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Sugarcane cultivation and oil palm plantation in Polochic valley, Guatemala

The Q’eqchi’ population has struggled since the colony period for the access to the land from which they were deprived, but they have always been severely repressed. Conflicts have been aggravated due to the oil palm and sugarcane accelerated expansion.


The Polochic is a valley of fertile lands located in the north-eastern region of Guatemala. Since 1888 their lands were privatized in farms and given to oligarch families of Germans. These families employed Maya-Q’eqchi’ families as mozos-colonos for the production of coffee and livestock care. The Q’eqchi’ population has struggled since then for the access to the land from which they were deprived, but they have always been severely repressed. The population suffered in 1978 one of the first massacres of the Internal Armed Conflict, in which 53 peasants died after claiming land access in the town square of Panzós. Conflicts for the land have been aggravated due to the accelerated expansion in the valley of oil palm monocultures in 1998 and sugarcane in 2005, property of the Maegli and Widdman families respectively, who occupy more than three quarters of their fertile land. The settling of these monocultures and the palm oil mill have also brought with them intoxications and eye diseases due to the aerial spraying of the sugarcane as well as water and air contamination.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Sugarcane cultivation and oil palm plantation in Polochic valley, Guatemala
State or province:Alta Verapaz and Izabal
Location of conflict:Tamahú, Tucurú, la Tinta, Panzós, Senahú and El Estor
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Agro-fuels and biomass energy plants
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Land
Palm oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

In 1998 Inversoras Promotoras de Desarrollo (INDESA) company owned by German family of Maegli planted 8,500 ha of oil palm and installed a palm oil mill with 60 Tm/hr process capacity which oil has been exported to Mexico, EU and US as edible oil, soaps or cosmetic.

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Project area:13900
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:220000
Start of the conflict:1998
Company names or state enterprises:Industrias de desarrollo INDESA S.A. (INDESA S.A) from Guatemala - holds by Maegli family
Chabil Utz’ Aj from Guatemala - (“Buena caña” en el idioma Q’eqchi’) holds by Pella Chamorro family of Nicaragua
Relevant government actors:Government of Guatemala, Secretaría de Asuntos Agrarios (SAA), Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería (MAGA), Secretaría por la Seguridad Alimentaria (SESAM), Alcaldías municipales, Ministerio Público (MP), Cámara del Agro, Comité Coordinador de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras (CACIF), Registro de Información Catastral (RIC), Comisión Presidencial para los Derechos Humanos (COPREDEH), Sistema Nacional de Diálogo, Corte Suprema de Justicia, Congreso de la República
International and Finance InstitutionsOficina del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos (OACNUDH)
Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Fundación Guillermo Toriello (FGT), Comité de Unidad Campesina (CUC), Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial de Guatemala (ECAP), Marcha Indígena Campesina y Popular de Guatemala, Unión Verapaces de Organizaciones Campesinas (UVOC), El Observador, Action Aids, Intermon Oxfam, CLOC/ Via Campesina Centroamérica, Edpac-Gidhs, ULAM Guatemala, Human Rights Comission, Rights Actions, Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), Caracol Producciones, Indymedia Guatemala, Coordinadora de ONGs y Cooperativas (CONGCOOP), Alianza Sector de Mujeres, Colectivo de Estudios Rurales Cer-Ixim
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Social movements
Trade unions
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Activities for raising awareness in urban zones, encuentros campesinos
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Groundwater pollution or depletion
Other Environmental impactsIncreasing pests
Health ImpactsVisible: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Malnutrition, Accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement
Other socio-economic impactsAffected population Indigenous and Rural (Maya Q'eqchi') community
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Proposal and development of alternatives:The precautionary measures granted by the Human Rights Inter-American Court (CIDH) should be accomplished in order to solve the needs of healthcare, feeding, housing and security of the evicted families.
Adjudication of lands in the valley to all the evicted families; regularization of the access to the land in the valley for the families without a title of proporty land.
Avoidance of intimidation and more evictions, and avoidance of pressures upon the evicted families through the Civil National Police, but without the use of military force.
The capture orders against the people responsible of the murdering and aggresions of peasants should be accomplished.
Avoidance of the impunity of the aggressors who are members of the PNC.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Although 140 families have been given a title of property land, and only 30 families were relocated outside the valley, the majority of the Maya-Q’eqchi’ families displaced has no land to live. Moreover, more than 80% of the communities do not have security of land tenure, placing them at constant risk of forcible eviction. Also, they continually are suffered harassment and repression by private securities. While, the oil palm and sugarcane cultivation grab almost three quarters of the valley’s most fertile land.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Alberto Alonso-Fradejas, Fernando Alonso y Jochen Dür, IDEAR-CONGCOOP, 2008, Caña de azúcar y palma africana: combustibles para un nuevo ciclo de acumulación y dominio en Guatemala

Comision de Naciones Unidas en Guatemala, 2013, Los desalojos en el Valle del Polochic Una mirada a la problemática agraria y a la defensa de los derechos humanos de las comunidades q’eqchi’s
[click to view]

Luis Solano, 2011, Valle del Polochic: El poder de dos familias. Enfoque Nº 16.

Sara Mingorría y Gonzalo Gamboa, 2010, Metabolismo socio-ecológico de comunidades campesinas Q’eqchi’ y la expansión de la agro-industria de caña de azúcar y palma africana: Valle del Río Polochic, Guatemala
[click to view]

Sara Mingorría, Gonzalo Gamboa, Berta Martín-López y Esteve Corbera, 2014, The oil palm boom: socio-economic implications for Q’eqchi’ households in the Polochic valley, Guatemala. Environment, Development and Sustainabibility

Santiago Bastos y Quimy de León, 2014, Dinámicas de Despojo y Resistencia en Guatemala: comunidades Estado, y empresas. Diakonia.

Alberto Alonso-Fradejas, 2012, Land control-grabbing in Guatemala: the political economy of contemporary agrarian change. Canadian Journal of Development Studies

Colectivo Estudios Rurales-Cer Ixim, 2013, Censo de Condiciones de Vida de las comunidades que fueron desalojadas en el Valle del Polochic en marzo de 2011
[click to view]

Luis Solano, ActionAid, 2010, El Mercado de los Agrocombustibles: Destino de la producción de caña de azúcar y palma africana de Guatemala
[click to view]

Marco Aparicio, Platera Barlett, Nuria Cortada, David Espinola, Ieva Giedraityte, Monica Gironés, Laia Haurie, Arturo Laderos, Clara Martínez y Sara Mingorría, Grupo de Investigación en Derechos Humanos y Sostenibilidad de la Catèdra Unesco de la UPC y de la asociación de Educación para la Acción Crítica (Edpac/GIDHS), 2012, Informe sobre Derechos Humanos en Guatemala (2011-2012). Mineria, hidroeléctricas y agronegocios
[click to view]

All the news related to Polochic Valley conflict published from 2011 to present in (national and international news paper and organizational comunications).
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Documental Desalojos en el Polochic (3ª parte)

Fuente: Caracol Producciones
[click to view]

Documental Desalojos en el Polochic (2ª parte)

Fuente: Caracol Producciones
[click to view]

Aj Ral Ch´och´ - Hijas-os de la Tierra - Sons of the Earth -

Fuente: Caracol Producciones y del Instituto de Estudios Agrarios y Rurales de la Coordinación de ONG y Cooperativas de Guatemala IDEAR-CONGCOOP
[click to view]

Documental Desalojos en el Polochic (1ªparte)

Fuente: Caracol Producciones

Reportaje especial de 30 minutos sobre la actual Conflictividad Agraria en el Valle del Polochic, retransmitido por Guatevisión el 29 de Mayo del 2011.

Con el apoyo de: Centro Cooperativo Sueco, ActionAid Guatemala ONG, Plataforma Holandesa contra la Impunidad, Coordinación de ONG y Cooperativas, Veterinarios Sin Fronteras, OYKOS Cooperaçao e Desenvolvimento
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Sara Mingorría
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1253
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