Evictions, Violence, Hunger and Death in the Polochic Valley
Indigenous famers in Guatemala’s Polochic Valley are again facing an imminent threat of starvation, sickness, violence and displacement from the land on which they live and work. This is the result of a series of violent -even deadly- evictions instigated by the Chabil Utzaj sugar company, with the support and participation of the Guatemalan government.
On Monday, June 13, families in the village of Punto 15, municipality of Panzos, were threatened by the mayor, Ricardo Rumbler. The 35 families were told that they must leave the land immediately, and if they didn’t, Rumbler wouldn’t be responsible if anyone were killed, adding “you know how the company operates.” Despite the fact that Punto 15 is on public, untitled land, the mayor claimed that it was private property - and is acting on behalf of the company to displace the indigenous population
Take action to tell the Guatemalan Government to protect its citizens and guarantee the physical integrity and food security of the families of Punto 15.
The situation in Punto 15 is the most recent threat for the Maya Q'eqchi' communities of the Polochic Valley who have been suffering for the last four months.
On the morning of March 15th terror arrived in the Polochic in the form of hundreds of soldiers, national police and private security guards. Coordinated by the owner of the Chabil Utzaj sugar company, Carlos Widmann, the security forces began the task of driving the campesino farmers from the land that the company claims as its own.
In scenes reminiscent of the horrors suffered by indigenous villages during the armed conflict, homes were burned and crops were destroyed. One farmer, Antonio Beb Ac, received a fatal wound to his head during the violent evictions.
Over the next few days the callous and cruel destruction would be repeated in community after community. Over 700 families would be left without shelter and without food, and under almost constant threat from the company’s private security guards. With the exception of the armed forces and spotty presence of officials during the evictions, the Guatemalan government has remained silent and absent, clearly violating communities’ right to life (including food, health, and dignified housing), due process, physical integrity, and freedom of movement, among others.
Unfortunately, the atrocities didn’t end there.
On May 13th three private helicopters flew over the community of Aguacaliente, dropping grenades on the cornfields that had survived the destruction of the forced land evictions. The farmers that had gathered there, hoping to feed to harvest the corn and feed their families, were forced to flee for their lives.
On May 21st, a small group of families from the community of Canlún were tending to their crops in the early morning hours when they noticed tractors belonging to Chabil Utzaj refinery excavating a hole in a nearby field. When they approached the tractors to inquire about the digging, they were met by 18 armed security guards under the direction of Chabil Utzaj employees Jorge Mario Barrientos y Efraín García. The farmers were told that the hole being dug was their grave, and then the guards opened fire. Three people were injured and one, Óscar Reyes – a father of three – bled to death from his gunshot wounds.
On June 4th María Margarita Che Chub, a 37 year-old community leader from Parana, was shot and killed in her home by heavily-armed hit men on a motorcycle. She was murdered in the presence of her two young children. On June 14th , tractors arrived in Punto 15. The families, however, have decided to resist the illegal eviction, despite the intimidation of the mayor and the sugar company.
This tense situation could easily end in violence, as it has in other communities.
The men, women and children of the Polochic Valley face ongoing threats to life and livelihood. Much of the indigenous people of the Polochic are campesinos, people who survive by subsistence farming. Without access to land they have no income to support their families and no food to put on their tables. The government has shown, by commission and omission, that it places a greater value on the right to private property than the right to life, health, food and shelter.The Chabil Utzaj sugar company has committed heinous crimes against innocent men, women and children, all under the guise of “respect for the rule of law”.
The evictions must stop. The violence must end. The perpetrators must be held accountable for their actions.
The Guatemala Human Rights Commission urges the Government of Guatemala to:
* PUT AN IMMEDIATE END TO THE EVICTIONS, the violence and acts of intimidation directed at the 14 indigenous and campesino communities of the Polochic Valley.
* Fully investigate the deaths of Antonio Beb Ac, Oscar Reyes, and María Margarita Che Chub to determine the intellectual and material authors of the crimes and to bring them to justice.
* Guarantee the food security of the Polochic communities, especially those who have been forcibly evicted from the land and had their crops destroyed. With no food and nowhere to farm, these families face hunger, malnutrition, sickness, and starvation.
Take action now, and forward widely.