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Sugarcane cultivation and oil palm plantation in Polochic valley, Guatemala


Description

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.

Many Q’eqchi’ communities have been deprived again from their lands and displaced to less productive areas. However, many of them continue sowing maize as a form of resistance and as a sole way of subsistence in the farms owned by cattle ranchers and do not hold any formal land rights.

In 2010 some families decided to occupy 13 farms that had come to auction after the economic collapse of the sugarcane mill, and asked the government to sell the farms to them. The communities settled in the fertile part of the valley suffered daily threats, intimidation and murder from the private security of the palm and sugarcane companies in order to force them to abandon the land. At the same time a negotiating table was set up with representation of both the companies and the communities, as well as of State and human rights institutions. While these meetings were being held in March 2011, through a public-private agreement 779 families from 15 communities were violently evicted by the army and the police (directed by the Widdman family), their houses were burnt, their crops about to be harvested were destroyed, and the peasant Antonio Beb Ac was murdered. Months later the peasants Oscar Reyes and Margarita Chub Che were murdered as well, and women, children and peasants were wounded by shooting from the private security.

The case of the evictions was presented to the Human Rights Inter American Commission, which replied in June 2011 forcing the government to assist to the evicted families through four precautionary measures.

In March 2012 the Marcha Indígena Campesina y Popular (Indigenous Peasant and Popular March) is organized, with over a thousand people who walked 200 km of the country. The civilian population, with the support of organizations, demanded the government to respect the precautionary measures, to adjudicate and regularize the occupied lands, and to order the capture of the responsible of the murders and aggressions. The government committed to accomplish these demands.

In June 2012 the cases of violation of human rights of the Q’eqchi’ communities were considered in the 14th Universal Periodic Review for Guatemala, from the Human Rights Council of the UN.

In April 2013 Intermon Oxfam and La Via Campesina carry out Crece-Vamos al Grano campaign, which collected 107.000 signatures from people of 55 different countries that were delivery to the president of Guatemala government in order to press him to give means for living to families evicted.

In October 2013 only 140 families were relocated on farms outside the Polochic valley without enough means to cover their basic need to live. 611 families evicted continue in the valley suffering violence and living in extreme poverty.

Basic Data

NameSugarcane cultivation and oil palm plantation in Polochic valley, Guatemala
CountryGuatemala
ProvinceAlta Verapaz and Izabal
SiteTamahú, 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)Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Land acquisition conflicts
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Agro-fuels and biomass energy plants
Specific CommoditiesLand
Sugar
Palm oil

Project Details and Actors

Project DetailsIn 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.

In 2005, the Guadalupe sugarcane mill owned by Widmann family was transferred from Costa Sur to the Polochic valley and the sugarcane cane project was then called Chabil Utz’ Aj (“Good cane” in Q’eqchi’ language). The sugarcane mill and the sugarcane plantation of 5,400 ha were financed through a loan of US$ 32 millions from Central American Development Bank for Economic Integration.

In 2009 it was the first sugarcane harvest in the Polochic valley.

In 2010, 37 farms that have been planting with sugarcane, came to auction after the economic collapse of the sugarcane mill.

In 2011, after the evictions and the economic collapse, the Pella family from Nicaragua has been the new sugarcane mil owner by purchasing the shares. Also, this family is owner of sugarcane mills and Ron Flor de Caña distillers in Nicaragua.

En 2014 the sugarcane and oil palm fruit is being harvested in the Polochic valley.
Project Area (in hectares)13900
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population220000
Start Date1998
Company Names or State EnterprisesIndustrias 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 actorsGovernment 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 Financial InstitutionsOficina del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos (OACNUDH)
Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersFundación 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

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Trade unions
Women
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
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

Impacts

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
OtherIncreasing pests
Health ImpactsVisible: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Malnutrition, Accidents
Socio-economic 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
OtherAffected population Indigenous and Rural (Maya Q'eqchi') community

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Criminalization of activists
Deaths
Repression
Development of AlternativesThe 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 as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.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 and Materials

References

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

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
http://valledelpolochic.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/estudio_polochic_final-22.pdf

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

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

Luis Solano, ActionAid, 2010, El Mercado de los Agrocombustibles: Destino de la producción de caña de azúcar y palma africana de Guatemala
http://www.actionaid.org/sites/files/actionaid/el_mercado_de_los_agrocombustibles.pdf

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
http://valledelpolochic.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/vallepolochic_mingorriaygamboa.pdf

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

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
http://edpac.org/docs/informe_guatemala.pdf

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
http://americalatina.landcoalition.org/sites/default/files/2013%20Junio%20-%20Censo%20de%20condiciones%20de%20vida%20en%20el%20Polochic.pdf

Links

All the news related to Polochic Valley conflict published from 2011 to present in (national and international news paper and organizational comunications).
http://valledelpolochic.wordpress.com/category/noticias/

Media Links

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
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2zH5Ckz1G4

Documental Desalojos en el Polochic (2ª parte)

Fuente: Caracol Producciones
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTytP058MlE

Documental Desalojos en el Polochic (3ª parte)

Fuente: Caracol Producciones
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u89aOnEaE9Y

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
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgpEvC94OM0

Other Documents

Source: https://valledelpolochic.wordpress.com Evictions in Miralvalle community 2011
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/Foto1_DesalojoMiralvalle9.JPG

Source: Gonzalo Gamboa (https://valledelpolochic.wordpress.com) Polochic valley overview: sugarcane, oil palm and maize plantations
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/DSC01944.JPG

Meta Information

ContributorSara Mingorría
Last update06/04/2018

Images

 

Source: Gonzalo Gamboa (https://valledelpolochic.wordpress.com)

Polochic valley overview: sugarcane, oil palm and maize plantations

Source: https://valledelpolochic.wordpress.com

Evictions in Miralvalle community 2011