Cross-Posted: September 2011, GuatemalaSolidarityProject.org
Helicopters fly overhead with armed men leaning out the door pointing guns at peasants below. Masked paramilitaries attack communities at night. Murderers remain free and community leaders are arrested on fraudulent charges. Hundreds of families have had their houses and crops burned to the ground, leaving them with hunger and a desperate struggle for survival.
The Guatemala Solidarity Project (GSP) strongly condemns continued repression against 14 q’eqchi’ communities in Panzos which were violently evicted in March by the Guatemalan government and biofuel corporations. During August and September of 2011, the GSP and Committee of Peasant Unity (CUC) coordinated a human rights delegation in which people of conscience of various backgrounds from throughout the US, Canada and Guatemala visited and met with these communities and attended meetings between government officials and community representatives.
We found that there is an urgent need for action to be taken in favor of the lives of families in the communities. Chronic malnutrition is devastating families that would have plenty to eat if not for the burning of their crops. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Guatemalan government to provide food, shelter and security for the thousands of people the evicted. Although this order came on June 20, we have been witnesses to the fact that the government has provided absolutely no food, shelter or security to the families. Below are more specific examples to demonstrate this:
Evicted families are in a daily struggle to acquire enough calories to survive. Many suffer from chronic malnutrition. This has been particularly difficult for children, pregnant women and the elderly. Chronic malnutrition stunts the development of children and leaves them more vulnerable to illness. When chronically malnourished people do get sick, their weakened bodies are less able to fight the sickness.
On one occasion we arrived in the early afternoon to visit a community. We brought meat and other ingredients to make soup. But when we arrived, the community asked us to immediately purchase bread at a nearby store. They said that they had nothing to eat all day and had eaten very little in the days before. They were feeling week and disoriented and though they appreciated the soup they said it would be difficult to wait until it was ready.
Hundreds of people in these communities are suffering the immediate effects of inadequate calorie intake. This is a direct result of the loss of thousands of pounds of food when the government directed the destruction of their crops. The government’s refusal to supply these communities with food is having an immediate, devastating, and often irreversible impact on the health of inhabitants of the communities.
Communities are also suffering the effects of inadequate shelter stemming from the evictions. Hundreds of homes were destroyed during the evictions, most of them burned. Families were given little to no time to take out valuables before the eviction. They were given no previous notice of the eviction. They also were given no compensation for the destruction of their private property. They lost beams, metal roofing, thatched roofs and other building materials which they had no money to replace.
Families have since been living in substandard housing. Many are at the mercy of the elements, including intense rain storms, flooding, and extreme heat. Earlier this year the GSP helped deliver food to chronically malnourished families, only to discover that exposer to the elements had left the majority of children infected with worms.
In our visits to the communities we often shared their inadequate housing. This meant long, often wet nights in which we got little sleep. This affected our health and well-being, even though we only had to deal with the conditions for a very limited time.
Lack of adequate shelter continues to be damaging to the health of community members with every day that the government refuses to follow the IACHR court decision.
In addition to their housing and food needs, evicted families are living with the constant threat of attacks from police, biofuel private security and masked paramilitaries. The entire Polochic Valley is controlled by biofuel private security forces. With automatic assault rifles prohibited for such use, they patrol ground well outside even the areas that are claimed by the companies. Community leaders are not able to travel freely in the region because of the threat.
Even our international delegation had to run for cover on multiple occasions when heavily armed biofuel security came to areas where we were located outside of company private property. On other occasions we saw them pass overhead in helicopters with assault rifles trained on peasants below. We were also told that they arrived in places where we had held meetings only shortly after we left.
We met with widows whose husbands had been murdered by biofuel security forces and interviewed multiple people who still had bullets lodged in their bodies from private security attacks. We talked with numerous people who had been injured in attacks by masked paramilitaries, from men who had been shot at close range to elderly women who had been beaten.
On August 16th, our international delegation spent the night with the community of Parana. They are living on the side of the road near where their houses and crops had been destroyed. Late the evening of August 9, they had been attacked by a group of several dozen masked men. Three people had been shot, ranging in age from 9 to 70. Houses, food, clothes, bicycles and other possessions were burned, and money was stolen. During the night that our delegation was there, an unknown vehicle circled the community numerous times. We called the police and they promised to come investigate, but they never did.
On September 2, GSP representatives attended a meeting between representatives of the evicted communities and representatives of the government. The purpose of the meeting was to comply with the ruling of the IACHR to provide communities with food, shelter and security. In the meeting, government officials announced that they were changing police agents and sending a special mobile police department to the region in response to the communities’ accusations that local police were serving as de facto private security for bio-fuel corporations. Shortly after this announcement was made, a representative from the evicted community of Parana received a call saying that at least 10 police agents had arrived together with biofuel company representatives to the area where the community was staying on the side of the road. Later that night we received a call from a Spanish reporter who had gone to Parana. He told us that there had been shots near the community and that help was needed. We called the police multiple times. Again they promised to come, but never did.
Thousands of people violently evicted in March by the government and biofuel companies continue to suffer from inadequate food, shelter and security. Their situation is desperate and they are being harmed daily, often in permanent ways. We join them in calling for:
* The government of Guatemala to immediately fulfill the IACHR ruling to provide evicted families with food, shelter and security by means of giving the communities title to land in the region. This land had been stolen during the war, and communities can use it to provide their own food, shelter and security.
* International solidarity in favor of evicted and continuously repressed communities. The situation is the result of the demand of international markets, support from multinational banks, international arming and training of Guatemalan state security forces, and other international factors. Now the international community must work for a solution in solidarity with the people of the Polochic Valley.
Evicted communities have asked us to try to collect funds to support their survival. To make a donation, write a check to “UPAVIM Community Development Foundation” and send to UPAVIM, c/o Laurie Levinger, 28 McKenna Rd, Norwich, VT 05055 You must write “Polochic Valley” in the notes/memo section of your check to ensure that the funds do not go towards our other efforts.
Or support via paypal at http://upavim.pursuantgroup.net/english/donate.htm You will see the paypal link, and you must include the words “GSP evictions” in a note to ensure the funding is delivered correctly.