In 2011, 769 indigenous families were accused of occupying land belonging to Chabil Utzaj (a sugar mill) and evicted by force from Polochic Valley in Guatemala. Years went by and nothing came of the commitment made by Otto Perez Molina, President of Guatemala at that time, to restore the land to these families.
In early 2013, organisations such as Via Campesina, Foro de Organizaciones No Gubernamentales, the Copenhagen Initiative for Central America and Mexico and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights came together to fight on behalf of those who had lost their land. Oxfam launched a national and subsequently a worldwide campaign, exposing shocking evidence and films of families being forced from their homes and calling on the authorities to return the land.
In October 2013, 140 families were able to return to their land in Sactela and San Valentin. The campaigners and communities continued to fight and over time more land was restored. In July 2016, 81 families were able to return and in July 2018, 134 other families arrived home. While 355 families have recovered their land, 414 among the families originally displaced are still waiting.
According to Oxfam, the violent displacement of rural communities is a growing and global concern and there are more new cases than ones being resolved. As the demand for land among the agricultural and mining industries (among others) increases, governments are mostly content to ignore the suffering of indigenous communities in countries such as Colombia, Guatemala and Niger which comes as a corollary of unlawful requisitioning.
Ownership of land in many countries is concentrated in the hands of a few. By way of example, in Guatemala, 78% of fertile land is held by only 8% of the current landowners. Meanwhile, the mostly indigenous original owners have been displaced and must survive without their land and livelihood and much below minimum standards of living. The families displaced from the Polochic Valley suffer chronic malnutrition.
Guatemala and the hardship of the families from the Polochic Valley is only one example of the abuse suffered by indigenous communities stripped of their land. 355 families are back on their land but the fight on behalf of the remaining 414 must continue. The solidarity among the rural community endures; the families who have returned have said they will not stop campaigning until everyone is allowed back. The overarching objective is to redress social and economic inequalities and bring into being a Guatemala where human life is valued above assets and land.
Please see Oxfam’s “GROW” blog for more information and a video on the campaign for the families of the Polochic Valley: https://oxf.am/2ut3Ua3.