Take action today to support Q'eqchi families
As you read this, Maya Q'eqchi' families in Guatemala’s Polochic Valley face the imminent threat of starvation, sickness, and violence. This is the result of a series of violent -even deadly- land evictions instigated by the Chabil Utzaj sugar company, with the support and participation of the Guatemalan government. The communities watched as their crops were destroyed and houses burned.
On June 20th the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued precautionary measures (medidas cautelares) requesting that the Guatemalan government take steps to assure the health, safety and physical well being of the evicted indigenous farming communities. During the past seven months the families have had no access to land, which in turn has meant no permanent housing, no income, and no means of providing food for their children. Reports of malnutrition and illness are becoming increasingly common.
Wendy (pictured above) from one of the evicted communities, is almost 3 years old and weighs only 13 lbs. She has lost one eye and if she survives, will likely be completely blind and suffer from mental retardation from malnutrition.
Despite the IACHR’s call to provide urgent aid for the families and the worsening food and health crisis in the communities, the Guatemalan government’s response has been woefully inadequate. The Presidential Human Rights Commission (COPREDEH), the state institution charged with implementing the measures, has responded with appalling indifference to the desperate plight of the families. Instead of complying with its role as a human rights organization, COPREDEH has assumed an attitude of confrontation toward the communities and their representatives.
To date NO HUMANITARIAN AID has been delivered to the families.
TAKE ACTION to tell the Guatemalan Government to protect its citizens and guarantee the physical integrity and food security of the families evicted from the Polochic Valley.
For months, President Colom’s administration has justified its inaction by claiming that the extent of the communities’ needs wasn’t known and that the aid couldn’t be provided until a family-by-family census was carried out. After numerous delays, and under persistent pressure from human rights organizations, the census was finally completed.
The Colom administration is running out of time, and out of excuses. The government must meet the immediate needs for housing, food, medical care, physical integrity and security. Further inaction will only result in further tragedy.
In recent days, a five-month-old baby from the community “8 de Agosto” died from complications caused by malnutrition. National and international organizations, unwilling to turn a blind eye to the extreme suffering of the indigenous population, have begun to deliver emergency food supplies and medical care to the communities.
The humanitarian efforts of these civil society organizations should not serve as a pretext for the Guatemalan government to ignore its political and moral obligation to implement the precautionary measures. Nor should it be used as a reason to neglect the just and historic demands of the campesino farmers for access to land.
The Guatemala Human Rights Commission urges the Government of Guatemala to:
• IMMEDIATELY IMPLEMENT the precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. With no food and nowhere to farm, these families face malnutrition, sickness, starvation, and death.
• ACT TO PUT AN END to the violence and intimidations directed at members of the affected communities.
• FULLY INVESTIGATE the deaths of Antonio Beb Ac, Oscar Reyes, and María Margarita Che Chub, and bring those responsible to justice.
• PROVIDE LAND nearby on which the members of the Polochic communities can live and plant their crops.
Take Action to Demand that the Government of Guatemala Protect the Communities of the Polochic Valley.
GHRC is also accepting donations to support the struggle for justice for the Polochic communities. Donations will go toward traveling expenses to enable representatives of the communities to travel within Guatemala to meetings with the government and to travel to the United States to present their case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Click here to learn how to donate. Write “Polochic” in the memo line and 100% of the donation will go toward the communities.
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 Carlos Widmann, the owner of the Chabil Utzaj sugar company, 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 subsistence crops were destroyed. Farm worker Antonio Beb Ac was killed by security forces, dying from a fatal wound to the head. He left behind a wife and five children.
Over the next few days, the callous and cruel destruction was repeated in community after community.Over 700 families were left without shelter, without food, and under constant threat from the company’s private security guards. Unfortunately, the atrocities didn’t end there.
Recent Acts of Violence:
On May 21st a small group of families from the community of Canlún were tending to their crops when they noticed tractors belonging to the Chabil Utzaj sugar refinery excavating a hole in a nearby field. When they approached the site to inquire about the digging, they were met by 18 armed security guards under the direction of Chabil Utzaj employees, Jorge Mario Barrientos and 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 Paraná, was shot and killed in her home by heavily-armed hired assassins on a motorcycle. She was murdered in the presence of her two young children.
In the early morning hours of August 10th while the families of Paraná slept, approximately 30 heavily armed, masked men attacked the humble shacks where community members were living since the eviction. Their homes were destroyed, women were beaten, and their meager possessions were stolen or burned. Three community members received bullet wounds, including Martin Pec, who was shot in the stomach. While he was still in intensive care recovering from his surgery, Martin was arrested and sent to prison, despite the grave risks to his health.
On August 24th police officers pulled a member of the community of Papalha off a bus and beat him. The police told him the beating was because he was turning people against the company Chabil Utzaj, and threatened to capture him and three others.
On August 31st a 64 year old woman from the community of Quinich was attacked and beaten by four armed men while returning from the market with her family.
Learn more about the violent evictions in the Polochic Valley.
Take action now, and please forward widely.
Donate to support the Polochic communities