Thirty-five years ago – March 13, 1982 – a total of 177 women and children from the remote Mayan Achi village of Rio Negro were rounded up by the U.S.-backed regime and force-marched up from the riverside to this spot – Pacoxom – on the mountain ridge above. Here, the armed men savagely killed the women and children: using ropes to strangle; smashing children on rocks; beating them to death with hard objects. During the killing spree, soldiers and patrollers separated 35 girls and women off, raped them, then killed them and tossed their remains into this crevice.
Every March 13, family and community members hike to Pacoxom for an all night ceremony to name, reconnect with and honor their dead.Some join this further hike down into the crevice to where the bodies of their raped loved ones were found.The ceremony continued through the night, including the reading of the names of more than 440 Rio Negro villagers slaughtered in a series of five massacres in 1981 and 1982 (including March 13) as part of calculated efforts to clear the Chixoy river basin of its Mayan inhabitants, to then dam the river, to then fill in the river basin and thus complete the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank’s investment project.
Five massacres occurred in the Rio Negro (“Black River”) communities between 1980 and 1982. The people of Rio Negro (named after the nearby river) had occupied the region since the classic Mayan age and owned 1,440 hectares of land. During the energy crisis of the 1970’s the Guatemalan government looked for local energy alternatives, creating the state-owned National Institute of Electrification (INDE). In 1975 INDE unveiled plans to dam the Rio Negro, also called the Chixoy River, to provide the country’s electricity, which would flood 31 miles of the river valley. Funds from the Inter-American Development Bank, Italian company Cogefar-Impressit, and the World Bank were used in the construction of local roads and the dam itself.
It was in March of 1982 that surviving members of the Maya Achí village of Rio Negro escaped to the mountains, thus making way for the completion of the World Bank/Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)-funded Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam.
After a series of five military and paramilitary-led massacres, their population was effectively halved, with 444 women, men, children, and elders intentionally disappeared or murdered, often in brutal fashion.
…On October 15…the new Vice-President of Guatemala, delivered checks in total of $11,205 to 120 families from Pacux and Río Negro, who were among those most impacted by construction of the dam…In total, 33 communities will be paid individual compensation of $22,183,077…After some 20 years, the persistence of the Maya Achí has paid off…A legally binding reparations agreement was finally signed on October of 2014 between the communities and the government of Guatemala, but it took one more year for the first checks to arrive…The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), financiers of the project, made payment of the reparations a condition…
It happened March 13, 1982, two hours after Osorio had left his riverside village of Rio Negro to walk to a nearby town.
Ten army soldiers and 25 civilian militia members killed 177 women and children, including Osorio’s wife and newborn child, who was slashed in half with a machete. It was one of four massacres committed over an eight-month period in the Baja Verapaz province village that claimed the lives of a total of 440 Maya-Achi residents.
Today, many villagers attribute the atrocities to their opposition to displacement by the construction of the 300-megawatt Chixoy hydroelectric dam.