Guatemala City, Guatemala – On Monday, April 22, representatives of the families evicted from the Valley of Polochic delivered to their government 107 thousand signatures supporting their cause: to receive land to live on and cultivate. The signatures were collected in 55 countries through an international campaign promoted by Oxfam and the Guatemalan platform Vamos al Grano (Get to the Grain).
After a large mobilization held in front of the presidential palace, in the country’s capital, the representatives of the families were received by the Minister of Agriculture, Elmer López. During the meeting, the Government acknowledged that it had not fulfilled its commitment to give land to the evicted families, a promise made one year ago, in March of 2012. The Minister said that he joins in their demands and considers them to be valid and legitimate. The Guatemalan Government also reported that it had the money and the political will to resolve the situation of these families.
The Government committed itself to seek alternative mechanisms to carry out the purchase of lands for the evicted families. It also assured them that it will offer food assistance and will apply a development policy in the Valley of Polochic in order to resolve the social conflict taking place. Oxfam and the organizations making up the Marcha Campesina, Indígena y Popular (Peasant, Indigenous and Popular March) announced that they will continue with their support actions until the displaced families finally leave the streets.
The Director of Oxfam in Guatemala, Ana Eugenia Marín, acknowledged the government´s planned emergency measures and welcomed its openness in receiving the signatures of concerned citizens over the situation of the evicted families. According to Marín, “now, both the executive and the legislative branches must find alternatives to make it possible to permanently end the situation of vulnerability of the displaced families."
A recent study published by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) in Guatemala, pointed out that the livelihoods of the displaced communities are very limited and the lack of access to land affects their future and their food security. According to the UNOHCHR, the government should comply with the agreements reached with the Marcha as soon as possible, suspend new displacements until legislation is in place to prevent forcible expulsions, and adopt measures so that the investments entailing the purchase of land do not restrict access to the land or the livelihoods of the communities.
Lack of access to land is the main cause of poverty, hunger and injustice in Guatemala. The Secretary of Agrarian Affairs (SAA) of the country acknowledged that there are 1336 ongoing land conflicts. Among these, the Polochic case illustrates the negative consequences of dysfunctional agrarian policies and food systems, which empower and protect large single crop landowners while displacing the small farmers who contribute to food security.
The land is also crucial within the framework of the Peace Agreements signed in the country between 1991 and 1996. This was recognized by President Otto Pérez Molina during the inauguration of the Global Land Forum on April 23rd in La Antigua, Guatemala. “Resolution of the agrarian and rural problems is essential and unavoidable to respond to the situation of the rural populations, which are the most affected by extreme poverty, inequity and inequality; and a transformation of the structure and ownership of land must have the goal of social inclusion,” Pérez said. “Land, to those who work it, is the basis of economic stability and social wellbeing,” he concluded.
Notes to editors
In March 2012, one year after the expulsion, and following the pressure brought to bear by the Marcha Indígena, Campesina y Popular, President Pérez Molina publically promised to deliver land to 300 of the affected families by November of 2012, to another 300 families by 2013, and to the rest by 2014. He also agreed to honor the protective measures recommended by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) in favour of the evicted families. As of April 22nd, 2013, the agreement has not been honored.
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Giovany Ujpán Mendoza
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