Thousands of campesinos blocked highways in western Guatemala on Nov. 25 to press a demand for the government to allocate 350 million quetzales (about $42 million) to the National Lands Fund (Fontierras) for renting farmland to be used by more than 100,000 campesino families. The protesters stopped traffic on six highways in Cuatro Caminos, Totonicapán, Los Encuentros, and La Cumbre at kilometer 123 of the Las Verapaces and Las Victorias road, between Quetzaltenango and Colomba Costa Cuca. According to José Hernández—one of the leaders of the Coordinating Committee of Regional, Campesino and Independent Organizations, which called the protest—every two hours the protesters were opening the roads up and letting traffic pass for one hour. The organizers said 10,000 campesinos took part; the police estimate was 5,000.
Fontierras, with an annual budget of just $5 million, is supposed to carry out land reform by buying estates and turning them over to campesino groups. The protesters say the process is too slow to address the historic problem of land inequality in the country, which leaves many poor families without plots to farm. (Thousands of campesinos blocked roads in seven departments over land issues on June 4.)
The protesters also staged a sit-in on Nov. 25 outside the Congress building in Guatemala City, where members of health and road worker unions were protesting at the same time. The National Health Workers Union was calling for 1.290 billion quetzales (about $156 million) to be added to the annual public health budget, currently at 3.411 billion quetzales (about $411 million). (Miami Herald, Nov. 25 from AP; Guatemala Hoy, Nov. 26)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 29