Urgent: Guatemala resumes arson attacks against indigenous communities despite humanitarian disaster provoked by multiple hurricanes

Guatemala Solidarity Project

Quarterly Report, December 21, 2020

The Guatemala Solidarity Project is urgently calling for solidarity as the US-backed Guatemalan military and police have resumed arson attacks against indigenous communities.  We are supporting legal efforts that have successfully blocked some of these attacks, but additional funding is needed to adequately pursue these efforts.  We are also requesting that concerned people in the US call their members of congress to demand that all support for the Guatemalan police and military be suspended until they stop their arson attacks against indigenous communities.

All donations go directly to our partners and no funds are kept by GSP for overhead or any other purpose. You can donate via our website or by writing a check to UPAVIM and mailing it to UPAVIM, PO Box 63, Marshfield, VT 05658.  We thank our fiscal sponsor, the volunteer-run UPAVIM Community Development Foundation, a US 501(c)3 non-profit tax-deductible organization, for supporting us and ensuring that all funds go to our partners in Guatemala. Additional suggested actions are at the end of this report.

Below is an incomplete summary of some of the areas affecting our work in recent months:

Government resumes arson attacks despite desperate situation in indigenous communities provoked by hurricanes and COVID

In November, Central America was hit by both hurricane Eta and hurricane Iota.  It was the most active Atlantic ocean hurricane season in recorded history, and tens of thousands of people were displaced and many communities were flooded, losing their houses and crops. Sadly the history of hundreds of indigenous communities in Guatemala has been systematic violence that has forced them to live in high-risk areas of the country. 

In El Carmen, an indigenous Poqom community pushed onto unstable land by the military and private companies, six people were killed in a mudslide. Our partner communities San Jose el Tesoro, Santa Rosita Quinich, Bella Flor and Rio Frio lost homes and almost all of their crops.  Thousands of people in these and other communities remain without adequate shelter or food.  Our health team is extremely concerned about starvation deaths among children already facing malnutrition, as well as an increase in other illnesses due to the flooding.

Much of this flooding occurred in the same regions – the Ixcan, Alta Verapaz and Izabal – where multinational companies are destroying the environment to build hydroelectric dams, mines and African palm plantations.  The Cahabon river – dammed in multiple places and leaving the people living further down the river without water – overflowed its banks and violently flooded numerous areas, including submerging an entire village in the town of Carcha.  Our partners in the region see the obvious link between deforestation and flooding, and are more resolved than ever to continue their struggle to preserve and defend Mother Earth.

This video is taken from a boat passing over the flooded lands of 20 Q’eqchi’ communities.  Two weeks earlier this land had been filled with subsistence crops:

This video shows the community San Jose el Tesoro, already struggling with severe malnutrition before being flooded:

While the government has refused to bring relief to most people devastated by the hurricanes, the US-backed police and military have resumed violent arson attacks against indigenous communities.  On December 9 and 10, the indigenous Q’eqchi’ communities Oxlajuj Qej and Tres Lagunas were attacked.  They burned numerous homes to the ground, destroyed subsistence crops, stole and killed livestock, leaving the community members without food and shelter.

Last week the government ordered an attack on six communities in the town of Purulja, including our partner communities Dos Fuentes, San Valentin and El Mezcal. GSP and others mobilized to provide legal support which led to a judge suspending the eviction. However the ruling is only temporary, meaning that further legal action is required to prevent them from happening in the near future.  Unfortunately, these communities are facing extreme poverty and malnutrition and do not have resources to support their legal defense.

The US government backs such attacks as part of its general support for the use of state-sponsored terrorism to facilitate the theft of natural resources from indigenous territory.  A growing number of members of congress are opposing this policy.  Please call your member of congress and request they oppose all support to the Guatemalan police and military until they end the use of arson attacks against indigenous communities.

Victory for La Cumbre Sa’Kuxja’

On November 23, a Judge in Coban found 3 members of the community La Cumbre Sa’kaxha innocent of the charges of land invasion and recognized them as belonging to an indigenous community. This decision follows years of persecution of the 25 families in La Cumbre, who have suffered multiple evictions but continue to press their legitimate claims to land based on their status as ex-serfs working for the Morales family.  

The case for their land rights will move forward in civil court, as the judge’s decision absolving the community members gives them a strong legal case to remain on the land which they recovered in June 2018, seven months after they were illegally evicted on Nov. 1, 2017.

For more about this important victory please see the video posted here:


Video: La Cumbre

Cubilguitz faces repeated attacks

For nearly 20 years GSP has worked closely with our partner community Cubilguitz.  The ancestors of Cubilguitz were forced onto their lands to be work on coffee plantations approximately one hundred years ago. When the price of coffee on international markets crashed in 2001, owners of the plantation decided to change their investment and illegally evict their servants. Community residents organized with the Committee of Peasant Unity (CUC) in defense of the land.

Dozens of community leaders have had arrest warrants ordered against them, and the government has refused to support their rights.  In recent months the community has faced repeated violent attacks.  Several people have been injured in these attacks, and homes have been burned.  Thanks to our donors, we were able to mobilize a small amount of urgent assistance to families most affected by the violence.  The GSP continues to be committed to working in long term solidarity with the community.

Massive protests call on president to resign

On November 21st, massive protests were held throughout Guatemala demanding that the president resign.  The protests were in response to ongoing violence and corruption, but in particular to the annual budget that had been passed by Congress the week before.  The budget was quickly passed in the middle of the night in hopes that it would not meet such resistance, and included significant decreases in healthcare and support for starving children.  At the same time the budget included significant increases in support for extractive industries which have systematically used violence and environmental destruction to steal natural resources from indigenous territory.

While the protests were almost entirely nonviolent, the level of anger was clear.  The most visible sign of that anger was the burning and looting of the Congressional building, but many involved in the protests believe that act to have been committed by police infiltrators as the vast majority of the protestors were assembled peacefully in the Plaza at the time of the fire. The protest movement has continued every Saturday in the capital and in cities around the country, calling on the president to resign.  So far the president has refused to resign, and instead continues to help direct repression of indigenous, environmental and human rights activists, with the full support of the US Embassy for his business-friendly practices.

Biden elected President

Even in indigenous peasant communities in Guatemala, people are celebrating the electoral loss of Donald Trump. But many also fear that American corporate interests will continue to drive US policy as it has in the past under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Significant differences do exist between Biden’s and Trump’s policy stance toward Guatemala. For example, Biden supported the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which after being formed in 2007 exposed the corruption of over 1,700 police officers and six Supreme Court judges and led to the arrest of two Presidents.

Trump supported the Guatemalan government’s forced expulsion of CICIG investigators with the support of US-donated military equipment. This allowed the Guatemalan government to dismantle the Commission and to be openly, even flamboyantly corrupt when it prohibited the most popular Presidential candidate – an anti-corruption former Attorney General – from appearing on last year’s election ballot.

However Biden and Trump both support providing equipment, training and funds to the Guatemalan military as it continues to terrorize indigenous communities. The purpose of this terrorism is to facilitate the theft of natural resources from indigenous lands by US companies in industries like oil, mining, timber, hydroelectric dams, African palm and other biofuels.

The military, police and natural resource extraction companies use arson attacks, gang rape and murder in addition to threats and criminalization to drive entire communities off their lands. Hundreds of thousands of people are forced to live in shacks in the most vulnerable areas that are of no use at the moment for the corporations.

Will Biden continue to pursue increases in US support for private companies investing in Guatemala? That may depend on the level of grassroots pressure that is applied. Although we don’t use donor funds to support our lobbying, GSP volunteers are mobilizing to support a change in US policy towards Guatemala that recognizes the humanity of indigenous peoples as well as the importance of protecting natural resources. To keep informed on how you can collaborate with this effort, follow/like us on social media or send an email to info@guatemalasolidarityproject.org with “Add to lobby list” in the subject line and we will update you on our lobbying efforts and how you can get involved.