Guatemala: campesinos block roads, demand land

Thousands of Guatemalan campesinos blocked roads at seven or more sites on June 4 in a nationwide protest organized by the Committee for Campesino Development (CODECA) to demand that the government carry out agrarian reform, provide agricultural products for about 25,000 campesinos, buy land for cultivation and forgive debts that some campesinos incurred by taking out bank loans to buy land. CODECA spokesperson Mauro Bay said the campesinos had been making these requests of President Alvaro Colom’s government since Feb. 5, 2008 but had received no response. Presidential spokesperson Fernando Barillas said the government had offered to meet with CODECA leaders on the demands but CODECA turned down the offer.

Campesinos blocked roads in at least seven departments: Mazatenango and Retalhuleu in the south, SuchitepƩquez in the southwest, TotonicapƔn and Quetzaltenango in the west, and Alta Verapaz and PetƩn in the north. Some 500 campesinos blocked a bridge in El Zarco, Retalhuleu. A caravan of motorcyclists tried to break through, but campesinos with clubs blocked them; agents from the National Civil Police (PNC) were then called in. About 3,000 farmers from three communities in SuchitepƩquez blocked the Pacific highway at a place known as Cocales. In Cuatro Caminos, TotonicapƔn, 800 local people cut off the road with rocks and boards, creating a 6 km line of vehicles and infuriating motorists. In Quetzaltenango, residents of five villages in Colomba municipality closed off a highway leading to the Mexico border, and many passengers walked kilometers to transfer to other buses.

Five CODECA leaders met with Agricultural Affairs Secretary Juan Alfredo de LeĆ³n in Guatemala City during the day. In the afternoon they agreed to suspend the actions and continue the dialogue on June 16. (Prensa Latina, June 4; ADN, Spain, June 4 from EFE; Prensa Libre, Guatemala, June 4, 5)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 7

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