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800 families fight for justice

When a sugarcane company recently decided to re-start its operations in the Polochic Valley area of Guatemala, it came across a problem: the land they wanted to build on was home to 800 families.

The solution was simple. They got their private security guards to set fire to the people’s homes and crops. Eight hundred families were driven off the land and the company was free to expand its operation.Families in the Polochic valley of Guatemala
Families in the Polochic valley of Guatemala watched as their homes were burnt and bulldozed to make way for the expansion of a sugarcane plantation, March 2011. Photos: Fundacion Guillermo Toriello.

This sort of violent land grab is becoming common place, not just in Guatemala but throughout Latin America. The people who are made homeless by these illegal actions are offered no protection from their Governments – despite a demand by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to provide food and shelter for the 800 families, no such help has been offered.

Two weeks ago, as the city of Rome exploded with protesters taking to the streets to participate in the global ‘occupy’ protests, inside the cold and clinical building of the Institute of Agricultural Development a different kind of protest was taking place.

Social movements, small farmers, fishermen, pastoralists, human rights lawyers, and NGOs from across the world had come together to defend the rights of agricultural workers against the global land grab by corporate interests.

This sort of violent land grab is becoming common place throughout Latin America.

Among those present were Gustavo Pernilla and Udiel Gonzalo Miranda Feliciano. Gustavo and Udiel work to defend the rights of small farmers in Guatemala against land grabs by giant corporations. Trócaire supports the work of both men and their organisations, the Fundación Guillermo Toriello (FGT) and the Pastoral Commission for Peace and Ecology (COPAE).

The issue for debate in Rome was one of massive importance to hundreds of millions of small farmers around the world. The Committee on World Food Security was to discuss the issue of land grabs and it was hoped that they would reach an agreement which would protect small farmers from the might of powerful corporations.

In the end, no such agreement was reached. Once again, the world’s powerful countries sat on their hands while the poor suffered. While it is hoped that the negotiations will restart in early 2012, that is far too late for families such as those recently expelled from their land in Guatemala.

The millions of farmers around the world who live under constant threat of eviction need the international community to finally speak up for them.

In Guatemala we are also working with small farmers to help them increase their produce. You can support these efforts by buying the gift of a fruit tree. This gift will supply a family in Guatemala with nutritious avocados, lemons, oranges and papaws to eat for many years to come.


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