Guatemala: private guards attack evicted Polochic campesinos

A group of men armed with guns wounded seven indigenous campesinos during an hour-long attack Aug. 10 on an encampment in the Polochic Valley in the northeastern Guatemalan department of Alta Verapaz. Three campesinos were seriously hurt: Martín Pec Taycon, who was shot in the abdomen; Carlos Ical, with a leg wound; and nine-year-old Elena Tec, with a bullet in her foot. The men also set fire to the campesinos’ homes and possessions. The campesinos identified the attackers as members of the security group of the Ingenio Chabil Utzaj S.A., an agribusiness owned by the Widmann family

Some 22 campesino families, members of the Q’eqchi’ Maya group, had been living on the edge of Chabil Utzaj’s Paraná estate after they were forcibly expelled in March, along with nearly 600 other families, from land claimed by Chabil Utzaj in Panzós municipality. Some 2,000 police, soldiers and security guards had burned their homes and crops in a violent operation over several days during which one community member, Antonio Beb Ac, was killed. On June 20 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), the human rights arm of the Organization of American States (OAS), gave the government of Alvaro Colom’ 15 days to guarantee the life and physical integrity of the displaced campesinos, to ensure that they had food and shelter, and to report on investigations into the violence that accompanied the March evictions. As of July 5 the government had done nothing to comply with the order.

The only response by President Colom’s office to the Aug. 10 attack was a statement condemning the violence and demanding that prosecutors carry out “an in-depth investigation to determine who is responsible…and to prevent armed groups from acting outside the law.” Journalist Marielos Monzón asked in a column for the Guatemalan newpaper Prensa Libre what part of the IACHR order wasn’t clear to the government. Noting that 75% of the country’s best land remain concentrated in the hands of just 1% of the population, Monzón quoted 20th-century Guatemalan historian Severo Martínez Peláez: “The primordial problem of Guatemalan society is the bad distribution of its primary wealth, the earth, which is concentrated in just a few hands.” (EFE, Aug. 10, via Terra, Peru; EFE, Aug. 12, via Latin American Herald Tribune; Prensa Libre, Aug. 16)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, August 21.

See our last posts on Guatemala and Central America.

  1. Private guards attack
    I am a legal resident here in Guatemala, I understand the land-grabs and persecution, what I don’t understand is the ignorance of the overall population concerning the filing of the proper paper work for claiming land…

    It is a very simple procedure to file proper claims and defend them when challenged… I have offered to teach and guide communities in this matter to be told it’s too dangerous, well it looks like the way it’s being done now is too dangerous… the laws are there, people need to understand how to use them…

    Local militias under the authority of the departments elected officials would help detour many abuses inflicted upon the communities…

    1. Private Guards Attack… Guatemala
      Anonymous, I think you are somewhat naive about the law in Guatemala. It is simply not functional. The fact that time and again large and wealthy landholders can take over land, violently evicting people living and farming there, with complete impunity, bears this out. The government may be democratically-elected, but it clearly is controlled by a plutocracy of the wealthy who own the vast majority of material wealth in the country. I spend lot of time in Guatemala and understand from friends that dealing with things through the courts is a total nightmare and takes forever. There simply is not justice in Guatemala. Why aren’t you suggesting that the wealthy family evicting these families do it legally?1