Four men from Finca Washington case

(Photo Credit: Lisa Rankin)

The trial against seven campesinos from the Finca Washington in Purulha, Baja Verapaz came to a close on Wednesday, September 26th. Esteban Ichich, Hermelindo Ichich and Ricardo Chun were found guilty of violent usurpation and coercion  and sentenced to 3.5 years in jail or Q5 per day for 3.5 years; Thomas Choc was found guilty of violent usurpation and sentenced to 3 years in jail or Q5 per day for 3 years; Mario Iqui was found guilt of coercion and sentenced to 6 months in jail or Q5 per day for 6 months;  Roberto Caal and Isaias Ayú were found not guilty on all charges. 

The men were accused by plantation owner Byron Thomae, who comes from a German family that was historically one of the most powerful coffee producers in the region. The community of Washington, which is settled on land historical held by the Municipality of Salama, is close the site of a proposed hydroelectric damn on the Sinaja River. The Thomae family already has another hydroelectric dam on their property, Hidro Cafetal. The family has historical benefited from repression of Indigenous communities and a system of forced labour reminiscent of the feudal system. 

Six of the seven men took the opportunity for final statements before the sentence was read. Esteban Ichich stated, “Is it a crime to live where we always have lived? Is it a crime to work day after day to provide for our family, what we walk in rubber boots and are accused by someone with money, while we live on tortillas?” The men also asked to clarify the legal title to the land, so their children will not suffer as they have. 

Ichich, Ichich, Choc and Chun have been living in the community of Washington for generations, and were represented by the Rabinal Legal Clinic. In the judge’s sentence, he recognized the historical dispossession of land in Guatemala, and the “complete disproportionate concentration of land” which “benefits few people”. He also added as part of the sentence the need for a Dialogue Table to clarify land ownership.  The sentences were the minimum for the crimes, but the Rabinal Legal Clinic is planning on appealing the decision.