By Danilo Valladares
“We want land where we can live and grow food to feed ourselves,” said Pedro Ichich, one of several thousand indigenous farmers who marched to the Guatemalan capital to demand solutions to the ageold conflict over land.
The government of right-wing President Otto Pérez Molina met with representatives of the demonstrators this week, and they are now waiting to see what will happen.
Ichich, his wife and five children jointed the protesters on the 214-km march that started out on Mar. 19 from Cobán, in the northern province of Alta Verapaz, and reached Guatemala City eight days later, where they gathered outside the seat of government.
“We want to be where we used to live, where the blood of our compañeros was shed,” said Ichich, whose family was among the campesinos or peasant farmers who were violently evicted by police and soldiers on Mar. 15, 2011 from land in Polochic valley in Alta Verapaz, which sugarcane growers claim as their own.
Three campesinos were killed during the forced eviction of some 3,000 Q’eqchi Maya Indians.
“They left us in the street, with just the clothes on our back,” Ichich told IPS. “The police, the military and the sugar company’s private security destroyed our crops. Since then we haven’t had any work, and we have to ask people to let us spend the night on their property. So we are asking the government to do something.”
Chanting slogans like “water and land can’t be sold” and “No to evictions”, around 5,000 native campesinos from different parts of the country reached the Plaza de la Constitución in the centre of the capital on Tuesday Mar. 27.
The meeting between a delegation of protesters and Pérez Molina stretched from Tuesday evening into the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“The ball is in their court,” Daniel Pascual, a leader of the Comité de Unidad Campesina (CUC – Committee for Campesino Unity), the small farmers’ association that organised the march, told IPS. “The agrarian issue and hunger have become a focus of national debate in these nine days. I don’t think the president can ignore this problem.”
Pascual said the protesters presented Pérez Molina with a list of more than 50 demands with regard to the land problem. But they agreed to put a priority on eight issues.
These urgent questions include the demand for a subsidy equivalent to 39 million dollars to help campesinos pay their debts on land; land for the displaced communities in Polochic valley; a moratorium on mining activity; and the removal of military bases from areas experiencing social conflicts, he said.
“It’s not that we’re giving up on the rest of the issues, it’s just that this is the first set of questions that we are putting a priority on, to facilitate a response by the government,” Pascual said.
Other demands are a halt to evictions from rural property and the cancellation of operating permits for hydroelectric plants.
Read more from Inter Press Service: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=107265