As Guatemala faces its greatest political crisis since the 1980s, behind the scenes, plans for the United States’ Alliance for Prosperity continue to move along. The plan, which was modeled after Plan Colombia, would provide the governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – the “northern triangle” of Central America – with an additional $1 billion aid package, on top of existing aid plans, to spur further investment in the region. The expansion of hydroelectric construction projects and the further integration of electric grids are central to the plan, yet these projects threaten indigenous communities’ land rights.
Hydroelectric dams have been presented as renewable, “green” sources of energy, with little to no impact on the environment. But environmental impact reports consistently overlook the deep social and cultural effects of the projects, especially for indigenous Mayan communities.
According to a 2012 report by the Guatemalan Wholesale Market Administration, Guatemala produces 2.3 gigawatts of energy every year, but consumes only 1.8 gigawatts. The remainder is exported through SIEPAC, a regional energy transportation network that sends power to other Central American countries, Mexico and – reportedly – the United States. Yet despite this energy surplus, many regions across Guatemala still lack access to electricity or any other social services.
Guatemala’s hydroelectric industry has expanded rapidly in the last six years, and it is still growing, with more than 300 hydroelectric projects in progress. In the past, expansion of infrastructure in Guatemala was based on a nationalist model of development. But in the era of neoliberalism, multinational companies have taken the lead on the expansion of projects across the region. Multinational companies from Spain, Honduras and Israel privately fund today’s hydroelectric projects.
The widespread construction of hydroelectric dams has renewed conflicts between transnational corporations – allied with the Guatemalan government – and indigenous Mayan communities, echoing the violence of the past.