CCDA and BTS Members on Participatory Research Delegation

Members of the CCDA and BTS travel to Macho Creek to learn community members’ ties to the land. Photo credit: Raphael Freston

By: Raphael Freston, a cooperant with the Highlands Small Farmers Committee (CCDA)

Shifting Seasons

Come April, fireflies flit through San Lucas Tolimán at dawn. Community members say their apparition heralds the start of the rainy season. Sure enough, since their arrival, the afternoon sky almost invariably fills with grey clouds. Rumbles and roars announce the deluge about to be unleashed. Torrential showers and thunderbolts dazzle the senses. The heavy downpour pounds deafeningly onto the aluminum tinned roofs. The steep streets of Quixayá – where the CCDA has its main offices – fill with rapid water flowing towards the valley’s base.

These exuberant forces of nature, fortunately, did not coincide with the coffee harvesting season. Due to climate change, the harvest was late this year. Luckily, producers finished harvesting before the rainy season began. Since rains can destroy the harvesting and drying process, these climate changes represent a risk to local producers. 

Six enormous containers of Café Justicia stand ready for export, mostly to Canada. These exports are managed by the CCDA’s commercial branch. The returns on these shipments are vital to helping small coffee farmers. Thus, the CCDA innovates constantly to ensure the quality of the coffee production process.

One key investment the CCDA has made in the production process is the creation of an organic bio-factory. There, producers compost coffee cherry skins with cow manure, dry leaves, and eggshells in greenhouses, turning waste into a source of life. The CCDA redistributes the organic material produced to cooperative members. This organic matter feeds and enhances their soil and thus allows farmers to avoid using chemical fertilizers.

Piles of coffee peels being composted for reuse in building soil. Photo credit: Raphael Freston

A Season of Political Campaigns

With political campaigns in full swing for presidential, legislative, and local elections, the CCDA faces a momentous task: placing campesino and Indigenous interests firmly on the public political agenda. I had a firsthand view of these efforts at last month’s Extraordinary National Assembly. There, the CCDA discussed the current political scenario, with a focus on four key axes: labour rights, rural development, land reform, and human rights. 

Leocadio Juracán provides CCDA perspective in Extraordinary Assembly

Leocadio Juracán provides CCDA perspective in Extraordinary National Assembly, Photo credit: Raphael Freston

The situation seems dire. Candidates rarely mention these issues, which affect the majority of the country. Instead, politicians employ an anti-human rights discourse to attack Indigenous and campesino rights. They defame communities working to defend their lands as delinquents. With issues of violence and security paramount in the public consciousness, candidates use this discourse to criminalize land defenders. 

The state has been the locus in which three nefarious forces have merged: transnational corporate interests (which loot the country’s resources and commit tax fraud), the military (which colludes with narcotraffickers and organized crime), and state functionaries (which are mired in corruption and protected by impunity). Thus, state services are ramshackle and rife with corruption. 

Neydi Juracán presents analysis during Extraordinary National Assembly, photo credit: Raphael Freston

In light of this state of affairs, the national assembly took some time to probe each of the twenty-four presidential and vice-presidential slates. Each time they asked: Do campesino and indigenous demands fit in with this or that candidate? Most of the candidates’ names elicited a categorical “no.” This was especially true for candidates who were leading the polls, including large landholder, Carlos Pineda, and Zury Ríos (daughter of genocidaire Efraín Ríos Montt), among others.

Land Defense Continues Forward

While the electoral context has affected the CCDA’s organizing, they continue to directly support communities defending their homelands. Last month, BTS member Jim Hodgson, a team of CCDA staff, and I visited the Macho Creek community on the Atlantic seaboard. The community is seeking to attain land recognition and security, while living in terror of land-grabbing finqueros (plantation owners) and their death squads. 

Countryside view seen along journey

Views from the long journey to Macho Creek, Photo credit: Raphael Freston

Our visit was heartwarming. The community received us with open arms and teary eyes. Our team split into different tasks to engage with the many children, women, men, elders, and leaders, in a short period of time. They shared their memories of their ancestors, their surroundings, and their experiences of violence since the 1970s. Together, we are documenting and weaving their stories, which serve as a formidable argument in their land claim. As Q’eqchi’ people, their land is inextricably linked to their culture and livelihood. By invoking ancestral and historical rights, we hope for a favourable outcome in international courts.

We also received visits from members of the Nueva Jerusalén community in Escuintla. Nueva Jerusalén is facing eviction proceedings for so-called illegal possession. The community has endured violent police incursions, which have displaced them from their homes for months at a time. This state violence is based on fantastical claims. The person who claims to own the land where the community is based has only shown papers that indicate an adjacent piece of land, which is a sugar plantation owned by one of the country’s biggest producers. While carrying out eviction orders based on these questionable claims, the police have ransacked community members’ homes and accused non-existent people of crimes. The police then use the confrontations they have created to bring real charges against community members. The CCDA, which has accompanied the community since 2017, has appealed to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to get an injunction for protective measures.

CCDA continues to do impressive work to further land reform to campesino and indigenous communities of Guatemala. Though the current political discourse largely ignores or criminalizes these precarious and vulnerable conditions, the CCDA continues to play a major role in bringing this discussion to the public. Let us hope the ‘teardrops’ from the sky are not portents of a gloomy future, but rather are watering the seeds the CCDA has planted.