{"code":"24759","sect":"Centroam\u00e9rica","sect_slug":"centroamerica","hits":"788","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/en\/202008\/centroamerica\/24759","link_edit":"","name":"Indigenous Communities in Guatemala Push Back Against Government Land Grabs","slug":"indigenous-communities-in-guatemala-push-back-against-government-land-grabs","info":"After decades of struggle and legal conflicts, Guatemala\u2019s Constitutional Court has finally granted three Indigenous communities legal ownership of their traditional communal lands. The court has also ordered the Guatemalan government to recognize the communities\u2019 rights and status as Mayan people. In a country where land ownership claims are plagued by legal uncertainties, residents are celebrating this historic victory while remaining skeptical of its enforcement and fearful of possible reprisals.","mtag":"Inequality","noun":{"html":"Kimberly L\u00f3pez","data":{"kimberly-lopez":{"sort":"","slug":"kimberly-lopez","path":"kimberly_lopez","name":"Kimberly L\u00f3pez","edge":"0","init":"0"}}},"view":"788","pict":{"cms-image-000034323-jpg":{"feat":"1","sort":"34323","name":"cms-image-000034323.jpg","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034323.jpg","path":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000034323.jpg","back":"","slug":"cms-image-000034323-jpg","text":"<p>Community assembly in Nebaj, Quich\u00e9. Photo: Plaza P\u00fablica.<\/p>","capt":"\u003Cp\u003ECommunity assembly in Nebaj, Quich\u00e9. Photo: Plaza P\u00fablica.\u003C\/p\u003E"}},"pict_main__sort":34323,"date":{"live":"2020\/08\/28"},"data_post_dateLive_YY":"2020","data_post_dateLive_MM":"08","data_post_dateLive_DD":"28","text":"\u003Cp\u003EThis story was originally published in Spanish by \u003Ca href=\"https:\/\/nomada.gt\/identidades\/guatemala-rural\/3-comunidades-vencieron-a-las-municipalidades-que-intentaban-usurpar-sus-tierras\/\"\u003EN\u00f3mada\u003C\/a\u003E.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThis year, three Indigenous communities have won the support of Guatemala\u2019s Constitutional Court in their struggles to gain legal ownership of land they have lived on for generations.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EMany Indigenous communities in Guatemala exist under protections afforded by their ancestral rights to territory. In some cases, the state officially recognizes the communal legitimacy of landholdings, meaning the property is registered within a legal framework that acknowledges it as belonging to a group of people with specific cultural characteristics. In such cases, it is unlawful to divide these communal landholdings since doing so would jeopardize a community\u2019s ability to maintain its identity and cultural integrity as a people.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E \u003Cfigure class=\"pict pict_land pict_move_posc 0 cs_img cs_img--curr rule--ss_c\" data-shot=\"pict\" data-hint=\"pict\"\u003E \u003Cdiv class=\"pict__pobj text-overflow\"\u003E\u003Cimg src=https:\/\/elfaro.net\/get_img?ImageWidth=1197&ImageHeight=798&ImageId=34323 class=\"pobj\" style=\"max-width: 100%\" rel=\"resizable\" alt=\"Community assembly in Nebaj, Quich\u00e9. Photo: Plaza P\u00fablica.\" \/\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E \u003Cfigcaption class=\"pict__text cs_img_caption folk_content typo_buttons line--ss_s0c line--ss_s0c--auto block full-width text-overflow rule--ss_l relative\"\u003E \u003Cdiv class=\"__content block-inline full-width align-top tint-text--idle relative\"\u003E Community assembly in Nebaj, Quich\u00e9. Photo: Plaza P\u00fablica. \u003C\/div\u003E \u003C\/figcaption\u003E \u003C\/figure\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn Guatemala, however, the state itself, and specifically the local municipal authorities, often disrespect these rights. Such is the case in the communities of Morola, Jocot\u00e1n, and Nebaj, where residents have long fought for legal recognition of their ownership over large swaths of land expropriated through fraudulent record keeping practices.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EWithout legal certainty of land ownership, explains archaeologist, anthropologist, and Rafael Land\u00edvar University researcher Diego V\u00e1squez Monterroso, Indigenous communities are left to contend with racism in all of its various expressions:\u00a0 institutional (from mayors and other local government authorities), economic (from local Ladinos and foreign businessmen), cultural (the non-recognition of their very existence), territorial (the theft or expropriation of their legitimate property), and political (the non-recognition of their legitimate traditional authorities).\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe following three cases have one clear thing in common: communities in a fight for land and against racism.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003EMorola: Narcotrafficking and a community at risk\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe Ch'orti' Mayan community of Morola is located roughly 236 kilometers from Guatemala City, in the municipality of Camot\u00e1n, Chiquimula.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EUntil June of this year, residents lived on plots of land they had owned since 2011 but which municipal authorities refused to acknowledge as legitimately theirs. \u201cThe struggle has been worth it,\u201d says Isabel Jer\u00f3nimo, a Morola community member and participant in the land struggle.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe conflict began in 2014, says Jer\u00f3nimo, when the then mayor appointed a community assembly representative who began conducting decision-making in deceitful and illegitimate ways.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThis new representative convened an assembly and then called for a vote on dividing up community territory, despite the fact that the land was legally protected from such subdivision under Guatemala\u2019s special communal framework for Indigenous land holdings. He succeeded in obtaining the required votes by stacking the assembly with people from outside the community, successfully greenlighting the subdivision of 21 community fincas.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cSome people agreed to sell their plots because a lot of families had borrowed money from the families of narcos, and were deep in debt, so they had to sell their land. Those 21 fincas were the first parcels to be broken up but in reality more have also been sectioned off. All told there are about 150 properties that were split up,\u201d explains Rodimiro Lant\u00e1n, a member of the Coordinator of Associations and Communities for the Integral Development of the Ch'orti' People (COMUNDICH) who has been following the situation since it began.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe reason these tracts of land have garnered so much interest has to do with the location of the community. Morola is situated in a blind spot on the border between Guatemala and Honduras, and has become a strategic point along smuggling and drug trafficking routes.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EOn June 11, 2020, the Constitutional Court ordered Guatemala\u2019s Registro de la Propiedad to cancel the registration of all subdivided lands, reaffirming the right of Indigenous communities to decide how to manage their own territories. \u201cThis is a historic achievement for our communities. We were desperate after having been dismissed for so long by government officials, after suffering discrimination, defamation, attacks, and even murder,\u201d says Jer\u00f3nimo, one of the residents at the fore of the land struggle.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EBut joy is not the only emotion pervading the community.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn their annual report from 2015, the Guatemalan Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit (Unidad de Protecci\u00f3n a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos Guatemala, or UDEFEGUA) warned of the dangers faced by land defenders in Chiquimula. In just the last five years, Isabel Jer\u00f3nimo says, she has lost five compa\u00f1eros.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cWe\u2019re really concerned because we\u2019re a pretty small community and the forces we\u2019re up against are so great, and we know that these are people who don\u2019t deal in dialogue\u2014they deal in violence.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003EConfronting a hydroelectric monster\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EA few kilometers from Morola, in Jocot\u00e1n, other Ch'orti' communities have just learned of a historical legal decision that promises peace, but also inspires fear.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe municipality of Jocot\u00e1n, Chiquimula, is located 197 kilometers from Guatemala City. A group of Maya Ch\u2019orti\u2019 villages here\u2014Las Flores, Ingenio, Guaraquiche, El Matazano, Suchiquer, Guareruche and Pelillo Negro\u2014have declared themselves victors in a legal battle over the ownership of 635 caballer\u00edas of land (28,575 hectares).\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn 2011, Guatemala\u2019s Ministry of Energy and Mines authorized permits for the construction of El Or\u00e9gano Hydroelectric Plant in Jocot\u00e1n, a project owned and operated by Desarrollo de Generaci\u00f3n El\u00e9ctrica y Manejo de Recursos Naturales \u201cLas Tres Ni\u00f1as,\u201d S.A.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\"The project proposed building a 120-meter-high dam across the only river in Ch'orti' territory. We objected to the proposal and the Ministry of Environment sided with us and decided not to approve the environmental impact study for these hydroelectric projects,\u201d says community representative Omar Jer\u00f3nimo.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EYears later, the Jocot\u00e1n municipal government granted a portion of the Ch'orti' communities\u2019 land to the hydroelectric company for use under terms of usufruct. The communities were never consulted about the decision, despite owning the land.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ESince 2000, the municipal government has been registered as the sole owner and manager of the land. This claim was nullified, however, after the Constitutional Court\u2019s decision on July 23, 2020, which upheld the community\u2019s assertions of ownership.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn its ruling, not only did the court recognize the right of the Ch'orti' communities to about 600 caballer\u00edas of land (2,700 hectares), it also affirmed the official existence of the Ch'orti' people, a fact long denied by municipal authorities. Denying the very existence of Indigenous groups, according to anthropologist Diego V\u00e1squez, is a tactic used by many municipal governments to make discretionary use of community lands.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cIn many cases, the Ch'orti' are a minority living across a large geographic area. Ladinos and mestizos in the region use this minority status to subordinate the Ch'orti' economically and exploit them as workers, but also to assert their non-existence as justification for appropriating community property,\u201d V\u00e1squez explains.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EOn the one hand, communities are celebrating the historic Constitutional Court ruling, which recognizes both their property rights and their very existence as Ch'orti' people. On the other hand, many fear that the decision will bring yet more criminalization of their communities, as well as more violence and attacks.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cIn this country,\u201d says Jer\u00f3nimo, \u201cthe violence makes it so people often just end up letting companies stay in their communities. This has not been the case in Jocot\u00e1n.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe struggle to enforce the court\u2019s resolution has only just begun, she says. \u201cIt will require that [the municipal government] obey the constitutional authority of the court, and under the last two governments we\u2019ve seen a total disrespect for court rulings.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003ENebaj reclaims 45,000 hectares of land\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EOn June 16, 2020, twelve Indigenous communities in the municipality of Santa Mar\u00eda Nebaj, Quich\u00e9, were also celebrating a resolution returning their ownership rights to over one thousand caballer\u00edas of land (45,000 hectares). The ruling was the culmination of a community struggle that began in 2013.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe abuse and misuse of community land in Nebaj date back to the time of the armed conflict, when inhabitants of the village of Tzalbal fled their homes to escape the war. During these years of exile, the then mayor of Santa Mar\u00eda Nebaj, Jacinto de Paz P\u00e9rez, allegedly signed a public deed that ceded a portion of the community\u2019s landholdings to various municipal residents and members of the Ixil community. It was a fraudulent transaction that resulted in a decades-long struggle to recover these 33 caballer\u00edas (1,485 hectares) lost during the war.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EJuan Castro, a lawyer with the Bufete para Pueblos Ind\u00edgenas, a law firm that defends Indigenous rights, has followed the case closely. \u201cWhat the community wanted,\u201d Castro says, \u201cwas to reclaim the 33 caballer\u00edas of Tzalbal land, but we knew that the municipality of Nebaj and some nearby residents owned everything. We realized that it was the Indigenous representatives who represented the community, but in 2010 the municipal government removed community members\u2019 names from the land titles, leaving the property in the hands of the municipality.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EOn June 16, 2020, the Constitutional Court ruled in the community\u2019s favor and ordered that land rights be returned to the villagers of Nebaj.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThroughout the whole process, government agencies involved have acted unfavorably toward the residents of Nebaj. Indeed, according to Castro, starting in 2012, Guatemala\u2019s Land Fund and the Secretary of Agrarian Affairs began threatening Indigneous communities with eviction. On top of that, he says, congressional representatives like Estuardo Galdamez have tried to intervene in the struggle over ownership, making promises to residents or threatening them with blackmail.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ECastro says that enforcing this historic ruling won\u2019t be easy given all the economic interests at play.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cIt\u2019s important to recognize that there is a larger structure behind these individual situations. For more than 100 years, communal lands were kept intact, but lately, and with the arrival of extractive industries, it\u2019s easier for companies to negotiate with a mayor than with a whole community,\u201d he says.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E***\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn a country where questions of land ownership are plagued by legal uncertainties, these recent court rulings represent a significant victory for Guatemala\u2019s Indigenous communities. According to Diego V\u00e1squez, \u201cthe problem with not having resolutions like these is that local and regional authorities often use racism to impose pseudo-legal criteria that dismisses the rights of Indigenous communities, their representatives, and their claims to the land.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIndeed, even their very existence.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E*Translated by Max Granger\u003C\/p\u003E"}