The burning and sacking of a Mayan community in Guatemala is continuing according to advocates who are seeking international support to address the problem.
According to a November 10 press release from the non-profit human rights organization, the Guatemala Solidarity Project (GSP), the Q'eqchi community of Saquimo Setaña, Cobán, in central Guatemala, has suffered, “…arson of houses, physical attacks on community members and the arrest of community leaders under false charges.”
“The criminal acts were allegedly ordered by a person who claims to be the rightful heir of Saquimo Setaña's land,” the GSP asserts. “The woman in question (Maria Elena Garcia Ical) was also able to get an eviction order issued against the community.”
The Saquimo Setaña community had purchased the land in 1997 according to the GSP, and the community has been attempting to prove their legal ownership of the land since 2007 when Ical appeared in the area, claiming ownership of the land and demanding that the Q’eqchi residents leave immediately.
Since 2007, Saquimo Setaña residents have alleged that families have been threatened, violently assaulted and had their homes burned to the ground. The primary crop of the community farmers is cardamom and they report that much of it has been stolen and that parts of the forest around the community have been cut down. Some of these actions have been committed by members of Ical’s family, according to the GSP.
GSP advocate Palmer Legare was one of the people assaulted during a confrontation with Ical’s family in 2010. He is now helping to lead the international outreach for support on behalf of the Saquimo Setaña community.
Legare asserted that the assaults against the community are still happening, even after filing official complaints and lawsuits.
“Harassment is a daily part of life,” he said. “At least 10 members of the community have arrest warrants against them on fraudulent charges. They are farmers who fear going to the market to sell their crops. Four members are in prison on fraudulent charges, one of whom, Sebastian Choc, was recently beaten severely by the police.”
The Saquimo Setaña community has joined the national Committee for Peasant Unity (CPU) which is a mainly indigenous advocacy organization. The CPU has filed a petition to the Inter American Commission for Human Rights to visit the indigenous regions to gather information on what they contend is government persecution and criminalization of protest.
Legare is also asking the international community to contact the Guatemalan Embassies and ask for justice for the Saquimo Setaña community.