Article by PBI-Canada
On May 28, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project posted on its Facebook page that Abelino Salvador Mejía Cancino, a member of the Council of Communities of Retalhuleu (CCR), suffered an attempted raid on his home by armed men wearing ski masks on the night of Monday May 25.
Then on Wednesday May 27, armed men wearing balaclavas surrounded his home and watched him and his family.
PBI-Guatemala began accompanying Abelino Mejía earlier this month, as part of the CCR, as a result of his work in defence of health, access to water and food sovereignty for local communities given the impacts caused by sugar mills in the territory.
Abelino lives in the community of Olga Marina Cuchuapán (the town of Champerico) in the department of Retalhuleu. Champerico is a port city situated on the Pacific Ocean about 225 kilometres south-west of Guatemala City.
REDSAG (the National Network for the Defence of Food Sovereignty) notes that Abelino “has championed and accompanied the struggles for the liberation of the kidnapped rivers on the South Coast by agribusiness, especially the sugarcane industry, in addition to demanding the rights to water and food of the communities affected by agribusiness that contaminates and destroys our natural assets.”
Earlier this month, Prensa Libre reported that the Ixquiyá River is the only source of water for several villages in Retalhuleu and Champerico.
Concerns have been expressed that the waterflow in the Ixquiyá River has diminished because monoculture companies have built dams to irrigate their crops.
Broader context provided by Canadian university professor
University of Regina Professor Simon Granovsky-Larsen has written: “The world is searching for cleaner sources of energy. [That has] made growth industries out of alternative energies such as hydroelectricity and biofuel, which counts sugarcane and African palm among its top sources.”
“In Guatemala, this growth has shaken up patterns of land and water usage. Guatemala is the world’s fourth largest exporter of sugar, it follows only Indonesia and Malaysia for palm oil exports and the country is the largest Central American exporter of electricity.”
“Land dedicated to sugarcane in Guatemala grew by 46 per cent between 2001 and 2012, with expansion concentrated along the Pacific coast.”
“Hydro and biofuel are intimately connected through more than the use of the same rivers. Sugarcane producers also generate electricity onsite by burning the crop’s biomass pulp, and many of the small hydroelectric dams in the Pacific region are financed by sugar companies.”
“Many local residents also take issue with the dams due to water usage, land access and pollution.”
“Sugarcane requires three times more water than corn, the primary subsistence crop grown by Guatemalan campesinos. African palm, rubber and banana plantations under expansion in the Pacific region have also diverted community water to satisfy irrigation needs.”
“Due to a shortage of water, plantations have begun ‘stealing’ water, in the words of people from surrounding communities: diverting river routes, mechanically extracting river water and drilling deep wells.”
“Violence against those engaged in water battles on the Pacific coast has not been as extreme as that seen around Canadian mines, but the movement has experienced repression.”
PBI-USA joins with PBI-Guatemala in expressing concern about the security situation for Abelino Mejía.