We published an article last month about Laguna Lachuá —a paradise found in the remote jungles of Alta Verapaz. If you missed the story, Lachuá is an area that’s protected to preserve its biological diversity. The water and environment there, unlike most of Guatemala, are free from pollution and contamination. Unfortunately, this paradise might be lost if a new hydroelectic project is constructed there to promote development for the local population. Local leaders have signed off on the project, which will reroute a significant portion of a nearby river, the Ichbolay, which feeds into Laguna Lachuá.
There are currently some 20 hydroelectric projects in Guatemala. Although they should provide clean energy via Guatemala’s rivers, they disrupt local ecosystems and are often the sites of conflict and controversy.
These fights have become more intense in years past. Hydroelectric projects are now a hot-button issue contested by government officials, construction and power companies, and civilian populations affected by their construction. Companies often seek to build these projects without the blessing of the locals. The dams reroute local rivers, which can be catastrophic for local ecosystems. Environmental impacts and construction permits are obtained through methods ranging from shady to straight-up illegal. One of the poorest and most remote communities in Guatemala —Ixiquisis, in Huehuetenango —rose up in protest last month against their local hydroelectric project. An environmental activist and community leader aged 72 was shot and killed during the demonstration. It’s not entirely clear what happened, but locals say that the victim and other protesters were fired on by armed men unknown to the community.
The dam they were protesting was roundly rejected rejected by the community in 2009. The hydroelectric company Promoción y Desarrollos Hídricos S.A. started operations there anyways. Right now, it looks like the dam at Lachuá has the support of the community, but the future of the project is still uncertain. Guatemala’s conservation agency CENAP is firmly opposed to the project; so it the department at the University of San Carlos, who argue that the dam will harm the lake by blocking off an important sorce of water.
What’s happening at Lachuá is bad news for nature lovers. We hope that sharing the news of the proposed hydroelectic project will help in some small way and help you to understand that Guatemala isn’t just a postcard but a real place -one where the fight to protect the environment rages on.