Early in the morning on April 17, the international day of the campesino’s struggle, nearly 450 indigenous Q’eqchi’ Mayan families from the Guatemalan departments of Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, and Izabal arrived in the historic centre of Guatemala and began setting up makeshift tents. They were demanding an end to the policy of forced eviction, an end to the criminalisation of social movements, and to the passing of an agrarian reform law to support small farmers.
Historically, Guatemala has been plagued by an unequal distribution of land and today, nearly 85 percent of the land is owned by 3.2 percent of the population. This crisis of land continues the long and tragic history of land conflicts that began with colonisation. Yet the modern crisis has its roots in the liberal reforms of the late 1800’s that opened up the country to the invasion of foreign companies. Throughout the process, little concern was given for the indigenous populations that resided on those lands.
Jeff Abbott writes that in the modern era, Alta Verapaz has become one of the centres of conflicts over land in Guatemala, with communities facing the expansion of mining, hydroelectric dams, and monoculture projects. In 2014 alone, six communities have faced eviction to make way for these projects, with one of the more egregious evictions occurring in August, when well over one thousand police and military were deployed to evict the communities of Monte Olivo, 9 de febrero, and others. During the eviction the PNC (National Police) killed three men.
In the years since the signing of the 1996 peace accords, indigenous communities across Guatemala have faced increasing forced evictions by the PNC and military, to make way for mining and hydroelectric projects, as well as the planting of African palm oil and sugar cane for the international biofuel trade. The State forces are supplemented by landowners’ “private militaries” to force families from the land.
The Q’eqchi’ Maya territory in Alta Verapaz has seen the most drastic, rapidly growing conflict. Of the current 1,300 individual struggles over land in Guatemala, over 400 cases exist in Alta Verapaz alone.
You can read Jeff’s full article here in Upside Down World and you can see more fine photographs of the protest, in addition to the one above, by Jhonathan F. Gómez on the same site here.