On May 30, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project posted on its Facebook page: “Today [at] around 8:45 in the morning, armed men, supposedly belonging to the private security of the Byron Thomae farm, broke into the [community of] Dos Fuentes, [in the municipality of] Purulha [in the department of] Baja Verapaz and shot and wounded in arm a 15 year old from the community.”
Dos Fuentes has been described as a Mayan Poqomchi community and Purulha is situated about 150 kilometres north-east of Guatemala City. The teenager has been identified in the media as Bernardo Manuel Laj.
Leocadio Juracán from the Altiplano Peasant Committee says the incident is related to people who claim to own the land and highlights: “The State has not had the capacity to clarify the situation [of land ownership and title], so there is the dispute for many years against peasant families, they have destroyed and cut their crops, two years ago there was a murder of a peasant.”
PBI-Guatemala adds: “PBI accompanies the community of Dos Fuentes, part of the CCDA [Campesino Committee of the Highlands] Verapaces. It is a neighboring community of Washington, which was evicted in early April 2020 by the private security groups of the aforementioned farmer [Byron Thomae].”
CCDA Verapaz, which has been accompanied by PBI-Guatemala since July 2018, posted on their Facebook page: “CCDA Verapaz repudiates the acts of constant intimidation, criminalization, assassination attempts, attempted extrajudicial violent evictions, and destruction of crops, made against the community…”
The Verapaz Union of Campesino Organizations (UVOC), which PBI-Guatemala has accompanied since 2005, also issued a condemnation of the attack.
PBI-Guatemala highlights: “We express deep concerns about attacks on rural communities and their right to land by non-state actors, especially in the current context of risk due to the situation of increasing economic and health vulnerability of rural and indigenous communities in the framework of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
At least 1,000 land conflicts in Guatemala
The Guardian has reported: “A peace agreement in 1996 should have led to land redistribution, but a handful of powerful families still dominates the economy, and Guatemala remains one of the world’s least equal and most violent countries, with the largest 2.5% of farms occupying more than 65% of the land.”
“Economic integration forced on Guatemala by the US and global bodies have further opened the country to foreign-backed mining, hydro and other extractive industries, forcing more evictions of indigenous peoples and leading to more violence and inequality.”
“According to the NGO Udefegua, which monitors official records, there were 483 serious acts of aggression against people fighting for their lands in 2017. More than 300 evictions have been registered in 2018.”
Thar article adds: “Mario Minera, former head of mediation at the government’s ombudsman’s office, said there were at least 1,000 land conflicts raging in Guatemala. ‘The whole country has been opened to concessions for mining, sugar cane, palm oil to provide exports. Rivers have been diverted others are drying up. Access to land and water is denied.’”
For additional context, please see the PBI-Guatemala report We Defend Life! The Social Struggles in Alta Verapaz that examines the struggle related to Guatemala’s deepest structural problem, access to and control of land and territory, within the one department of Alta Verapaz (situated on the northern border of Baja Verapaz).