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Date: Tue, 20 Jul 1999 15:05:58 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: DEVELOPMENT-GUATEMALA: Peace Has Not Curtailed Indigenous Poverty
Article: 70384
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.28234.19990723001539@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 425.0 **/
** Topic: DEVELOPMENT-GUATEMALA: Peace Has Not Curtailed Indigenous Poverty **
** Written 9:07 PM Jul 19, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Peace Has Not Curtailed Indigenous Poverty

By Celina Zubieta, IPS, 19 July 1999

RETALHULEU, Guatemala, Jul 19 (IPS) - After spending many years in the mountains fleeing the civil war, the Ixil and Quiche indigenous peoples now have peace, but they also have precarious housing and they lack food on their community farms El Triunfo and Mariland.

Mass displacements occurred when armed conflict in Guatemala intensified between 1979 and 1983, affecting the entire nation, as well as Mexico and other neighbouring countries.

Among the internally displaced were members of the Populations in Resistance Communities (Comunidades de Poblaciones en Resistencia - CPR) who did not participate directly in the armed conflict, but were considered guerrillas by the Guatemalan army.

With the signing of peace accords, these groups began to take part in reinsertion programmes. Some 350 Ixil and Quiche families were relocated to the El Triunfo farm in Retalhuleu, in the country's hot and humid south - very different from the high altitude and cooler climate to which they are accustomed.

Guatemala suffered 36 years of internal armed conflict which ended Dec. 29, 1996 when representatives of the government and guerrilla forces signed a peace treaty.

The civil war left a total of some 150,000 dead, 50,000 disappeared, one million internally displaced people, and 100,000 refugees. Three of every four victims in the war were indigenous people, according to the report, Guatemala: Nunca Mas (Never Again), co-ordinated by the Catholic Church.

Alex Lopez Castaneda, a 21-year-old Quiche who is a teacher in El Triunfo, told IPS that despite the situation his community suffered during the war, every Saturday he meets with people who want to learn to read and write.

On this day he is to teach Spanish to the community's youngest, in a precarious building which often serves as the community's school, attended by children ages five to 15.

For the last six months we've been waiting for the economic and material assistance the Ministry of Education offered us through the subsidy programme for displaced peoples, said Castaneda, but we still don't know when it will come or how much they are giving us.

The families who were relocated to this area did not find it easy to adapt because the fields were not as fertile as they thought, corn production was low and some fields had been flooded by heavy rains.

Now the community's savings have run out and they do not have money to buy food after assistance from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) ended June 30.

The WFP began food assistance in 1991 after signing an agreement with the Guatemalan government. A second phase of the project ran from 1994 to 1996, benefiting nearly 300,000 people.

From 1997 until June of this year, a mission for emergency food assistance provided nine months of corn, beans, canned fish, oil and salt for refugees returning to Guatemala, the internally displaced and the CPRs.

In the mountains we had beans and herbs, but here we don't have money to buy the seeds to plant them, and we don't have firewood, Francisco Santiago Zeto, another El Triunfo resident, told IPS.

The situation of the families relocated to the Mariland farm is not any better. In addition to the problems they have in common with their El Triunfo neighbours, they suffered damage caused by Hurricane Mitch last November, which resulted in the inundation of most of their land.

Experts believe it will take approximately 10 years for the land to be recovered and ready for cultivation.

Faced with this situation, 55 families have already left the farm and are negotiating with the government for a land exchange. The government already agreed, but it is not clear that they will buy another farm, commented Conrado Tum, former Mariland resident.

Some of the community's men have had to look for work on neighbouring farms harvesting coffee or sugarcane, where they are paid around two dollars per 100 kg of coffee or one dollar per tonne of sugarcane.

The WFP organised an assessment mission last May in the communities of returned refugees and displaced families to evaluate their nutritional, health, economic and agricultural production situations.

The WFP's report concluded that there is great necessity for technical assistance and agricultural training projects, including the introduction of new crops that are more profitable and more appropriate for the land available.

The organisation also emphasised projects that have potential for selling products in order to increase the community's income and reduce food insecurity, as well as searching for alternative financial resources for the projects, and credits for seeds and fertiliser.

It is essential to provide more technical assistance and self- management training, for these communities to overcome poverty, according to the WFP study, which concluded that what they need are sustainable projects in order to prevent dependence and paternalism.