Luz Mendez has posted an article on the Americas Program website describing links between land grabs and sexual violence against Maya Q’eqchí women. Relating the stories of two groups of women, who have filed claims in the courts, Mendez links events of the past with what is happening today in Guatemala with regard to land expropriation and violence against indigenous women. Historically, of course, the Guatemalan state did not recognise that indigenous peoples had any rights and the resulting racism was again evident in the reaction of the state, as well as that of Guatemalan elites, to the verdict in the trial against Ríos Montt.
The indigenous q’eqchí women are from El Estor, in the department of Izabal. The first group is made up of fifteen women from the community of Sepur Zarco, who brought forward a criminal suit in the Guatemalan justice system for sexual slavery in a military detachment during the armed conflict. The second group is made up of eleven women from the community of Lote Ocho, who filed a legal suit in Canada against a transnational mining company for rapes perpetrated by their security agents in Guatemala.
The events took place in the Polochic River Valley region, which is rich in natural resources like fertile land, abundant water, petroleum, nickel, and other minerals. The region is currently witnessing a process of land reconcentration for the production of agrofuels such as African palm and sugarcane, and intensive mining. These activities have been carried out at the cost of the local population, who have been stripped of their land, generating social conflict, violence, and a deepening of inequality in the structure of land ownership.
Mendez writes that ‘there are many obstacles and challenges that the women are facing on the path that they started to reach justice. In the first place, there is the context of violence and agrarian conflict in the region where they live. Additionally, the women of Sepur Zarco feel permanently threatened because they live in the same communities with several of the perpetrators of the sexual violence through which they lived. For their part, the women of Lote Ocho are being subjected to enormous pressure and extortion on the part of the Guatemalan Nickel Company so that they will withdraw their lawsuit in Canada’.