Date: Thu, 2 Oct 97 13:07:28 CDT
/** reg.guatemala: 138.0 **/
Campesino Protest Meets Official Indifference
Cerigua Weekly Brief, No.37, 25 September 1997
Guatemala City, September 24. Armed with machetes and sticks, thousands of peasants and farm workers descended on Guatemala City's national palace today. Smashing some of the building's lights, members of the group took the actions after no government official agreed to speak with them.
The campesinos had filed into the square peacefully, during a day-long march which took them to the Presidential Office on Land Conflict Resolution, the Agrarian Transformation Institute (INTA), the Supreme Court, and Congress.
"We want one tortilla a day to feed our children," read one banner they carried.
But after the list of demands the group read in front of the palace was again greeted by silence, tempers flared, and the machetes began to clang against the palace's lampposts and railings.
Miguel Perez of CONIC said that until today his organization had intentionally held off protesting in order to give the government time to comply with its obligations on the land issue that are laid out in the December 1996 peace accords. "But they send us from one place to another, and nothing is resolved," he said.
An hour later, an ad hoc committee representing the Secretary of State for Peace, the Presidential Office for the Resolution of Land Conflicts and the government's National Peace Fund (FONAPAZ) met with campesino leaders and calm was restored.
The march comes in the wake of evictions last week which left two campesinos dead and drove hundreds of families from lands they had occupied in Sayaxche, Peten province. The campesinos, internal refugees who in the early 1980s had fled their own properties before the onslaught of the army's counterinsurgency campaigns, decried what they called a return to the scorched earth policies of the past.
A statement on the evictions released this week by the U.N. Verification Mission (MINUGUA) confirmed that Gilberto Maaz and Miguel Domingo Xol were slain during the actions. Without drawing conclusions, the mission noted that the five bullets that killed Maaz did not come from security force weapons but that hired guns from neighboring estates had taken part in the eviction. Xol was killed by police bullets, the report stated, in what the mission termed a "case of presumed excess use of force."
At the end of the report, MINUGUA warned the government that evictions "do not constitute a lasting solution to the serious problem of social and legal security of land title" and urged the government to "implement with urgency the integrated strategy for the resolution of the agrarian situation foreseen in the peace accords."
While campesinos marched today in the capital, their comrades in Retalhuleu on the South Coast and Totonicapan to the north-west blocked major highways. And yesterday in San Marcos province, more than 100 protesters took over the office of the Interior Ministry there to demand that the peace accord on the agrarian situation be put into effect in the region.
They and other campesino groups further call for the suspension of eviction orders, the prompt resolution of boundary conflicts, and the return of lands to the indigenous families and communities who originally owned them. Groups also want the Presidential Land Office to attend all kinds of land conflicts, whether properties have been occupied or not.
Representatives of the Presidential Office have agreed to meet with campesino groups to discuss these issues October 3.
Justice Commission Asks for More Time
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