The Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project published a 64-page report titled We Defend Life! The Social Struggles in Alta Verapaz.
In the introduction to the report, PBI-Guatemala notes:
“Alta Verapaz (AV) is a department characterized by difficult realities and deep contradictions: it has the highest number of conflicts over agrarian issues and a record number of evictions; it has the highest rates of poverty and, at the same time, it has a great wealth of natural goods. Furthermore, in 2018 it was one of the departments with the highest number of attacks and murders of human rights defenders.
PBI Guatemala supports various Guatemalan organizations and social movements who defend human rights across its three thematic approaches: the fight against impunity, access to land, and the defense of the territory. Four of these organizations are located in AV: the Union of Campesino Organizations for the Verapaces (UVOC), the Chicoyogüito Neighborhood Association of Alta Verapaz (AVECHAV), the Peaceful Resistance Cahabón and the Community Council of the Highlands – Las Verapaces (CCDA). As such, PBI can address concrete situations of struggle related to Guatemala’s deepest structural problem, access to and control of land and territory, within the one department.
The indigenous peoples and campesinos of AV have been subjected to continuous dispossession dating back to the Spanish conquest when the looting of natural wealth in the region began through the exploitation of raw materials. Following independence from Spain and the subsequent liberal reform, coffee production was promoted in this territory and, at the same time, legislation was created that forced this population to work in slave-like conditions, as mozos colonos (a colonial figure akin to serfs), to supply the labor needs of the coffee farms.
Faced with this history of dispossession, the indigenous and campesino population has organized multiple resistances throughout history. …The State’s response to these resistances has been characterized by repression. Indigenous peoples in Guatemala have suffered genocide and other crimes against humanity, and are currently facing increased criminalization in response to their legitimate social protest. …Thus, public and private actors have benefited, and continue to benefit, from all the power at their disposal (including laws) to hinder and paralyze the resistance of the peoples.
This monograph aims to highlight the concrete challenges faced daily by the indigenous peoples and resistances of AV in defense of their fundamental right to a dignified life. To achieve this we have included, alongside the secondary sources and interviews with experts, direct testimonies from members of the four organizations that PBI accompanies in the region, paying special attention to the important role that women play in these struggles. It is these people and organizations who are the protagonists of this report.”