In March 2011, almost 769 families were violently expelled from the Polochic Valley in Guatemala. Their homes and crops were torched, and three people died in violence involving state and private security forces.
These families, many of them from the Q’eqchi indigenous group, have been left with neither homes nor, crucially, land – their main means of earning a living and feeding themselves. The Guatemalan government, led by Otto F. Perez Molina, has promised to provide compensation. But the land offered to these farming communities so far is wetlands – totally unsuitable for farming or habitation.
So Polochic’s displaced families are fighting back. They are demanding that the Guatemalan government returns the lands that they and their ancestors have farmed for generations. Last month, Oxfam and its partners in Guatemala launched a campaign calling on the Guatemalan government to keep its promises to those displaced from the Polochic valley.
Sadly, the Polochic case is just one example of a wave of land grabbing sweeping the developing world that has created, in the words of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a “wild west.” Across Latin America, Asia and Africa, big land deals are happening so quickly, and on such a large scale, that poor people are more vulnerable to the injustice of land grabbing than ever before.
The scale and pace of land grabbing is frightening. An area the size of London is lost every week to banks and private investors. More than 30 per cent of the land in Liberia has been handed out in large-scale concessions in the past five years. In Cambodia, an area equivalent to 63% of all arable land has been handed out to private companies. In Honduras, the toll of people killed in a land conflict in just one region has risen to over 60, and shows no sign of stopping.
That’s why Oxfam is also calling for system-wide change and better regulation of global land deals. We’re asking the World Bank, as an international standard setter that funds some big land deals and influences how land is bought and sold around the world, to put a temporary hold on its big land deals. We believe the World Bank has the power to help stop land grabs like this one. We need it to lead the fight against land grabs by freezing its big land deals, raising its standards to protect poor people and setting an example for other investors to follow.
Simple ways you can get involved
If you’ve read this blog and are now thinking, what can I do? – there are lots of ways you can get involved!1. Sign our petition to the Guatemalan government (above), demanding that it delivers on its promises and returns land to the displaced people of Polochic, so that they may live in a dignified manner.2. Sign our petition to the World Bank, calling for a freeze on big land deals.