Take Action: Land Not Evictions for Q’eqchi’ Communities in Guatemala
February 15, 2016
Less than a month after taking office, new Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales is already threatening to take violent action against hundreds of q’eqchi’ families in northern Guatemala. “Eviction” orders have been placed against GSP partner communities Parana and Bella Flor, as well as others. These evictions would steal ancestral land from indigenous communities and give it to large land owners to produce biofuels for export while local populations starve.
Bella Flor and Parana were among over a dozen communities violently attacked in Guatemala’s Polochic Valley in 2011, when over 1,000 Guatemalan soldiers arrived without notice to burn down houses and destroy subsistence crops. Thousands of people were left with desperate hunger. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights intervened, ordering the government to provide food, shelter and security for the displaced communities. Instead they became targets of continued repression – including nighttime raids by masked men and biofuel company security throwing grenades out of helicopters at community members trying to harvest their corn.
Previous Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina refused to solve the crisis, and is now in prison on corruption charges. New President Morales came to power with promises of ending corruption, but instead is poised to take violent, illegal action against these communities.
Our partners are working hard right now to organizing collective action to pressure the government to do the right thing and have asked us to join them in solidarity. International pressure can play an important role in winning justice for Parana and Bella Flor.
1. Contact the Guatemalan Embassy
Call the Guatemalan Embassy in the United States at 202 745 4953. If no one answers, please leave a message. Sample message: “My name is _________ and I am calling because I am extremely concerned about the safety of people in the indigenous q’eqchi’ communities of Bella Flor and Parana in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. I know that these communities have been courageously and nonviolently organizing since before 2011 for the government to recognize their basic rights, including their right to their ancestral land, and that the government has responded with violence. Now President Jimmy Morales is threatening to evict these communities. Please request that the new president recognize the land rights of these communities and immediately terminate any eviction order or other form of violence against them. I will be monitoring the situation.”
2. Make a donation to our partner communities
We are a volunteer-run organization and 100% of your contributions, other than small bank transfer fees, go directly to our partners in Guatemala. Bella Flor, Parana and other communities attacked in 2011 and many times since have requested we stand in solidarity with them by purchasing water filters made locally in Guatemala of all natural ingredients. Since the 2011 attacks, several community members have starved to death and many more have become sick due to lack of food. The overwhelming majority of children in the communities are suffering from chronic malnourishment. Lack of access to clean water has aggravated this situation. Help us bring clean water to these communities by donating through our website or sending a check made out to “UPAVIM Community Development Foundation” to UPAVIM, PO Box 63, Marshfield, VT 05658. Donations are tax-deductible in the US. UPAVIM is our fiscal sponsor, and is a US-registered 501c3 nonprofit that helps us ensure that ALL contributions go to our partners.
More background info:
We have yet to reach our goal of bringing access to clean water to q’eqchi’ families who were attacked in 2011 and have faced years of terrorism since.. but we are making progress! Read more about the effort here
7-minute video of the 2011 attacks, with Spanish subtitles:
Excerpt from June 2015 Solidarity Delegation Report: (read entire report here)
Paraná – community in resistance
Polochic, Alta Verapaz
The delegation made a seven hour journey to the heart of the Polochic to take the message that ‘you are not alone’ to this community of 40 Q’eqchi’ Maya families resisting the intimidation, threats, displacement and violence of the Chabil Utzaj sugarcane corporation, and to hear their story of organizing in the CUC. Paraná was violently evicted in 2011 and has faced numerous attacks by masked paramilitaries and private security, including the murder of community leader Maria Margarita Che Chub.
‘Your place is where you struggle, you have to fight for your place – we’re not leaving’
– Paraná community leader Mercedes Tupil
San Miguel Cotoxja – community in resistance
Polochic, Alta Verapaz
CUC organizers brought representatives of the community’s 78 Q’eqchi’ Maya families together to tell the solidarity delegation the story of their 14 years of resistance to the Chabil Utzaj corporation, and of their fight to stay on their land. The government has supported violence and threats against the community so that the land can be used to produce biofuels instead of food for indigenous people.
‘We are expecting an attack at any moment, but we are organized to defend our territory’
– CUC organizer Carolina Rax
Panzós massacre commemorative march
Polochic, Alta Verapaz
The delegation participated – together with representatives from Paraná and San Miguel Cotoxja – in the march and blockade to commemorate the massacre in Panzós of dozens of indigenous Q’eqchi peasants during a demonstration in 1978. The peasants were killed by the military on behalf of wealthy landowners, but 37 years later, not a single soldier or “land owner” has been charged with responsibility for the murders.
‘We demand justice’
– Banner held high in Panzós
8 de Agosto – community in resistance
Polochic, Alta Verapaz
On behalf of seven communities in resistance in the Polochic – Paraná, Río Frío, Bella Flor, 8 de agosto, San Miguel Cotoxja, Río Polochic II and Rodeo – the Guatemala Solidarity Project organized the delivery of ecologically friendly water filters and presented them to community leaders at the ‘Jacobo Arbenz Community Library’ in the CUC organized community of 8 de Agosto.
‘Clear head, fraternal heart and raised fist of the peasant workers!’
CUC slogan posted at the entrance to 8 de Agosto
Excerpt from May 2015 GSP Quarterly Report: (read entire report here)
Thousands of Q’eqchi’ Peasants Reoccupy Land Stolen by Agro-Export Companies
On February 26, dozens of brave leaders of the community Bella Flor nonviolently occupied land that they were violently evicted from in 2011. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in the community’s favor after the evictions, but the Guatemalan government has refused to recognize their rights. After years of continued repression and negotiations with a dishonest government, the community decided to squat on the land and risk facing greater violence.
Desperate hunger, extreme poverty and knowledge of their rights has also forced GSP partner communities Rio Frio, Parana, San Miguel Cotoxja, El Rodeo and Rio Polochic II to reoccupy stolen lands. After the 2011 attack much of this land was used to grow sugarcane and African palm. These crops are in large part used to fill gas tanks in foreign countries, while the bellies of the original inhabitant of the land remain empty. The GSP is coordinating with these communities to demand recognition of their land rights. We are also mobilizing to purchase water filters and combat starvation in the communities.
Report from 2011 GSP Solidarity Delegation:
Terror and Starvation in Guatemala’s Polochic Valley
Helicopters fly overhead with armed men leaning out the door pointing guns at peasants below. Masked paramilitaries attack communities at night. Murderers remain free and community leaders are arrested on fraudulent charges. Hundreds of families have had their houses and crops burned to the ground, leaving them with hunger and a desperate struggle for survival.
The Guatemala Solidarity Project (GSP) strongly condemns continued repression against 14 q’eqchi’ communities in Panzos which were violently evicted in March by the Guatemalan government and biofuel corporations. During August and September of 2011, the GSP and Committee of Peasant Unity (CUC) coordinated a human rights delegation in which people of conscience of various backgrounds from throughout the US, Canada and Guatemala visited and met with these communities and attended meetings between government officials and community representatives.
We found that there is an urgent need for action to be taken in favor of the lives of families in the communities. Chronic malnutrition is devastating families that would have plenty to eat if not for the burning of their crops. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Guatemalan government to provide food, shelter and security for the thousands of people the evicted. Although this order came on June 20, we have been witnesses to the fact that the government has provided absolutely no food, shelter or security to the families. Below are more specific examples to demonstrate this:
Evicted families are in a daily struggle to acquire enough calories to survive. Many suffer from chronic malnutrition. This has been particularly difficult for children, pregnant women and the elderly. Chronic malnutrition stunts the development of children and leaves them more vulnerable to illness. When chronically malnourished people do get sick, their weakened bodies are less able to fight the sickness.
On one occasion we arrived in the early afternoon to visit a community. We brought meat and other ingredients to make soup. But when we arrived, the community asked us to immediately purchase bread at a nearby store. They said that they had nothing to eat all day and had eaten very little in the days before. They were feeling week and disoriented and though they appreciated the soup they said it would be difficult to wait until it was ready.
Hundreds of people in these communities are suffering the immediate effects of inadequate calorie intake. This is a direct result of the loss of thousands of pounds of food when the government directed the destruction of their crops. The government’s refusal to supply these communities with food is having an immediate, devastating, and often irreversible impact on the health of inhabitants of the communities.
Communities are also suffering the effects of inadequate shelter stemming from the evictions. Hundreds of homes were destroyed during the evictions, most of them burned. Families were given little to no time to take out valuables before the eviction. They were given no previous notice of the eviction. They also were given no compensation for the destruction of their private property. They lost beams, metal roofing, thatched roofs and other building materials which they had no money to replace.
Families have since been living in substandard housing. Many are at the mercy of the elements, including intense rain storms, flooding, and extreme heat. Earlier this year the GSP helped deliver food to chronically malnourished families, only to discover that exposer to the elements had left the majority of children infected with worms.
In our visits to the communities we often shared their inadequate housing. This meant long, often wet nights in which we got little sleep. This affected our health and well-being, even though we only had to deal with the conditions for a very limited time.
Lack of adequate shelter continues to be damaging to the health of community members with every day that the government refuses to follow the IACHR court decision.
In addition to their housing and food needs, evicted families are living with the constant threat of attacks from police, biofuel private security and masked paramilitaries. The entire Polochic Valley is controlled by biofuel private security forces. With automatic assault rifles prohibited for such use, they patrol ground well outside even the areas that are claimed by the companies. Community leaders are not able to travel freely in the region because of the threat.
Even our international delegation had to run for cover on multiple occasions when heavily armed biofuel security came to areas where we were located outside of company private property. On other occasions we saw them pass overhead in helicopters with assault rifles trained on peasants below. We were also told that they arrived in places where we had held meetings only shortly after we left.
We met with widows whose husbands had been murdered by biofuel security forces and interviewed multiple people who still had bullets lodged in their bodies from private security attacks. We talked with numerous people who had been injured in attacks by masked paramilitaries, from men who had been shot at close range to elderly women who had been beaten.
On August 16th, our international delegation spent the night with the community of Parana. They are living on the side of the road near where their houses and crops had been destroyed. Late the evening of August 9, they had been attacked by a group of several dozen masked men. Three people had been shot, ranging in age from 9 to 70. Houses, food, clothes, bicycles and other possessions were burned, and money was stolen. During the night that our delegation was there, an unknown vehicle circled the community numerous times. We called the police and they promised to come investigate, but they never did.
On September 2, GSP representatives attended a meeting between representatives of the evicted communities and representatives of the government. The purpose of the meeting was to comply with the ruling of the IACHR to provide communities with food, shelter and security. In the meeting, government officials announced that they were changing police agents and sending a special mobile police department to the region in response to the communities’ accusations that local police were serving as de facto private security for bio-fuel corporations. Shortly after this announcement was made, a representative from the evicted community of Parana received a call saying that at least 10 police agents had arrived together with biofuel company representatives to the area where the community was staying on the side of the road. Later that night we received a call from a Spanish reporter who had gone to Parana. He told us that there had been shots near the community and that help was needed. We called the police multiple times. Again they promised to come, but never did.
Thousands of people violently evicted in March by the government and biofuel companies continue to suffer from inadequate food, shelter and security. Their situation is desperate and they are being harmed daily, often in permanent ways. We join them in calling for:
* The government of Guatemala to immediately fulfill the IACHR ruling to provide evicted families with food, shelter and security by means of giving the communities title to land in the region. This land had been stolen during the war, and communities can use it to provide their own food, shelter and security.
* International solidarity in favor of evicted and continuously repressed communities. The situation is the result of the demand of international markets, support from multinational banks, international arming and training of Guatemalan state security forces, and other international factors. Now the international community must work for a solution in solidarity with the people of the Polochic Valley.
Evicted communities have asked us to try to collect funds to support their survival. Donate via our website or write a check to “UPAVIM Community Development Foundation” and send to UPAVIM, PO Box 63, Marshfield, VT 05658
October 2011 GSP interview with community leader Mateo Cuc after paramilitary attack on community of Parana:
30-minute video by Caracol Productions detailing 2011 attacks against hundreds of q’eqchi’ families in the Polochic valley: