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10 de febrero de 2013 | | | | |

Polochic: “they are taking our livelihoods away”

Two years after the massacre that displaced 700 peasant families from Valle del Polochic (Guatemala): broken promises, hunger and resistance

The violent eviction at Valle del Polochic, Guatemala, of 700 peasant Mayan indigenous families to give room for the ethanol industry, which took place in March, 2011, is remembered by Swedish journalist Lina Karlsson, of the Solidarity Sweden - Latin America. What has been the situation of the evicted families ever since? Who have been the beneficiaries of the state violence ordered by President Otto Perez Molina?

Europe is the third largest ethanol consumer in the world. Agrofuels are a hit in that continent, especially due to the European Union goal of increasing the use of what they call "renewable energies".

Guatemala produces sugarcane and palm oil which are used to produce ethanol and biodiesel mixed in gasoline to feed cars in Europe and US.

The journalist Lina Karlsson, member of SAL, visited Valle del Polochic to know more about the causes and the consequences of the eviction of 2011 when the daily food crops and precarious housing of many peasant families were burnt to let Chabil Utzaj company grow sugarcane, the raw material of ethanol.

There follow the testimonies gathered there and the opinion of the Swedish journalist.
Cecilia’s food

125 of the displaced families live in 8 de Agosto community in temporary homes. The government promised to give lands to 300 families affected by the evictions; however, and despite the pressure by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, it still hasn’t complied.

Cecilia Rax Yat is one of the residents of the community. She was at her home in KeQuinich community with her five children and her husband when the police, military officers and security guards arrived.

“I’m a worker peasant woman. I depend on maize and beans, but they didn’t care about that", said Cecilia.

“They cut the crops, everything that Mother Nature had given us to eat. They threatened us when they arrived, so we decided to leave our home. They left us in the streets, without caring for the health and food of our children, what will I feed them? she wonders.

At the end of the eviction, they burnt Cecilia’s house. “All our clothes were burnt”, she added in her Mayan language. Cecilia shares her anguish brought by the fact the government has not kept its promise of giving Polochic inhabitants access to land.

In order to understand the land conflict in Polochic, we have to go to the end of the 19th Century, when Guatemala opened its doors to foreign investments. The German came to Valle de Polochic, an already populated area, and established coffee farms. Many of Polochic’s inhabitants started to work on the plantations, while many others occupied lands.

Many of the owners of the coffee farms ended up selling their lands, among others, to sugar cane company Chabil Utzaj, then owned by the Widmann family of Guatemala.

The evictions took place when the Pellas Group, the most powerful family and company of Nicaragua, bought the company in 2011. Chabil Utzaj argues that the evictions were carried out because the land had been occupied and “it was impossible to reach a solution through dialogue”.

During the six-day eviction, a peasant was murdered and several were injured. Later on, there were more attacks and two other peasants were murdered. In total, around 700 families had to leave their homes.

Most of them also lost their crops. For peasants, who live on what they produce, the loss of land and crops was extremely negative. In 2011, there was also a hunger crisis in the country. Even today, the population is suffering the consequences of the forced displacement.

Only the local police chief was found guilty for the events, but he has been already released. The armed forces who evicted the families were made up by police officers, military officers and the security forces of the company itself.

A Thriving Business

However, this is seen by the European Union as an opportunity to get new and more profitable businesses.

In early December, 2012, the EU Parliament approved free trade agreements with Central America, Colombia and Peru. All the EU members have to ratify the agreements, but the commercial part of each entered into force after deciding its approval.

The agreement implies the elimination of tariffs on products such as palm oil and sugarcane, which are used to produce ethanol.

Ethanol exports of Guatemala to Europe are expected to rise even more. It will also be easier for European companies to establish themselves in Guatemala and compete with local peasants.

The Bella Flor community resident, Samuel Q’ucur, also provided his testimony to the SAL journalist, and highlighted that the children of peasant families had to leave school due to being far away from schools.

And highlighted that the Guatemalan government has not complied with the land promises to face the food shortage while the families restart their crops.

“Free trade agreements lead to monocrops and land grabbing. There won’t be land to grow food to eat, such as maize and cassava. Monocrops also pollute the water”, said Esteban Hermelindo Cux, of the Peasant Unity Committee (CUC), member of Via Campesina, Guatemala.

“How will they escape poverty if their lands were taken from them and with that their capability and possibility of feeding themselves, their families and communities? I don’t think we are talking of development. What kind of development? They are taking our land, our livelihoods”, said Esteban.

Esteban said the struggle of the Polochic population will continue until they recover the lands and the company leaves.

The peasant leader watches the sugarcane plantation that surrounds the houses in 8 de agosto: “they could have planted maize here”, he said.

Photos and production by Lina Karlsson Solidaridad Suecia América Latina, SAL;
adapted by Real World Radio

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