polochic

Juana Ikal, 50 and Manuel Lai, 53, outside their home in the Rio Frio community, Polochic valley, Guatemala. The family have lived here in emergency housing since early 2012, when they were evicted from their ancestral lands to make way for the planting of sugarcane crops.This family of farmers now have no land and are dependent on day labour to survive,  February, 2013. Photo: Alan Whelan/Trocaire. Watch their story. https://vimeo.com/trocaire/foodnotfuel

Three years after their eviction in Polochic Valley, 629 families are still waiting for justice
(via Oxfam)

Though the Government of Guatemala has returned land to 140 families unjustly evicted from the Polochic Valley nearly three years ago – thanks to your support! – 629 families are still waiting for their land.

On the third anniversary of the evictions, it is urgent to push the Guatemalan government and its president, Otto Perez Molina, to fulfill their commitments and return the land to the families. Only 30 of the families have actually been able to return to their lands, and plant and harvest. All the other families are still without their land, three years later.

People power pushes the Government

On Saturday, 19 October 2013, the Government of Guatemala returned land titles to 140 families, out of the original 769 evicted in March 2011. This achievement was the product of Vamos al Grano campaign, the GROW Campaign, and 107,000 people from 55 countries in the world that joined forces to push for justice. Thank you to all the people and organizations involved!

President Otto Perez Molina personally delivered the title to the first 140 families. Attending the ceremony were representatives of all communities evicted from Polochic Valley, members of the Peasant Unity Committee (CUC), other social organizations and members of Oxfam. In addition, 600 titles to other communities that are not part of the group of families evicted were delivered during the event.

This success demonstrates the importance of local partnerships in order to achieve national change, while still working on global advocacy.

The fight is not over, as 629 families are still waiting for justice. We will continue to push the government to fulfill its commitment to a worthy and comprehensive resettlement for all 769 families evicted, ensuring dignified transfer, food assistance, housing, productive projects and education and health services.

What happened in Polochic Valley?

On Monday 22 April 2013, the evicted families of Polochic Valley handed over the petition to the Guatemalan Minister of Agriculture. The Government subsequently stated that it intended to remedy the situation. It declared that the demands made by the peasant farmer organizations from Polochic were not only valid and legitimate, but that it supported them.

The 769 families had been violently evicted in March 2011 from land where they had always lived.

A report published by the United Nations in Guatemala supports the main demands of the peasant organizations in the country, and calls on the Government to stop forced evictions until there is legislation on this issue. The report also calls on the Government to honor the commitments made to the Polochic peasant farmers.

This is indeed a potentially major breakthrough! HudBay Minerals will have to appear in court to face charges for gang-rapes of eleven women, the murder of Adolfo Ich, and the shooting and paralyzing of German Chub. Last week we posted an Al-Jazeera documentary about how mining companies prefer to settle out of court in order to avoid any public discussion of their crimes and potential trouble with the law. It seems that in this case, for once, victims of Canadian mining companies will get their day in court! Follow this link to read the full story. 

These events took place in the Polochic region of Guatemala. The Polochic is a fertile valley close to the Caribbean coastal region. The area is being carved out by various corporations for palm oil, sugar cane, and teak production. On the outskirts of the valley, where the land becomes hilly, mining companies are staking out claims and others are looking how to dam rivers for hydroelectric production. The indigenous communities who live there are under attack from all sides: mining, agribusiness, energy production, etc. A Los Despojados feature on the situation in the Polochic is in the works, but is still a long ways away!

vimeo

Late last year, Los Despojados released No More Evictions!, a half-hour documentary about the struggles of indigenous Q'eqchi’ people in the Polochic valley and surrounding highlands against the twin threat of sugar plantations and mining. Our video was shot in 2012, one year after the infamous Polochic evictions. Our video ends with a mention of how the Guatemalan government is failing to live up to its promise, made in 2012 after a massive protest by campesinos and indigenous people from across the country, to resettle the evicted families. As a follow-up, today we present you Food not Fuel, a short 6-minute piece shot in 2013 by Irish NGO Tocaire that follows up with one of the affected families, two years after the evictions. 

Keep reading

The Guatemalan government has finally announced an official date: on September 15th, 158 landless families in Guatemala’s Polochic valley will be relocated on plots of land purchased with government funds. While this sounds like good news, it’s been a long time coming and it still falls short of expectations. A total of 769 indigenous Maya Kekchí families were evicted from their lands in March 2011.

After a giant protest was organized in March 2012, the first anniversary of the evictions, the government promised to solve the conflict by resettling the families using state funds. Another year of stalling went by and the government announced this summer it would resettle 300 families in September and the remainder in two other phases in December 2013 and early 2014. However, it now appears only 158 out of the first batch of 300 will get access to land. The rest of the 769 families are still supposed to get resettled by early 2014 but given the government’s penchant for broken promises, we shouldn’t raise our hopes too much. It also remains to be seen whether the newly resettled peasant families will be able to benefit from state support to agricultural production and marketing as part of the proposed Integral Rural Development Law that has been stalled in Congress.

Keep reading

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Indigenous Q’eqchi’ families in Guatemala’s Polochic velley F have re-claimed their old lands from the sugar cane plantation Chabil Utzaaj (subsidiary of Grupo Pellas, also owner of the famous Flor de Caña rum) that violently evicted them four years ago. In 2011, Chabil Utzaj’s private security forces backed by national police and military, destroyed the homes and crops of 769 Q’eqchi’ farming families. After a massive protest in 2012, the government promised to re-locate the families on new lands. Three years later, only 140 families have be re-located, one group having been settled on a remote bankrupt farm with no road access (hence, they have effectively been cleared out of the Polochic valley, which was their home). The remaining families eke out measly livelihoods from menial labour (as cooks, cleaners, or day labourers on neighbouring farms); many suffer from malnutrition. Given these conditions, some of the dispossessed families who have not yet been compensated decided to take matters into their own hands and re-claim some of the lands they lost in 2011.

For more about this case, check our very own documentary about the 2011 evictions and other land-struggles in the same region: No More Evictions! The struggle for Indigenous Land in Post-War Guatemala

Also check out this video by Irish NGO Trocaire about the daily struggles faced by evicted families two years after the evictions

Watch on losdespojados.tumblr.com

UPDATE! Ontario court rules that lawsuits against Hudbay Minerals regarding shootings, murder and gang-rape at its former mine in Guatemala can proceed to trial in Canada

From the Choc vs. HudBay website: 

As a result of this ruling, Canadian mining corporations can no longer hide behind their legal corporate structure to abdicate responsibility for human rights abuses that take place at foreign mines under their control at various locations throughout the world [emphasis in original]. There will now be a trial regarding the abuses that were committed in Guatemala, and this trial will be in a courtroom in Canada, a few blocks from Hudbay’s headquarters, exactly where it belongs.

To read the full press advisory by Klippensteins Barristers & Solicitors, click here

This case fill be a part of a forthcoming Los Despojados documentary on the Polochic valley conflicts in Guatemala. 


Representatives from the 14 indigenous communities that had been evicted from their homes in March of 2011 reported that among the  community members, 6 out of 10 children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, and two out of every 100 adults suffers from acute malnutrition.  Additionally, more than half of the population does not have access to health services. This data was gathered by the Ixim Rural Studies Collective, which also reported economic and social rights violations. President Otto Pérez Molina made a commitment that the 800 families that were displaced would receive land. He claimed that the first group of 300 families will receive their land by September 15th.

- Guatemala Human Rights Commission

For some background info on the events in the Polochic valley, try these short articles :
No More Evictions! by Lazar Konforti and Joanna Cabello
Sons and Daughters of the Earth by Alberto Alonso-Fradejas

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