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Document Abstract
Published: 31 Aug 2010

Power to the People? Hydropower, indigenous rights, and popular resistance in Guatemala

Hydropower development in Guatemala ignored civil society and generated conflict
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The debate about hydropower has recently been revitalised in the context of climate change and the large unmet demand for energy in many countries. This study is a contribution to the debate about hydropower development, indigenous rights, and the rights of affected communities in the face of development projects, presenting Guatemala as a case study.

Main findings include: 

  • the strategic plan for hydropower development in Guatemala was prepared without consulting civil society and indigenous peoples
  • the privatisation and liberalisation of the energy sector in Guatemala has produced a legal framework that prioritises the interests of private actors, and has eroded the role of the state as a guarantor of citizens’ rights
  • consequently, conflict has been generated, with negative implications for the well-being of communities and the implementation of projects.

The paper then presents the following recommendations: 

  • the Guatemalan state ought to modify its legal and institutional framework for the energy sector so that it protects the rights of citizens
  • it has to put in place a legal framework which prioritises access to electricity for the country’s inhabitants and assures benefits for the municipalities, communities and the people of Guatemala
  • it has to declare a moratorium on new licences and authorisations on the use of rivers until a law of consultation is in place and adequate information is provided
  • it has to draw up a water law that incorporates the rights of communities, the human right to water, and indigenous peoples’ rights
  • as a donor, Norway, should support comprehensive needs and options assessments that take into account environmental and social dimensions as much as financial and technical aspects
  • it should endorse the principle of free, prior, and informed consent in hydropower development projects.

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Authors

C. Hirsch; M. Utreras

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