Guatemala’s growing palm oil industry fuels Indigenous land fight

Sandra Cuffe writes in Al Jazeera about the ongoing land struggles in Guatemala primarily focusing on palm oil production, its destructive legacies, and Indigenous resistance.


Anibal Agurtia blows into the conch shell tied to a red string around his hand, calling people to the clearing.

Already, a few dozen members of the Indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ community of Chinebal have gathered to discuss an escalating land struggle in this remote area of eastern Guatemala.

Community members accuse a Guatemalan company of planting oil palm on their traditional lands, and they have built homes to reclaim the disputed tract – spurring an eviction notice, several police operations, and a day of deadly violence that remains ever-present in the memory of the settlement’s more than 500 residents.

“[Police] just killed him and took him away,” Matilde Ac told Al Jazeera about her husband, Jose Chaman, who was killed last year during a police operation related to the conflict with the palm oil company, NaturAceites. “I want it to be investigated.”

Guatemala’s expanding palm oil industry faces resistance from Indigenous people fighting for land rights. Oil palm plantations have nearly doubled in area over the past decade, sparking agrarian conflicts between companies and communities and […] in Latin America, Guatemala is second only to Colombia – and it is the world’s sixth top producer.

Last year, Guatemala produced some 880,000 tonnes of crude palm oil. Roughly 80 percent of it is exported, mainly to Mexico, a few European countries, and other Central American nations. Palm oil and its derived ingredients are commonly found in processed foods, cosmetics, and cleaning products.

Oil palm in Guatemala is concentrated in the north, northeast, and the Pacific slope region. Plantations cover more than 1,800sq km (695sq miles), nearly 2.5 percent of the country’s arable land. In the Izabal department, which is home to Chinebal, they cover nine percent of arable land.

[…]

Roughly 40 percent of Guatemala’s population of more than 17 million is Indigenous and oil palm plantations in the north and northeast overlap with Maya Q’eqchi’ territory. Centuries of dispossession, a 1960-1996 civil war, mining and agroindustry have all contributed to displacement and longstanding land conflicts.

[…]

Private sector groups often accuse people of invading private estates and lands used by agro-industry and natural resource companies, while Indigenous communities argue they are reclaiming their traditional lands. There are hundreds of conflicts over lands and natural resources around the country.


You can read the full piece, including links and photos, here, Guatemala’s growing palm oil industry fuels Indigenous land fight.



Categories: Criminalisation, Evictions, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Impunity, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Land, Legal, Military, Poverty, Resource Extraction, Violence

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