#GROWWeek: Denouncing land injustice in Guatemala

Ian Sullivan

Blog post by Ian Sullivan

Oxfam Great Britain, Online Campaigner
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For GROW Week we’re bringing you a range of stories that reflects the breadth of work that Oxfam does around the world. Some of this is light-hearted, such as food calendars and competitions, and some are more serious. This diversity is one of the reasons that I’m proud to work for Oxfam.

Recently we launched our World Bank land grabs action. To show the reality of land grabs for people affected we had a hard-hitting film that was shot in Guatemala. To shine a spot light on this murky affair we supported local people to bring their fight for justice to Europe.

Below is Maria Josefa Macz’s (pictured right) story; she is the deputy coordinator of the Rural Unity Committee of Guatemala. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Oxfam.

In June and July this year I toured several European countries as the representative of the women of the Rural Unity Committee (Comité de Unidad Campesina – CUC), to share our experiences in Guatemala. Our rights are being violated by the aggressive drive to grab land for natural resource extraction, by the hydroelectric power plants and the policies imposed by successive governments.

This CUC tour was in partnership with GROW and Vamos al Grano campaigns to show the reality which indigenous communities and peoples face, and particularly the situation of nearly 800 families who have been displaced from 14 communities in the Polochic Valley since they began the evictions in March 2011. The Vamos al Grano campaign groups together more than 20 rural organizations, including indigenous people, rural women, cooperatives, research centres and NGOs. Since 2008 they have lobbied the Guatemalan government to carry out its promise to guarantee the right to food through development of small-scale agriculture.

Biofuels and Guatemala

The Polochic Valley region is situated in the North West of Guatemala, it is one of the areas which national and international investors have their eyes on for the expansion of sugar cane cultivation. In recent years Guatemala has become known as a suitable area for the production of biofuels. This has led to an increase in land grabs in the country, and the poorest communities have been most affected. The majority of those affected are indigenous rural people, women are particularly vulnerable, who lose their homes as well as their means of producing the food that they need to feed their families.

Fighting to 'live well'

Because of the situation, as an indigenous rural woman, as a mother and a leader, my visit to Europe was an enriching experience. I spoke on behalf of poor and marginalised women who aren’t given the opportunity to develop. Our fight is to 'live well'. For us this means having food sovereignty, equality between genders and ethnic groups, as well as comprehensive rural development in harmony with Mother Nature and our natural resources.

Advocating for human rights

In addition, I spoke to the European media, I had interviews with international organizations and state officials and I attended public events. I advocated for the fulfilment of the preventative measures dictated by the Inter American Commission for Human Rights on the 20th June 2011, in favour of the 14 communities of the Polochic Valley, and I spoke about the land grabs in Guatemala and the negative effects they have on the affected populations.

As a result of my trip, I hope that international organizations and people can cooperate to carry out actions which will contribute to showing the destruction which has been caused by the actions of the extractive companies and the land grabs, which destroy nature and life.

Join Oxfam's call for the World Bank to temporarily stop land deal investments