Evictions of Native Families Add Fuel to Fire Over Land Access

GUATEMALA CITY, Mar 29, 2011 (IPS) – “We have nowhere to plant our corn, we have nothing,” Jorge Chocoj told IPS while waiting with his wife and three children for the police to evict them from the land they farmed in northwestern Guatemala.

The police didn’t show up that day, Mar. 24. But private security guards of the Chabil Utzaj Sociedad Anónima sugar mill reportedly proceeded to destroy the community’s crops, despite a court injunction blocking the company from taking actions that fall within the jurisdiction of the security forces, says a complaint by the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC), a small farmers’ association.

The police evictions had started nine days before. In the early hours of the morning on Mar. 15, more than 1,000 police and soldiers showed up in the Polochic Valley in the northern province of Alta Verapaz to evict more than 3,000 Q’eqchi Maya Indians living on land claimed by an agribusiness firm.

The security forces burnt or bulldozed their humble shacks and destroyed their subsistence crops with machetes and tractors. Nearly a dozen farmers were injured in the fray and one farm worker, 30-year-old Juan Antonio Beb Ac, was killed, triggering howls of outrage from human rights groups and other organisations.

The peasant farmers say they have been living and working on the land for 30 years.

The displacement of indigenous farmers in Alta Verapaz highlights the continuing conflict over land in Guatemala, an age-old problem in this Central American country where land ownership is heavily concentrated.


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