Though the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (a similar institution operating solely in Latin America) have continually denied any wrongdoing, it was their respective $117 million and $175 million loans that ushered the Chixoy dam violently into existence. Notably, the World Bank gave its loan in two installments, transferring the second tranche after the massacres took place. Now, in the 2014 U.S. Consolidated Appropriations Bill, our Congress has instructed both banks to ensure a $154 million reparations plan for the Rio Negro survivors.
Of the World Bank's role, the NGO Witness for Peace stated, some years ago:
"If the Bank knew about the massacres, then giving an additional loan to the project was at best a calculated cover up, and at worst an act of complicity in the violence. If the Bank did not know about the slaughter, then it was guilty of gross negligence."
The World Bank has undoubtedly made great strides in building social and environmental protections into its operations, to ensure that vulnerable communities are not disproportionately harmed by the projects it funds. But safeguards are only as good as the will to enforce them, and this action by the U.S. Congress sends an important message that international financial institutions will be held accountable for their actions. It also sends a message that reparation matters, that it is important that we right our wrongs.
I remain in awe of the tireless activists at ADIVIMA, where I spent that summer in Guatemala, who have fought and continue to fight for Mayan rights, and in appreciation of NGOs like International Rivers that leverage resources from the north to raise the voices of the world's most marginalized people. Another of these northern advocates writes:
"It is hard to overstate the courage and dignity of the Chixoy Dam surviving victims who, for decades, have been fighting for truth, memory and justice for all they suffered and lost..."