24 de mayo 2011
Source: Rights Action
Indigenous communities suffer extreme repression by the Chabil Utzaj sugar cane company, which is currently taking control of vast extensions of land for expanding ethanol production. A boom in the international market for sugar cane has been created by policies promoted by the US and Canadian governments.
This area borders El Estor, where Mayan Qeqchi communities are defending themselves and their lands from the Fenix nickel mine, owned by HudBay Minerals that has, over the past five years, also generated extreme violence.
The "development" or investment onslaught that communities in the Polochic valley and El Estor are victim of is occurring in a region where the State security and justice systems are almost completely controlled by organized crime and/or large-scale landowner interests.
In early April a coalition of human rights organizations, including Rights Action, presented petitions to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights demanding that the respect for rights of Qeqchi farmers.
URGENT ACTION - KILLING OF OSCAR REYES
ON MAY 21, GUATEMALAN BIOFUEL INTERESTS AGAIN KILL AND INJURE QEQCHI FARMERS. THE US MUST STOP PROMOTING BIOFUEL EXPANSION IN CENTRAL AMERICA
Saturday, May 21, security forces employed by Chabil Utzaj sugar cane company attacked and opened fire on Qeqchi farmers near the community of Kanlun in the municipality of Panzos, killing 34 year old farmer Oscar Reyes, and gravely wounding Miguel Choc Cucul, Antonio Caal Rax and Marcelino Ical Chub.
This brutal attack is the latest in a series of aggressions against Q'eqchi' communities by the Chabil Utzaj sugar company in coordination with agents of the Guatemalan state. Cane production has proliferated in Guatemala over the past five years as the international market exploded as cane is a source of ethanol.
Beginning in mid-March 2011, Q'eqchi' villages in Panzos have suffered from an escalation in attacks and threats by biofuel interests; there is a warlike atmosphere in the area. Between March 15 and 22, 14 villages were burned and destroyed, crops razed, one farmer killed and several wounded in violent forced evictions by police, military, private security guards and paramilitaries.
Since then the violence has continued as private security guards and paramilitaries, with the tacit consent and occasional assistance by police and military forces, continue to burn homes, violently attack and threaten farmers and rights defenders, and burn homes. The threats by security guards are particularly grave given the precarious conditions of hundreds of displaced families now facing starvation and grave health problems.
Expansion of biofuel production in Central America is resulting in by producers against communities as large companies seek continuously to gain access to more land for new plantations. The Polochic River Valley in Guatemala has been particularly devastated.
The Q'eqchi farmers who were attached were working their fields on the farm known as Tzalamila, which they cooperatively own and run. It borders lands in dispute between the community of Agua Caliente and the sugar cane company. The morning of May 21 several families were working their fields when three tractors entered the community's farmlands followed by more than 30 members of Chabil Utzaj's private security forces.
Witnesses explain that when the families approached the Chabil Utzaj forces to ask what they were doing, the families saw that they were digging a 3 meter deep trench. A Chabil Utzaj employee identified by community members as Jorge Mario Barrientos (or Valiente), opened fire and ordered the security forces to open fire on the families. Some witnesses claim that Chabil Utzaj employees shouted that the trench was a grave in which they would bury the farmers.
Community leaders report that members of the Agua Caliente community, violently evicted during the third week of March, were nearby and were also pursued by the armed forces, but managed to escape unharmed. At least one employee of Chabil Utzaj was seen leaving the incident by crossing the river and was assisted by National Civil Police and members of the Guatemalan military, who transported him from the location.
The cane company is reported to employ SERPROP, a private security firm based in Guatemala City that has had close ties to the Colom administration. This past Friday, the day before the attack in Kanlun, First Lady and current presidential candidate Sandra Torres de Colom made a campaign stop in the nearby town of Panzos. Locals report that SERPROP forces provided her security and had a heavy presence in the activity.
Since the violent evictions of 14 Q'eqchi communities in March, the security forces employed by Chabil Utzaj and agents of the State have constantly intimidated and attacked the displaced communities, many of whom still live on the side of the road. Kanlun, which has a registered title to their land, had until this incident not been subject to this recent violence exercised by the company against communities in the region.
Reports of this repression include the many instances in which security forces have fired on community members, including a bullet wound suffered by Antonio Po Ac from the 8 de Agosto community during the first week of April, the destruction of crops and burning of 30 homes by private security forces in San Pablo on April 26, and an incident on May 13 in which Agua Caliente community members report that they were fired upon by Chabil Utzaj's private security forces and three helicopters circling above their fields fired tear gas cannisters. They had to throw themselves into bushes and a river to avoid being killed.
DISPLACEMENT, FEAR & POVERTY
Living conditions for the Q'eqchi families under attack are extreme. Some families live on the side of roads in makeshift shelters while the majority dispersed to find spaces in homes of extended family, most of whom already live in overcrowded and precarious conditions. Despite hunger, Chabil Utzaj forces have continued to destroy those crops they did not destroy during the March evictions. Few community members have access to health services, because they do not have the economic resources to pay for transportation and medicines. For at least one community, the nearest public health clinic in the region is inside the compound of the local palm oil company, making it impossible for them to enter and to receive appropriate care.
The communities are suffering from hunger. The Comite de Unidad Campesino-CUC, a land rights movement in Guatemala, in coordination with a neighboring community, has distributed some food aid. However, the commander of a nearby military base is reported to have threatened leaders of that community, stating that they must stop holding "guerrilla" meetings there or they would be evicted--despite the fact they hold unchallenged title to their lands.
WHAT TO DO - Calls needed
Please call the U.S. State Department (Guatemala desk 202 647-3559) and ask that the U.S. government stop backing biofuel expansion in Central America and that the Embassy condemn and demand justice for the killing of Oscar Reyes, and revoke visas for businessmen associated with Chabil Utzaj, given their participation in grave human rights violations.
Send copies to your own elected officials in the US and Canada, making clear to them, again, that there should be no 'business as usual' with repressive regimes, that that this is how the "free trade" model works in places like Guatemala.
HUMANITARIAN RELEIF - Funds needed
Rights Action is again sending emergency funds to family members of the victims - of Oscar Reyes and the injured men. To help homeless and landless families forcibly evicted in the Polochic Valley, make tax-deductible check payable to "Rights Action" and mail to:
CANADA: 552 - 351 Queen St. E, Toronto ON, M5A-1T8
UNITED STATES: Box 50887, Washington DC, 20091-0887
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