Ongoing Violent Land Evictions Violate Human Rights and Victimize Guatemala’s Most Marginalized Populations

August 31, 2011


Ongoing Violent Land Evictions Violate Human Rights and Victimize Guatemala’s Most Marginalized Populations

Washington, DC — The Guatemala Human Rights Commission in Washington, DC joins local and international groups in expressing extreme concern over the pattern of violent land evictions occurring in campesino and indigenous communities across Guatemala. Forced evictions have been carried out by state forces with violence, extreme intimidation, and a pattern of destruction reminiscent of the scorched earth policy of the internal conflict.

The hundreds upon hundreds of affected families, who are already among the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable populations, are left with little or no access to food, potable water, or shelter. The communities’ cries for urgent assistance and protection from threats and violence are met with silence and indifference from local and national authorities.

In many cases, the Guatemalan police and military forces have collaborated with the private security guards of the companies that claim ownership of the land. Specifically in the case of the Polochic Valley, the communities reported frequent use of paramilitary forces recruited from surrounding communities that were contracted and armed by the sugar refinery Chabil Utzaj. State and private forces have been responsible for the deaths of numerous community members both during and after the forced eviction, acts which have been carried out with impunity.

The very entities charged with ensuring due process and respect for human rights before, during and after the evictions — the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office, the Presidential Human Rights Commission, judges and local elected officials — often accompany the eviction process as mute observers of the violence unfolding before their eyes.

The evictions have been denounced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as a violation of international standards and basic human rights. On August 26, the International Commission of Jurists released a strongly worded communiqué denouncing the displacement of 300 families in Petén and calling on the government to discontinue its policy of forced evictions.

The Guatemalan State is responsible for ensuring the basic rights of all of its citizens, including right to food security, potable water, dignified housing, physical integrity and due process of law. Violent forced evictions create an environment of fear and militarization and do nothing to resolve deep and ongoing conflict over access to land.

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission condemns the Guatemalan government’s lack of respect for dialogue processes as a tool for non-violent resolution of agrarian disputes and the ongoing disregard for basic human rights of its most vulnerable citizens. We reject any public policy that is willing to sacrifice the life and well-being of men, women and children in the single-minded defense of private property. GHRC joins the International Commission of Jurists in calling for increased involvement by Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a visit by UN Special Rapporteur for Dignified Housing and, most importantly, an end to the destructive and violent policy of forced evictions.
Recent Violent Evictions

• On August 23, approximately 300 farmers were forcibly evicted from their community in Sierra del Lacandón, Petén. The communities were indiscriminately accused by Interior Minister Menocal of having connections to drug trafficking organizations. The evictions are also linked to the Colom Administration’s plans for the construction of four hydroelectric dam projects (Cuatro Balam) and a tourism development project in what Colom calls the “cradle of Mayan civilization.” No evidence has been produced of any links between the farmers and organized crime networks.

• At the end of July, 138 farmers were evicted by hundreds state forces from Soledad Cafetal farm in Retalhuleu. One man was killed from a blow to the chest and intoxication from tear gas, and the families´ temporary huts were burned to the ground by workers hired by the landowner. Three Special Forces police agents were also injured when the families repelled the attack. The 250 families who had planted on the land had occupied it for the last seven months after being expelled from their jobs and land by the land owner for failure to pay their quota of rent on the property. The workers complained to multiple government agencies that they had never received minimum wage, and requested access to the land to plant subsistence crops until an agreement was worked out with the government to find affordable land for the community.

• In a series of forced evictions that took place starting March 15, over 700 families from 12 communities were displaced in the Polochic Valley and left with nothing. The Widmann family, owners of the Chabil Utzaj sugar refinery, and recent financial backer Grupo Pellas from Nicaragua, requested their immediate eviction. The families’ crops were completely destroyed to make way for sugar cane and African palm production, and they continue to live in dire poverty, many still without easy access to food or shelter. Three people have been assassinated since March and many more injured or threatened. Despite the granting of Protective Measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the government has taken no concrete action to ameliorate the families’ precarious situation.




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