anteriority and did not  involve all affected communities. The Oxec hydroelectric plant is currently in operation, while Oxec II is still in construction.

[EN]

- "Guatemala – Oxec Case", Legal Consortium, August 2017
- "Guatemala: Oxec Hydroelectric Station to Resume Operations", Central America Data, 29 May 2017
- "Rivers at Risk in Guatemala", Revue Magazine, 27 Feb 2017
- "Guatemala: Hydroelectric Dam Conflicts Bring Back Past Horrors for Indigenous Communities", Upside Down World, 23 Feb 2017
- "Real Madrid Boss Involved in Dam Threatening 30,000 Mayan Lives", Telesur, 21 Feb 2017
- "Guatemala: Hydroelectrics and Legal Uncertainty", Central America Data, 20 Feb 2017
- "Victory for Guatemala's Mayan People", Telesur, 15 Jan 2017
- "Guatemala’s indigenous water protectors organize to challenge hydroelectric projects", Waging Non-Violence, 30 Nov 2016

[ES]

- "Bernardo Caal es sentenciado a más de siete años de cárcel por dos delitos", Prensa Libre, 9 November 2018
- “MEM finaliza consultas a 11 comunidades por caso Oxec”, Prensa Libre, 12 December 2017
“La votación contra la hidroeléctrica, en el día en que Jimmy Morales provocó su peor crisis”, Plaza Pública, 28 August 2017
“Consulta de Oxec no fue convocada por el Ministerio de Energía y Minas", Prensa Libre, 24 August 2017
-  “Cacif pide intervención de OIT sobre consultas a comunidades, La Prensa, 24 July 2017
-  "La Corte de Constitucionalidad de Guatemala le permite a la hidroeléctrica Oxec seguir trabajando", El Economista, 26 May 2017
-  ”Hidroeléctrica Oxec reanudará operaciones por orden de la CC”, El Siglo, 26 May 2017
-  “Comité Coordinador de Asociaciones Comerciales, Industriales y Financieraspide a Corre Constitucional que resuelva recursos que mantienen suspendida la hidroeléctrica Oxec”, El Siglo 21, 3 May 2017
-  “Guatemala: Informe sobre violaciones de derechos humanos y ataques a defensores/as por proyectos hidroeléctricos”, Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, 19 March 2017
-  “Potencial cancelación del proyecto hidroeléctrico Oxec causa reacciones perversas”, Centro de Medios Independientes, 27 Feb 2017
-  "Dejan vigente suspensión de hidroeléctrica", El Periodico, 2 February 2017

Court documents

- [PDF] [Available in Spanish] Bernardo Caal vs. Ministerio de Energía y Minas, Decision on the appeal , 26 May 2017
-  [PDF] [Available in Spanish] Bernardo Caal vs. Ministerio de Energía y Minas, Decision on the complaint, 4 Jan 2017

  

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Article
23 February 2017

Guatemala: Hydroelectric Dam Conflicts Bring Back Past Horrors for Indigenous Communities

Author: Jeff Abbott, Upside Down World

In February 2017, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court...ordered immediate suspension of the Oxec and Oxec II dams along the river pending the fulfillment of the consultation of residents of the municipality of Santa María Cahabón, the region expected to be impacted by the dam. 

The court's decision upholds an earlier decision in 2016 where the Guatemalan Supreme Court...ordered a consultation of the 29,000 residents along the river. The consultation was originally slated for July 31, 2016, but the company filed an appeal just days before the consultation was to be held, delaying it until an unknown date. Meanwhile, the dam projects moved forward...The communities are now waiting for the state sanctioned-consultation to be held to decide the fate of the hydro project.

Between 1980-1982, the military massacred residents of 14 communities along the Cahabón River...The massacre occurred near to where today the Oxec II project is being constructed...In the minds of residents there is a link between the massacres and the construction of the mega-dam. "They were clearing the way for the dam," said [Bernardo Caal, a leader in the movement to protect the Cahabón river].

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Article
21 February 2017

Real Madrid Boss Involved in Dam Threatening 30,000 Mayan Lives

Author: TeleSur

Dozens of Indigenous Q'eqchi Mayans came from several towns along the Cahabon River...to the capital Monday, to protest against hydroelectric projects carried out by the Spanish group Cobra, owned by Real Madrid's President Florentino Perez...[Dozens] of activists demanded that the courts respect the community’s right to consultation prior to the construction of the projects and that authorities investigate Perez.

Indigenous leader Bernardo Caal Xol told reporters that the firm has left about 50 communities without water...Guatemalan firm Oxec, S.A. owns the hydroelectric dams Oxec and Oxec II, which is funded by investments from Panama-Based Energy Resources Capital Corp. The works are carried out by the Spanish company Grupo Cobra, owned by Florentino Perez, the president of Spanish soccer giant Real Madrid...

Guatemala's' Supreme Court suspended the Oxec I and Oxec II projects on Jan. 17, because local communities had not been previously consulted, and the ruling was upheld again Friday by the Constitutional Court. However, construction has not stopped, said Caal Xol...The final project is expected to...deeply [affect] the lives of 30,000 Q'eqchi people.

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Article
20 February 2017

Guatemala: Hydroelectrics and Legal Uncertainty

Author: Central America Data

The Constitutional Court has upheld suspension of the license for the Oxec I and II hydroelectric stations, for allegedly failing to consult indigenous peoples in the area before starting the projects...The decision...is seen by the private sector as a threat to legal certainty in the country, because of the projects that are at stake and the effect it will have on other investments that may no longer be made in Guatemala if orders continue to be given to suspend mining and energy projects.

Elperiodico.com.gt reports that "...On different occasions, the private sector has asked the Government to accelerate development of regulations to clarify how this consultation process should be carried out. They requested that...respect be shown for the approval mechanisms that have so far been used because of the lack of certainty on the subject."

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Author: El Periõdico

La Corte de Constitucionalidad (CC) dejó vigente la suspensión de la licencia de la hidroeléctrica Oxec I y II que opera en Santa María Cahabón, Alta Verapaz, por no haber realizado la consulta previa que estipula el Convenio 169 sobre pueblos indígenas y tribales de la Organización Internacional del Trabajo...La empresa en enero emitió un comunicado de prensa donde aclaraba que la consulta "sí se llevó a cabo cumpliéndose con todos los requerimientos de ley para operar". En diferentes ocasiones, el sector privado pidió al Gobierno acelerar la elaboración del reglamento para aclarar cómo se debe realizar ese proceso de consulta. Solicitaron que mientras ocurre esto se respeten los mecanismos de homologación que se han utilizado hasta ahora por la falta de certeza en el tema. El Convenio 169...en sus 44 artículos dice que deberá reconocerse a los pueblos interesados el derecho de propiedad y de posesión sobre las tierras que tradicionalmente ocupan.

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Article
15 January 2017

Victory for Guatemala's Mayan People

Author: TeleSur

Fierce opposition to hydroelectric plants in Guatemala have been ongoing since October of last year...Citing irregularities in the community consultation process, the president of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), Silvia Patricia Valdés, ruled against the construction of the Oxec I and Oxec II hydroelectric plants. Until that issue is resolved, she said, the operation remains suspended. For its part, the company claimed to be "very surprised by the decision" since it had carried out the consultation "fulfilling all the requirements of the law."...The community [denounces] the environmental impact of those hydroelectric plants.

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Article
4 January 2017

Bernardo Caal vs. Ministerio de Energía y Minas, Decision on the complaint

Author: Corte Suprema de Justicia (Guatemala)

[Available in Spanish]

Download the full document here

Article
30 November 2016

Guatemala’s indigenous water protectors organize to challenge hydroelectric projects

Author: Jeff Abbott, Waging Non Violence

Thousands of indigenous Q'eqchi, Achí and Pomcomchí Mayas took part in a series of protests on October 17 against hydroelectric projects along the Cahabón River in the Guatemalan department of Alta Verapaz...
The Guatemala-based company Oxec S.A. owns the hydroelectric dams Oxec and Oxec II, with investments from Energy Resources Capital Corp...The project has already generated negative environmental impacts...The project has also brought social discontent to quiet rural communities..
In response, organizers have mobilized the 29,000 residents of the 195 communities that rely on the river as a source of fresh water, fishing and their culture through sharing information on the project and the effects that it will have on them...
Their first major victory came in April 2016 when the Guatemalan Supreme Court sided with the Q’eqchi’ residents and suspended the company’s licenses...A consultation was then planned for July 31, 2016, but just days before it was to begin, the company filed a legal action against the planned vote to block it...The community responded by calling for holding the consultation anyway...But the state interceded by deploying the Guatemalan National Police and military police to guarantee that the consultation would not occur.
The expansion of energy generation in Guatemala is part of a project that has been envisioned for the region for decades...The modern expansion of energy generation is marked by extreme cases of human rights violations...The movement in the communities of Cahabón has inspired the neighboring municipalities to stand up to the expansion of hydro projects along the river.

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Author: Fundación Guillermo Toriello

Por este medio informamos que la Consulta de Vecinos del municipio de Santa María Cahabón sobre el uso del agua de los Ríos Cahabón y Oxec por parte de los proyectos hidroeléctricos Oxec y Oxec II, ha sido frenada por una acción jurídica interpuesta de mala fe por la empresa propietaria de ambos proyectos.
Esta Consulta...fue convocada para el 31 de Julio de 2016...Desde ese momento la empresa OXEC S.A. comenzó una campaña de difamación y criminalizando a líderes y lideresas del pueblo de Cahabón...
Ante esta grave violación a los derechos humanos y de los pueblos indígenas exigimos: Que se respete el derecho a la libre autodeterminación de la comunidad indígena Qeqchi...Al Ministerio Público y la CICIG que investigue a los jueces y funcionarios que están violando y restringiendo los derechos del pueblo Qeqchi’ a la libre determinación...A la comunidad internacional...observar el comportamiento de la institucionalidad del Estado de Guatemala...A la prensa nacional e internacional, informar verazmente sobre las arbitrariedades de las empresas que crean conflictos innecesarios por la forma en que pretenden apropiarse de los bienes comunes de los guatemaltecos y guatemaltecas.

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Author: Fundación Guillermo Toriello

Por este medio informamos que la Consulta de Vecinos del municipio de Santa María Cahabón sobre el uso del agua de los Ríos Cahabón y Oxec por parte de los proyectos hidroeléctricos Oxec y Oxec II, ha sido frenada por una acción jurídica interpuesta de mala fe por la empresa propietaria de ambos proyectos.
Esta Consulta...fue convocada para el 31 de Julio de 2016...Desde ese momento la empresa OXEC S.A. comenzó una campaña de difamación y criminalizando a líderes y lideresas del pueblo de Cahabón...
Ante esta grave violación a los derechos humanos y de los pueblos indígenas exigimos: Que se respete el derecho a la libre autodeterminación de la comunidad indígena Qeqchi...Al Ministerio Público y la CICIG que investigue a los jueces y funcionarios que están violando y restringiendo los derechos del pueblo Qeqchi’ a la libre determinación...A la comunidad internacional...observar el comportamiento de la institucionalidad del Estado de Guatemala...A la prensa nacional e internacional, informar verazmente sobre las arbitrariedades de las empresas que crean conflictos innecesarios por la forma en que pretenden apropiarse de los bienes comunes de los guatemaltecos y guatemaltecas.

Read the full post here