Urgent Action: Fear For Safety of Leonardo Ramirez

This is a recent urgent action from Amnesty International:

1 March 2007

UA 49/07 Fear for safety

GUATEMALA Leonardo Ramirez (m), President of the New San Jose las Lagrimas Association (Asociacion Nueva San Jose las Lagrimas) and member of the Committee of Peasant Unity (Comite de Unidad Campesina – CUC) Other members of the New San Jose las Lagrimas Association.

Killed: Vicente Ramirez Lopez (m), member of the New San Jose las Lagrimas Association and the CUC.

Peasants” rights activist Leonardo Ramirez, who has been working on behalf of peasant farmers threatened with eviction, has been told of a plot to kill him. Another activist, Vicente Ramirez Lopez, was killed on 13 February. Leonardo Ramirez is in grave danger.

Leonardo Ramirez is the President of the New San Jose las Lagrimas Association, an organization set up by rural workers who have been living on the land of the San Jose las Lagrimas farm, in Esquipulas, Chiqimula Department. The community of around 125 families occupied the land on 29 June 2006, protesting that the government had failed to give a clear decision on who had the rights to the tenancy of the farm, despite several years of legal proceedings. The army are occupying another part of the farm, where there is allegedly a mass grave of people killed by the armed forces during the internal armed conflict (1960-1996).

Vicente Ramirez Lopez and four other members of the Association were attacked on the farm by four armed men on 13 February. The four men reportedly fired at them, killing Vicente Ramirez. The rural workers managed to catch two of the gunmen, who claimed the army had sent them, and handed them over to the police. The two men were later imprisoned, but have reportedly since been freed.

Four days earlier, on 9 February, several armed men had reportedly arrived at Leonardo Ramirez”s house on the San Jose las Lagrimas farm. One went into the house to ask Leonardo”s wife where he was, while the others apparently remained hidden in bushes 500 metres away.

On 19 February, an acquaintance of Leonardo Ramirez from another community reportedly told him that he should be careful, as he had heard that there were people tracking him who could kill him.

On 24 February a relative of his who was working in a field was approached by a man who asked where Leonardo Ramirez lived. The relative said he did not know, and the man (known locally as someone with links to the army) reportedly told him that anyone who killed Leonardo Ramirez would receive 500 quetzales (US$65) for Ramirez”s head.

The rural workers” right to occupy the farmland is hotly disputed by the purported landowner. On 15 February the army and police gathered outside the farm to evict them, and were only prevented at the last minute when the rural workers obtained a court order. Legal proceedings are continuing, and an eviction could take place over the next months.

On 6 January three houses in the hamlet of El Chapulin, belonging to members of the New San Jose las Lagrimas Association, were burnt down. The houses, which are several hours” walk from the San Jose las Lagrimas farm, were empty at the time.

Other Association members have been killed in the past few months. On 14 December Matias Hernandez, a member of the Association”s Executive Board, was shot dead as he worked in his field.

Other associations of peasant farmers have also been targeted recently. On 6 February Israel Carias Ortiz, a peasant farmer living in the community of Los Achiotes, in the neighbouring Department of Zacapa, was shot dead with his two children, aged nine and 10. He had been involved in an attempt to recover land which allegedly belonged to the State but had been taken over by local landowners.

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Categories: Guatemala, Main Page, Urgent Actions

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