Date: Sat, 23 Oct 1999 23:16:01 -0500 (CDT)
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Massive Rural March Extracts Gov't Promises
By Celina Zubieta, IPS, 13 October 1999
GUATEMALA CITY, Oct 13 (IPS) - After walking three days, 12,000 peasant farmers demonstrated in front of the presidential palace, demanding an explanation for the "minimal progress" made in complying with Guatemala's 1996 peace agreement.
Rigoberto Monteros, of the National Indigenous and Peasant Association (CONIC), said Wednesday that the march achieved its goal of "forcing the government to receive the rural delegation and listen to rural communities."
The CONIC leader said the delegation asked the government to comply with the peace accords and "review what has been done and what hasn't." The 1996 peace treaty ended Guatemala's 36-year armed conflict that claimed an estimated 200,000 lives.
"The government says great progress has been made, but we see that advances have been minimal, especially on the issue of land ownership," maintained Monteros.
Guatemalan president Alvaro Arz£ promised to study the marchers' requests.
Tired and hungry from the three-day march, the 12,000 peasant farmers arrived Tuesday in Guatemala City to demand land ownership solutions, better wages, and compliance with labour laws and the peace agreement.
The march began Sunday, when three columns began walking from the departments of El Progreso, Chimaltenango and Escuintla, located in central, western, and southern Guatemala respectively.
Participants in the Great Mayan Peasant March included members of CONIC, the Peasant Committee (CUC) and the National Association of Small and Medium Landowners (CONAMPRO) - the three members of the National Federation of Peasant Organisations (CNOC).
Before the demonstrators arrived at the capital city's central park, across from the seat of government, president Arz£ received the delegation of rural leaders, which presented him with a document outlining Guatemala's agrarian situation.
The document demands legal titles for peasant lands, better salaries for rural workers and an end to landowners over-working their labourers.
The marchers' petition calls for a review of operations at Fonatierra (Land Fund) and at the Presidential Office for the Resolution of Land Conflicts (Contierra).
Arz£ stated that in his three and a half years in the as president it is difficult to resolve situations that have existed for more than 500 years.
"The important result of the meeting is that they allowed me to show them what the administration has done, particularly in social investment," said the president.
As far as the salary increases, the president responded, "yes we could," imitating his principal adversary in November's elections, the rightist Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), which is ahead in the polls and has as its slogan, "yes we can."
Arz£ stated that, during his term as president, the public sector received a 30 percent pay raise, while in the private sector and in rural areas, wages improved 23 percent.
Arz£ promised the peasant delegation that he would respond in two hours, after reviewing the document. But when the rural leaders returned, they were received instead by José Angel L¢pez, assistant minister of Agriculture, and Luis Felipe Linares, the Labour minister.
L¢pez proposed creating several working groups to discuss the details of the requests over the next few days.
The current minimum wage for rural workers is the equivalent of 2.50 dollars per day, but many workers say their employers do not comply with the law. Rural workers are demanding a minimum wage of 5.30 dollars per day.
Government officials committed to supporting the population affected by natural disasters (Hurricane Mitch last year, and last week's heavy rains) and to back the efforts of the Labour Ministry in following up on the labour complaints presented by rural workers.
Harvey Taylor, of Fonatierra, acknowledged in a 'Prensa Libre' newspaper interview that his organisation "has not been effective in resolving rural needs." Fonatierra has responded to just 39 of more than 500 loan requests for land purchases.
The massive march, occurring less than a month before general elections, has put pressure on the Arz£ government as it finds itself in second place to the FRG, founded by former dictator Efra¡n R¡os Montt.
One quarter of the marchers were women and 300 were children under age 10. (END/IPS/tra-so/cz/mj/ld/99)
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
May not be reproduced, reprinted or posted to any system or service outside of the APC networks, without specific permission from IPS. This limitation includes distribution via Usenet News, bulletin board systems, mailing lists, print media and broadcast. For information about cross- posting, send a message to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For information about print or broadcast reproduction please contact the IPS coordinator at <email@example.com>.