Evictions and violation of the rights of indigenous communities continues

In Guatemala, the conflict over land tenure is a historical and structural unresolved problem, which often culminates in evictions of indigenous and peasant communities, undermining the ancestral rights of these communities and violating basic human rights. According to the organization Cristosal, in 2022 the Government of Guatemala evicted 85 indigenous communities. In the first half of 2023, evictions have continued, especially in the departments of Alta and Baja Verapaz, despite the fact that the main document that establishes international standards on evictions, Annex I of the Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, as part of the right to an adequate standard of living, in its point 49 prohibits them in an electoral context.

Specifically, PBI followed up on various cases, through accompaniment of the Union of Campesino Organisations for the Verapaces UVOC and the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA) of the Verapaces:

  • Attempted eviction of the Nuevo Paraíso community (Cobán, Alta Verapaz): on April 21, 2023 we received notice of an attempted extrajudicial eviction of this community by armed individuals, presumably linked to the company Agro Palmito RL. Although alerted by both the community and PBI, the National Civil Police (PNC) did not come to help.
  • Threat of eviction of the Lajeb Kej community (Tucurú, Alta Verapaz): in May 2023 we received notice of a threat to evict the community from their ancestral land that is being disputed by farmers and other private actors. In the end, the eviction was not carried out. However, the eviction order is still in force.
  • Attempted judicial eviction of the Canasec community (San Juan Chamelco, Alta Verapaz): on June 7, 2023 we received the emergency notice for judicial eviction of this community. In the end, the eviction was not carried out due to non-compliance with the protocol that foresees that relocation measures are guaranteed for the affected families. However, the eviction order is still in force.

In response to this problem, in March 2023, PDF icon an independent fact-finding mission of international human rights lawyers traveled to Alta Verapaz to meet with indigenous communities, civil society organizations and government representatives to understand the structural causes of rural violence. The lawyers observed widespread criminalization stemming from private landowner claims against communities and a lack of legal, institutional and practical recognition of the collective rights of indigenous communities, including the right to decide on the use of their lands and resources, as well as the failure of the State to prevent the use of force and illegitimate violence against indigenous families and rural communities, especially during evictions.

On 19 July, some 130 families from the Kumatz returnee community in Huehuetenango were violently evicted by more than 2,500 PNC agents.The dispossession of land from indigenous populations in this region is long-standing and has occurred systematically due to the expansion of oil palm cultivation and extractive activities.The evicted families are of Q'anjob'al, Akateko and Chuj Mayan origin and are survivors of the CAI and descendants of displaced people who were forced to leave their lands at that time to seek refuge in Mexico. They have now returned to recover both their ancestral lands and the remains of their murdered relatives. Some of these people are elders who claim that their names are registered on the land deeds and that this was the reason for their return. According to the MP, the Public Prosecutor's Office against Usurpation Crimes also participated in the eviction process, with the aim of recovering and handing over the property (the Sargento y Nubila farm) to the presumed owner. The creation of this office was pushed for by the Property Rights Observatory, created by the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF) a year ago.

As a counterbalance to this bleak picture, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) condemned the State of Guatemala for having authorised operations of the Fénix mine on property belonging to Maya Q'eqchi' communities in El Estor, Izabal. The Court ordered the state to hand over land titles to the Q'eqchi' people and to consult the communities about the mining project that has been operating in the area for more than 50 years.The lawsuit was filed by the Agua Caliente Lote 9 community, which requested reparation from the state for having violated their rights "in the face of agrarian policy and extractive industry projects in their territories", as well as the lack of legislative and administrative measures by Guatemala, such as the registration of their purchased lands with the municipality, to ensure their territorial and self-governance rights.This case is rooted in the long history of dispossession suffered by Guatemala's original peoples, as explained in the following paragraph: "The municipality of El Estor summarises in its lands a good part of the dispossession of the last centuries in Guatemala. (....) its original inhabitants were dispossessed by the government of Guatemala (...) its original inhabitants were dispossessed by the government of Guatemala (...). ) its original inhabitants were expropriated in the mid-nineteenth century to locate an establishment (The Store) for the trade of coffee and other goods from the Alta Verapaz area to the Caribbean Sea through Lake Izabal (Grandia, 2010; Vásquez Monterroso, 2020, AVANCSO, 2021). One hundred years later, the military governments ceded the territory to the Canadian company Inco for the exploitation of nickel through the company Exmíbal (Exportadora de Mineral de Izabal). Thus began the trail of death and repression that has continued to this day.