Third in a series by Jim Hodgson
Read the second post here
Many supporters of Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking The Silence Network (BTS) and other solidarity groups across Canada know Leocadio Juracán and the organization he has been part of since 1989: the Comité Campesino del Altiplano – CCDA (Highlands Committee of Small Farmers). He took four years out (2016-2020) to serve as a member of Guatemala’s congress.
Now he is back at the forefront of efforts to protect the rights of Indigenous communities faced with expulsion from their land in the face of resource extraction or industrial-scale agriculture.
“These are communities that live in extreme poverty,” said Juracán. “The only time the state attempts to be present is only to dispossess them, to displace them and to repress them.” (In an effort to ease the poverty, the CCDA works with some of its members to produce green coffee beans for the JustUs! Coffee Roasters, a fair trade cooperative in Nova Scotia.)
On a Wednesday morning in early May, we arrived in Granada Uno, a village made up of about 25 families. The people here are Q’eqchi’, one of the larger Maya groups in Guatemala where Indigenous people make up more than half of the population. Granada Uno is in the northern part of the Uspantán municipality, which in turn is in the northern Quiché department near Chiapas, Mexico.
BTS and CCDA members walking down the hill with members of the community of Granada Uno. Photo Credits: CCDA
The community faces the rising sun from the downward slope of a mountain. Below to the left is a river, Río Santa Ana, which overflowed its banks in the wake of hurricanes Eta and Iota in late 2020. Below to the right and in front is the gravel road that brought us here; after crossing the river it continues further north to the Ixcán municipality.
For sustenance, people grow corn, beans and other fruit and vegetables. Their cash crop, like that of scores of communities in north-central Guatemala, is cardamom, the spice popular in South Asia and the Middle East. Indeed, almost all of the country’s production is exported to those areas. A century after it was introduced here by German settlers, Guatemala is now among the largest producers of cardamom in the world.
Members of BTS and the CCDA with residents of Granada Uno inspecting the fruit which grows at the base of the large frawns of the Cardamom plant. Photo Credits: CCDA
A cardamom plant, picturing its seedpods (from which the spice is made) and flowers. Photo Credit: CCDA
The families were drawn to Granada Uno in 1999 and 2000 from Q’eqchi’ communities that struggled in the aftermath of the war, said Cleto Caal, the elected community leader, in an interview. A man told them that if they paid him, they would get title to the land.
The offer was a sham: the land was not his to distribute. But by then the families had established themselves. In the decades since, they have had to protect themselves from claims by non-Indigenous families who live outside the region. In many other communities, the government has backed fraudulent claims by settlers so as to restrict Indigenous people to smaller parcels that are more distant and less productive.
“We have our fields of cardamom,” said Caal. “We have our school. We have a community development council. Thanks to God, we have our projects. We will have running water and storage tanks. When we came here, it was pure mountain. We had to bring the water up from below. It took half an hour.”
Members of the CCDA Committee in Granada Uno meet with the CCDA staff members that have travelled to the community to all become acquainted with the purpose and steps of the study. Photo Credit: CCDA
After three days, children presented drawings of their homes. Women, including three midwives, told stories of their lives in the town. An inter-generational group shared a large-scale map of their community. And together, the community proposed an action plan that they hope in the coming months will take them to a just end to a long fight for official recognition of the community’s right to exist.
Alex Evaristo Quip Coc and Maydi Yoheli Chamán present their drawings for the study to the community. | The mapmakers working on the map which represents all of the important elements of the community. | Cleto Caal, president of the community’s CCDA committee, facilitating the presentation of the community’s work and translating into Q’eqchi’. Photo Credits: CCDA and Jim Hodgson
“We’re going to struggle for the land, but we began a long time ago,” said Victoria López, eldest of the midwives. “What are we going to do? We’re going to keep trying. That’s where we are. The things we are asking for: we’re still struggling.”
The midwives from Granada Uno during group work, Victoria López centre. Photo Credits: CCDA
CCDA will work with the community to compile the reports, drawings and stories along with land and legal documents to show the relationship of the people with the land where they have been living since 1999 – or since time immemorial if you understand that all Indigenous territories in Guatemala (indeed, all of the Americas) were taken by force or threat of force in the European conquest and later.
NEXT: Guatemala’s 1996 peace accords ended the civil war, but did not set in place a process for resolving land issues. Worse, the legal strategies adopted by Indigenous communities to advance their rights have drawn criminal charges and civil lawsuits, and threats against their lawyers and even prosecutors and judges.