Guatemala: indigenous protesters march on the capital

Some 1,500 indigenous campesinos arrived in Guatemala City on March 27 after an eight-day, 214-kilometer walk from Cobán, Alta Verapaz department, to promote their demands for land, debt cancellation and a halt to mining operations. Supporters joined them as they approached the capital, and the number of marchers eventually swelled to about 10,000, forming a line that stretched for 6 km. The protesters announced that they would stay encamped in the central Plaza de la Constitución until their main demands were met.

The campesinos presented the government a total of 68 demands, some addressed to the court system, some to the Congress and some to the executive. One major focus was on providing land and aid for the 600 families that were violently evicted from their settlements in the Polochic Valley a year ealier, in March 2011. Another demand was for the cancellation of some $100 million that campesinos owe to the government for loans they have used to acquire land; the campesinos say the most of the land offered was not suitable for farming and didn’t produce enough to pay off the debt. Additional demands included the release of dozens of detained campesino leaders, and passage of Law 4084 (Integral Rural Development) and Law 4087 (Community Communication Media).

This was the first major campesino and indigenous protest that President Otto P├ęrez Molina has had to deal with since he took office on Jan. 14 amid accusations that he committed human rights violations against indigenous communities in the 1980s. He and Vice President Roxana Baldetti surprised the marchers by going to meet them on the highway on March 23 with an offer to negotiate and a request for them to end the march. The protesters continued with the march, but the government began the negotiating process with them soon after they reached Guatemala City.

The march was organized by the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), one of the country’s main campesino organizations. Vicente Mench├║, the father of 1992 Nobel peace prize winner Rigoberta Mench├║ Tum, was a cofounder of the group, which was formed in the 1970s. (Adital, Brazil, March 26, from TeleSUR, March 28; AFP, March 27, via Univision)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 1.

See our last posts on Guatemala and regional anti-mining struggles.