As the sun rose on the Polochic valley 525 women, men and children belonging to various communities began a twelve hour journey along mainly dirt roads to their new community in Sactelá.
Travelling in a convoy of school buses and trucks, the families took all of their belonging including the tin roofs of their previous houses, household belongings and animals such as chickens and cats.
The women, men and children belong to the 110 landless farmer families who were violently evicted in March 2011 in the Polochic Valley, north-eastern Guatemala, were re-located by the Guatemalan government to Sactelá, Cobán as part of the precautionary measure emitted by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (ICDH).
Community members holding signs (left) and participating in Mayan ceremony prior to departing. Photos: Alexis Williams
Since the eviction in 2011 Trócaire has accompanied 700 families along with our partner organisation Fundación Guillermo Toriello
with emergency support such as food, medical provisions, temporary shelter and the construction of houses for 125 families. Additionally Trócaire has been collaborating with national and international civil society organisations to lobby and work with the Guatemalan government to ensure families are provided land and dignified living conditions.
For several months prior to the re-location meetings took place between community leaders and several government institutions such as the Human Rights Office and the ministries for Transport, Water Supplies and Health to ensure that government committed to providing a minimum of basic services as recommended by the ICDH. On the day of the journey to Sactelá the families were accompanied by national and international organisations in a show of solidarity as well as observation of the process organised by the Guatemala government.
Oscar Cucul, spokesperson for the 110 families spoke emotionally of the sadness of leaving the area in which they were born to move to a completely new community. Oscar also reminded the government “that over 500 families that were evicted are still in need of land where to live”, he added that the “government should favour the families from the Polochic and not the large businesses of sugar cane and African palm”.
Families awaiting food during the journey. Photo: Alexis Williams
Unfortunately, the families arrived in Sactelá at night time to find that the conditions the government was obliged to provide, including toilets, a potable water system and road access were not fulfilled. This situation worries Trócaire, as well as several organisations including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations in Guatemala. Trócaire along with the other national and international organisations will continue to work and where necessary place pressure on the government to act immediately.
The Polochic Valley is a fertile stretch of land in north-eastern Guatemala, 50km from the Caribbean coastline. During the last few years there has been a dramatic expansion of sugar cane and African Palm driven by large land owners and multinational companies. The uncontrolled expansion has had an adverse impact in local communities who have for generations farmed in the valley. This includes rising land prices for purchase and rental (families who cannot afford to buy often rent or pay rent with the harvest of maize), increasing use of agro-chemicals and more drastically the violation of human rights through violent evictions involving the military, police and private security firms.
The re-location of the 110 families is a small victory in ensuring that the human rights of the communities are respected and enforced. However, the re-location has come at a cost as families from various communities who have a generational connection with the Polochic Valley will now live in another region of the country, obliged to begin new relationships within the community and also with neighbouring communities. Additionally 629 families still wait for the government to provide land. These families wish to remain within the Polochic Valley and demand that the government put the communities’ well-being ahead of the interests of the private companies.