Friday, November 30, 2012

Indigenous and Farmworker Organizations Urge Guatemalan Congress to Approve Initiative 4084

Since this Tuesday, November 27th, indigenous and rural farmworker organizations were present in the Guatemalan Congress calling for the approval of Initiative 4048, a Comprehensive Rural Development Law. The Initiative, first introduced in Congress in February 2009, is the product of over twelve years of work by indigenous and campesino organizations. While hundreds of representatives from groups throughout the country spent four consecutive days at Congress, actions were also coordinated outside the capital to bring the country's attention to the Comprehensive Rural Development Law as a matter of national urgency. Since the Congressional session has come to an end for this year, the Initiative will not be revisited until the new year.

Approval of the Comprehensive Rural Development Law is Urgently Needed
(Original in Spanish here)

Guatemala, despite being a country whose principal economic activity depends in large part on family farming, does not have legislation in place that addresses the historic needs of rural and campesino populations.

During the last 22 years, programs that give incentives to the agro-export model have been prioritized. This includes the relaxation of import tariffs on grains and food products and the promotion of agricultural technologies and fertilizers that have had a negative impact on the Guatemalan countryside.

Furthermore, the agrarian institutional structure was weakened substantially as a result of the implementation of structural adjustment economic policies that dismantled the agencies created to strengthen the Guatemalan agricultural sector.

Given the context of institutional abandonment of the countryside, rural farmworker organizations, over the course of 9 years, have discussed, analyzed, and come to agreement on a proposal for a Comprehensive Rural Development law, the same law that upon arriving in Congress was converted into Initiative 4084. In March 2012, as one achievement of the Indigenous Campesino March, Congress committed to approve the Initiative as a matter of national urgency.

The law, which is considered to be a priority for the economy of family farmers, provides conditions that promote diversification of crops, sustainable use of land, democratization of access to and possession of land, promotion of family farming, prioritization of production for the satisfaction of basic needs, strengthening and improvement of the mechanisms for access to land, search for food sovereignty, promotion of campesino markets, promotion of agro-ecology, and attainment of buen vivir (good living) as a philosophy and practice of our ancestral wisdom that takes on strategic traits in today's world.

The principal benefits of the approval of the Initiative 4084 are:

  •  to have substantive standards that convert the topic of comprehensive rural development into a State policy, which guarantees continuity independent of changes in government;
  • the guarantee of the implementation of general guidelines for the Policy for Rural Development;
  • the establishment of a new agrarian institutional structure in Guatemala that promotes the implementation of policies, programs, and projects that contribute to the achievement of comprehensive rural development and reduction of inequality and poverty;
  • a timeless character of support to the projects that are implemented in favor of family farming and policies that give incentive to production: credit, land, education, health, and work;
  • to establish the practice of food sovereignty and the right to food;
  • the approval of the law of comprehensive rural development will represent the first step toward the definition of public policy around rural, agricultural and agrarian development, as an important part in the true fight against poverty and hunger in Guatemala.

For the above reasons
We request of the Honorable Congress of the Republic




Guatemala, November 27, 2012

Coordination of NGOs and Cooperatives (CONGCOOP)
Institute of Rural and Agrarian Studies
Sa Qa Chol Nimla K’aleb’aal (SANK)
Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA)

NISGUA has provided international human rights accompaniment through the ACOGUATE project to the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA). We are proud to continue our partnership with the CCDA in bringing their fair trade coffee from Guatemala to the US. Buy their coffee online to support NISGUA and the CCDA!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Protect pacific resistance in San José del Golfo

For the past nine months, men, women and children from San José del Golfo, San Pedro Ayampuc and their surrounding communities have maintained a constant, non-violent presence in protest of the onset of mining activities in their territories.  Beginning on Tuesday, November 13, an estimated 70 people claiming to be mine employees arrived at the site of the blockade, demanding the right to work.  The group attempted to provoke the population, and thus open the door for intervention from public and private security forces.  

Community members join arms at "La Puya", San José del Golfo. (Photo via C.P.R. Urbana)

On the afternoon on November 22, 2012, mine personnel at the front of the counter blockade in San José del Golfo began launching death threats against independent media representing the Comite de Unidad Campesina (CUC), Waqib' Kej and CPR-Urbana.  Guatemala Indymedia Collective reported that a group of aggressive mine personnel began using threatening language, moving into the designated neutral zone in order to personally yell death threats. 

The mine personnel, known locally as the "blue helmets," reportedly threatened to lynch members of the independent media and social organizations.  The aggressors stated that if aforementioned individuals and organizations continued to take photos, they would use violence against the peaceful blockade in order to enter the mine.  There are reports that the threats moved beyond immediate violence, with mine personnel warning that they would use their own recordings to identify and retaliate against those participating in the peaceful resistance.  

Testimonies from community members state there is strong evidence to suggest that those involved in the workers’ protest are being paid for their participation by Exmingua S.A., the Guatemalan subsidiary of the US company, Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA).   The communities in resistance, social organizations and the independent media denounce the participation of the company in these acts of provocation, violence and intimidation.

Press conference at which 25 social organizations pledge support for pacific resistance at "La Puya" (Video via C.P.R. Urbana)

At the time of this writing, hundreds of mine personnel, including at least one ex-military officer, continue to violently threaten the blockade in their attempts to forcefully enter the mine site.  More than 200 people continue to maintain the pacific resistance, arms linked, often singing songs and saying prayers, as the company’s strategy of intimidation and provocation moves into its eighth day.  

Please take a moment to join in demanding protection for the communities in resistance in San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc. 

For more information on repression against peaceful resistance in San José del Golfo see previous NISGUA blog post, URGENT ACTION: Activist Yolanda Oquelí attacked on her way home

With information from:

Two Political Prisoners Liberated in Santa Cruz de Barillas Case

On November 15th, the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH) announced that two more of the 11 political prisoners illegally detained during the 18-day state of siege imposed in Santa Cruz de Barillas, have been liberated due to a lack of evidence linking them to the crimes of which they were accused.  The state of siege was put in place in response to rioting following the murder of a local leader, Andrés Francisco Miguel, well known for his resistance to the Qanbalam hydroelectric dam project. While Pascual de Pascual Pedro and Esteban Bernabé Gaspar, have returned home to their families, eight political prisoners in the Barillas case remain in prison. 

Esteban Bernabé Gaspar

Pascual de Pascual Pedro

Guatemalan social movements and human rights groups have long denounced the detention of the 11 community leaders as illegal, and have maintained that their imprisonment is a direct result of the men’s opposition to the hydroelectric project.  Indeed, this recent ruling reflects the fact that the Public Prosecutor (MP) assigned to the case has never provided evidence individually linking the men to the specific crimes for which they were accused.  Notwithstanding, the proceeding judge ruled that the prosecutor has three months to present new evidence in the case.

Social and human rights organizations, family members of the accused and the political prisoners themselves continue to denounce the illegality and irregularity of the detention.  Despite ongoing persecution, including an armed attack against two of the detained while being transported to a court hearing and 33 outstanding arrest warrants for community leaders, social organizations and individuals in Barillas are encouraged by this victory and are cautiously confident in the capacity of the legal system to see that justice is done.

“The result of this hearing is of great joy for the liberated and their families.  It gives hope to all of the Barillenses who continue to suffer unjust persecution and stimulates them to fight for the dignity of people and pueblos.  We believe in the Justice System and call on the authorities to rectify their actions and commit completely to legal objectivity and the laws of the country in order to guaranty that all citizens live in peace, and that the interests of the companies do not come before the interest of the people and the country” (ADH, 2012). 

With information from:
Cascadia Solidaria