Following my recent editorial letter published online by the Seattle Times, I want to help make available some new documents prepared by Resistencia de los Pueblos, a collective of Guatemalan community members and activists accompanying their campaigns for the defense of indigenous and campesino territories and the recuperation of historical memory.
The first resource is a pamphlet titled “¡Tenemos palabras que compartir!” (“We have words to share!”) which collects editorial comments as well as primary documents related to the struggles of communities in the regions of Laguna del Tigre, the Sierra Lacondona, and the municipalities of La Libertad and San Andrés, Petén. These communities, displaced by war and poverty and abandoned by state institutions, are threatened with eviction and further dislocation due to their location within Protected Areas and regions destined for mega-development projects including hydroelectric dams, oil extraction, and eco-tourism. The pamphlet includes copies of Freedom of Information requests and other documents submitted to the Guatemalan government by community representatives; a manifesto published by the delegation of more than 100 communities which came to Guatemala City in September of this year to proclaim their reality and demand respect for their collective rights in front of Congress and government representatives; and a summary of a recent Observation Mission carried out in the region by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala. Members of the human rights accompaniment organization which I work with also attended this Observation Mission, and have described the situation of extreme precariousness and vulnerability in which these communities live, amidst an atmosphere of militarization and state support for capital-intensive mega-development projects which generate little benefit for local communities. Recent years have seen the eviction of entire communities as well as individual families by military and police forces, with no plans for relocation of the affected.
The second resource is a beautiful and disturbing map revealing the extent of development projects planned for the region, including zones of oil extraction, hydro-electric dams, and military bases. It is important to note that many of these projects overlap with or border on Protected Areas. In addition, the development of hotels and other tourist infrastructure is planned in other Protected Areas such as El Mirador. It is also likely that this map will be updated in the future to reflect the presence of these and other projects such as African palm and sugarcane mono-crop plantations. Such projects inevitably carry environmental and social impacts, and with a total absence of consultation or consideration of the development priorities of local communities, the state has opted to criminalize impoverished rural populations in the Petén. Instead of being the beneficiaries of and participants in plans for integral development, communities are seen at best as cheap labor for projects which produce massive profits for transnational corporations; at worst they are seen as barriers to economic development, opening the way for violations of human rights when they are targeted for displacement.