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.