GUATEMALA CITY, 21 May 2012 - "People haven’t been coming in for the past month or so because they are afraid again, like during war-time," complained Juan Gaspar, a shopkeeper in the northwestern Guatemalan town of Santa Cruz Barillas, where a fierce battle is raging between locals opposed to a hydropower dam and the security forces.
The conflict broke out in the town on May 1 when private security guards, police and soldiers cracked down on a protest by local residents opposed to the construction of the five-MW Canbalam I hydroelectric complex by the Spanish firm Hidralia. One local peasant farmer was killed in the clashes and two were injured.
In response, right-wing President Otto Pérez Molina declared a state of siege in the town and sent in troops and police with the order to "capture the ringleaders." The measure was lifted on Friday May 18.
So far, 17 community leaders have been arrested. Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets on May 15 to demand that they be released, and that the state of siege be lifted.
Gaspar told IPS that before investing in a project such as a dam or mine, investors should engage in dialogue with the local population and take their views into consideration, in order to avoid regrettable incidents. "That’s how it should work," he said.
When asked his opinion about the dam, the shopkeeper first said he did not support it. But immediately afterwards he said "We have nothing to do with these things; I don’t care one way or the other."
Perhaps the abrupt turnaround was a result of the heavy police and military presence in the town, reminiscent of the 1960-1996 civil war.
For the complete article, please see IPS.