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The people of Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, filed an appeal against the hydroelectric plant for violating their right to self-determination.
A court in Guatemala ruled in favor of the Maya Q’anjob’al community of Santa Eulalia, suspending the construction of the San Luis hydroelectric project by declaring its environmental impact study illegal.
The municipality of Santa Eulalia in Huehuetenango, on the border with Mexico, filed an appeal against the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry of Guatemala for authorizing an environmental impact study for the energy company, 5M, without the consent of the communities.
The project intends to use the energy of the Laj Caal rivers and seven ravines, but the Fifth Administrative Court in Guatemala City ruled that it violated fundamental community rights, such as the right for life and self-determination.
The appeal was filed in January by Diego Pedro Domingo, the mayor of Santa Eulalia, representing several Mayan community authorities that oppose the hydroelectric.
“This is a peoples’ struggle. Santa Eulalia has been severely affected by business people. It’s not easy but for now the San Luis hydroelectric has been stopped and we hope the right of the Q’anjob’al peoples to be respected,” said Domingo during a press conference in Guatemala City on Friday.
Domingo also warned authorities that the people of Santa Eulalia must be previously consulted over the construction of any project in their territory. The court also stated that indigenous people should be previously consulted as established by the International Labor Organization’s (OIT) Convention 169.
Many Maya community authorities were present during the press conference, showing support for the people of Santa Eulalia as they’re also fighting similar struggles against projects that pose a threat to their lifestyle.
The Q’anjob’al traditional authority Rigoberto Juarez Mateo said the environmental impact study violated the legal due process, the local autonomy of the municipality, the right to life, the right to the Q’anjob’al people's own development model, the national constitution and the right to a healthy environment.
“We’ve seen that the 5M company had already started its excavations in Santa Eulalia. It’s worrying becuase that couldn’t have started without an environmental study. We will now find out what proceeds along with the Municipality, because we have evidence about violation of rights,” said Juarez Mateo.
The traditional authorities think the ruling might set an important legal precedent to definitively stop the construction of the project, which they consider to be “ecocidal” and “anti-community,” and others of similar nature.
According to the communities’ lawyer Sonia Gutierrez, the appeal temporarily suspends the construction, but the company has the right to legal recourse.
In 2006, the municipality of Santa Eulalia, traditional authorities, and other local leaders carried out a referendum over the construction of the hydroelectric plant, which was rejected by the people.