Earlier this month I visited several Mayan communities in Guatemala as part of a human rights delegation with the Guatemalan Solidarity Project. I am still processing the experience (and the photos). The concept of land occupation becomes easier to understand as I learn more about this country’s complex history of land ownership and violence toward indigenous Mayan communities.
The first community we visited was Ocho de Augusto. In 2007, a group of families noticed that land was lying dormant at what used to be a state owned agricultural extension farm. Like many poor landless indigenous groups, they decided to occupy the land and then enter into negotiations with the government in an effort to gain legal title. Despite a moratorium on evictions during periods of negotiation, the families here were violently evicted without notice in March 2011. Police stood by and watched as homes were burned and crops were destroyed by private workers hired by Chabil Utzaj, a large neighboring sugar cane plantation. Even though Ocho de Augusto is on state land, they were evicted along with 13 other communities that were occupying Chabil Utzaj land.
Now the people of Ocho de Augusto have returned to the land. They have replanted their corn and are busy rebuilding their homes. I am struck by their courage in the face of known and unknown enemies. I am unsettled by the risks the families take, especially with young children. I am equally disturbed by the actions of the government and large corporate plantations in the presence of these children.
This is only one example of the many communities that are currently risking their lives to re-occupy or gain title to land that they are occupying.
More information and images will be uploaded to this project gallery soon.