2008-04. Grand Peasant March: 30 years of the CUC
April 30th, 2008
Los Encuentros, Solola, to Guatemala City.
April 12-15, 2008.
Issue: Landless / Indigenous and Community Rights / Resistance
April 12, 2008:
The Indigenous and Peasant March for the Sovereignty of our People and the Defense of Mother Nature, officially known as the Yell for Mother Earth, began its 80-mile journey (127 kilometers) along the Pan-American Highway on April 12th. Leaving at dawn from Los Encuentros, Solola, the march was to arrive at Guatemala City three days later. The event was organized by the historic Committee for Peasant Union (CUC) in commemoration to its 30th anniversary.
10:45 Near the border with Chimaltenango, Solola.
The march began with roughly 1,000 participants who came together to “protest the policies which intend to deprive indigenous communities from the use of their own lands and the natural riches in their own territories [as well as] for the respect of Mother Nature, life, and justice.” (1)
11:02 Kilometer 116, Solola.
A few meters from the Solola-Chimaltenango border, the march made a brief stop to pay homage to Teodoro Saloj Panjoj who was killed by State security forces during a rally organized by the National Coordination for Peasant Organizations (CNOC) on October 10, 2000. “Our companion Teodoro is considered a martyr who gave his life for the development of rural areas.” (2)
14:50 Near Zaculeu, Chimaltenango.
“We want to reiterate that 30 years after the emergence of the CUC, the conditions which gave origin to the CUC remain: the struggle for land, the struggle for just salaries and fair working conditions in the plantations, the struggle to end militarization throughout the country, discrimination and racism towards the indigenous peoples. We add the struggle to defend our territories. Today we are caught up in a real battle between international corporations who seek to seize Guatemala’s natural resources and local peoples who are determined to defend their territories.” (3)
17:42 Near Agua Escondida, Chimaltenango.
With only a couple of kilometers left before arriving to the City of Chimaltenango, a sudden shower poured over the march. Most were not prepared for such powerful storm.
19:26 Tecpan, Chimaltenango.
CUC director Daniel Pascual thanks the City of Tecpan for the warm welcome as well as the lodging: “The sectors of power seeking to enrich themselves even more and the sectors of the population who resist and fight for the right to live, are involved in a very real conflict which worsens on a daily basis. Such statement is evident when the State favors actions which plunder Mother Nature, such as the authorization of oil and mining exploitation licenses, the introduction of genetically modified products, the deviation and robbing of rivers, contamination of water sources, construction of colossal dams and of mega-projects.” (4)
Despite the fatigue, cold weather, and having been soaked by the pouring rain, comrades from the much warmer Southern Coast region convey their positive spirits before sleeping.
April 13, 2008:
7:15 Tecpan, Chimaltenango.
Founded in 1470, Iximche was the principal Mayan Kakchikel city before the arrival of the Spanish. The word literally means “corn tree” (ixim = corn, che = tree). Due to the alliance developed between the Spanish and the Kakchikel shortly after the arrival of the former, a stronghold was built two kilometers from Iximche. Named Tecpan, the stronghold became a city and is considered Guatemala’s first capital.
On March 12, 2007, U.S. President George W. Bush visited the now archeological site and sacred ceremonial grounds of Iximche. Immediately after his visit, Mayan Priests “cleansed” the sacred site due to the “evil spirits” brought by the North American head of state. (5)
7:16 Tecpan, Chimaltenango.
Members of HIJOS (Acronym for: Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice, against Forgetfulness and Silence) joined the march in solidarity during most of the walk. In addition to HIJOS, a long list of social and international organizations made their presence during the event by either walking along, participating in events, or by serving as observers. Among these were: Uk’u’x B’e Mayan Association, CNOC, CCDA, Encuentro Campesino, Guillermo Toriello Foundation (FGT), FLACSO, CONGCOOP, Caja Ludica, URNG Youth, RAIS Network, Human Rights Ombudsman Office (PDH), Peace Brigades International (PBI), CAIG/ACOGUATE, NISGUA, and members from the Via Campesina and CLOC, who came from Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.
7:29 Tecpan, Chimaltenango.
Mother Earth shall neither be bought nor sold… It shall be regained and defended!
Against evictions and repression… Higher organization!
No to mining… Yes to life!
People who take upon the struggle… Are people who triumph!
11:05 Near Santa Cruz Balanya, Chimaltenango.
The rainy weather continued during the second morning despite being extremely rare for this season. Nevertheless, on this occasion, most participants were prepared.
12:16 Near Patzicia, Chimaltenango.
“Lately we are living under an institutionalized State repression personified by the National Civil Police (PNC), the Army, the Judicial Courts, and the District Attorney’s Office. Peasant farmers who defend their territory and fight to protect their land are being tagged as delinquents and terrorists, and ultimately pursued and oppressed as have been the recent cases of San Juan Sacatepequez and Livingston. Likewise, citizens who oppose the rising costs of basic-need items and fuel are also being signaled as trouble makers.” (6)
15:31 “December 29” Community, Chimaltenango.
Community members from the “December 29” Community, in the Municipality of Zaragoza, prepared an extraordinary event to welcome the march. The lunchtime activities included food, music, and inspiring speeches.
15:36 “December 29” Community, Chimaltenango.
The community, which took its name from the historic date when the Peace Accords that ended the 36-year internal conflict were signed in 1996, is mostly composed of former combatants from different sects of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) as well as their families. At the center square rises a statue honoring all revolutionary combatants. On this occasion special occasion the effigy was adorned with CUC handkerchief and hat.
15:47 “December 29” Community, Chimaltenango.
Community member Mr. Salomon states: “We declare our support for your peasant struggle because even though we have our little homes here, we do not have land to cultivate. Many of us are forced to work in the factories, in the maquilas (known for sweatshop conditions). The roots which gave way to the struggle and internal armed conflict have not changed!”
15:54 “December 29” Community, Chimaltenango.
The historic Pablo Ceto declared: “The CUC’s ultimate challenge is the production of land in a communal way. The CUC has access to many landholdings and must promote the cultivation of these as our Mayan ancestors did.” Ceto co-founded the CUC in the late 1970s. But during the 1980s he abandoned the organization and joined the armed revolutionary struggle, climbing through the ranks of the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP) and eventually becoming one of its commanders. After the Peace Accords, Ceto has served as congressman for the URNG Party as well as a member of its national coordination.
18:01 Chimaltenango, Chimaltenango.
Two young boys observe the march as it enters the urban area of the City of Chimaltenango. Behind them, a terribly misspelled sign subtly screams out harsh truths about Guatemalan society: “Forbidden to dump dead dogs here”.
The Grand Peasant March arrives at the City of Chimaltenango’s central square and is received by the Uk’u’x B’e Mayan Association to the sound of marimba.
April 14, 2008:
16:27 Near Mixco, Guatemala.
The march passes by the landmark Mirador (lookout point) along the Pan-American Highway between San Lucas and Mixco. After walking 101 kilometers in three days, the final destination is finally in sight: Guatemala City.
16:44 Near Mixco, Guatemala.
Throughout the march, all municipalities had cooperated by allowing the use of public areas and provided crude yet safe lodging. Nevertheless, only a few kilometers from arriving to Mixco, what was to be this evening’s stop, the local mayor cancelled all previous permits for the march. Due to great efforts, in particular by University of San Carlos (USAC) students, participants were able to divert their route and spend the night at the Metropolitan University Center (CUM) which is essentially the USAC’s medical school grounds.
April 15, 2008:
10:04 CUM, Guatemala City.
Along different strategic points throughout the march numerous supporters kept joining along. On this final morning of the protest, nearly 3,000 people arrived from throughout the country.
12:35 Avenida Reforma, Guatemala City.
The Grand Peasant March makes a stop in front of the United States Embassy to protest this country’s policies which have impacted Guatemala’s history in a colossal manner. The graffiti reads: “SOA Watch Present in Guatemala”, a reference to the independent organization that seeks to close the US Army School of the Americas. Such facility provided strategies and training for high ranking military officers who terrorized Latin America via military dictatorships throughout the continent the past century.
13:05 Zone 4, Guatemala City.
For a complete agrarian reform… 30 years of peasant struggle!
Against the high costs of everyday life… An organized struggle is our path!
Organized and combative…The people united will never be defeated!
13:21 Zone 1, Guatemala City.
The Grand Peasant March enters the historic centre of the capital city and heads towards the National Congress. “We have not come to ask for dialogue roundtables, we are not here to present any declarations to the government, we have not come to speak with the congress members but to have them listen to us, and we have not come here to plead anything to the CACIF (Coordinating Committee for Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations). We are here to speak with all Guatemalan society, with the indigenous peoples, with those who are not indigenous, with housewives, with factory workers, all laborers, the popular social movement, the landless, the homeless, student organizations, women’s groups. We believe it is the right time to refocus ourselves, to rethink, to reestablish the popular social movement in Guatemala as this neo-liberal policy is here to stay.” (7)
14:18 Zone 1, Guatemala City.
A small group of congress members, which included Nineth Montenegro, stepped outside promptly to hear Daniel Pascual’s words: “We believe that community consultations are the use of reason, the use of a group of people’s word of honor, and a direct manifestation of local people’s rejection to the plunder of their territory. When the State does not recognize such consultations as binding, it only leaves the path to widespread disobedience. And such actions only precede other struggles, other uprisings, which are not going to be pacific. We are here to warn: the people are tired of declarations, tired of having their community consultations ignored, tired of dysfunctional dialogue roundtables and high level commissions.”
14:57 Zone 1, Guatemala City.
Once at the Presidential Palace, the protesters demanded their reception by anyone working for the executive branch. Their sole intention was to read a number of statements and to formally present a written declaration by community members from San Juan Sacatepequez, a town which recently lived serious repression by State security forces due to a conflict with Cementos Progreso, a Guatemalan company owned by the powerful Novella family. Nevertheless, as the minutes went by, no one came out from the Presidential Palace and the gate remained locked.
15:09 Zone 1, Guatemala City.
This woman from the coastal city of Coatepeque proclaims: “Justice! President Colom is corrupt and a murderer! He sold himself out to the corporations and companies! Our corn is very expensive! And yet he wants us to grow yellow corn for [bio-fuels for] cars while we eat genetically modified Maseca! “
15:15 Zone 1, Guatemala City.
“Those of us who took upon the struggle in the 70s, 80s and 90s were called communists and guerrillas. Today, those who defend Mother Earth are tagged as delinquents and terrorists. This is by no means a play on words, but the application of militarization, of the criminalization of the indigenous and peasant movements in order to allow these companies to achieve their interests in our territories. This is why we are always going to be viewed as the bad ones: the poor, those who struggle to protect our resources; they are pursued by the law. What about the drug traffickers? What about the military assassins who carried out the scorched earth campaigns? What about the white collar criminals like the bankers who have kept the money of the poorest of the poor? What about corrupt government officials who drain the government spending funds and prevent public investment to reach our communities?” (8)
15:34 Zone 1, Guatemala City.
The sign from San Juan Sacatepequez community members reads: “We are citizens, not delinquents. We defend Mother Earth and our children for the right to consultation and information. We condemn the oppression we have suffered! We demand the resignation of the national director from the District Attorney’s Office (MP in Spanish). We repudiate a State at the service of a company and a family. MP & PNC: at the service of Cementos Progreso”.
15:41 Zone 1, Guatemala City.
After waiting for more than an hour and receiving false hopes from a presidential secretary, the multitude lost its patience and attempted to knock down the entrance door to the Presidential Palace. Their only wish was to present a memorial document of the events in San Juan Sacatepequez.
15:45 Zone 1, Guatemala City.
An hour and 15 minutes passed and no one came out to receive such document. The march moved on and left at the presidential doorstep a cardboard coffin with the name of Mario Caal, community leader from Livingston, Izabal, executed last month by members of the National Civil Police (for more on this story, please view and read the photo-essay: Crisis along the Rio Dulce: The Death of Mario Caal).
16:19 Zone 1, Guatemala City.
The Grand Peasant March finally concluded in Guatemala City’s central square with a series of events which included a fair trade produce market, information booths, and several concerts.
After four long days, Daniel Pascual concludes: “In essence, what is at stake is the future of life itself: The life of all human beings, of Mother Earth. Corporations are interested in oil, mining and hydro-electrical power due to Mother Earth’s capacity to produce energy. Yet this is done without any regards to the welfare of indigenous peoples, of peasant farmers, not caring if the people from rural areas starve to death or have their biodiversity or ecosystems destroyed, if their seeds and water are privatized. Hence, what we truly believe is at risk is the future of human life and its future generations. It is no longer just an ideological or political stance. It is a profound feeling that the existence of Mother Nature is in danger.”
1 Comité de Unión Campesina (CUC) ¡Grito por la Madre Tierra! Flier distributed by CUC members during the march.
2 Interview with Daniel Pascual, director of CUC. Guatemala, April 15, 2008.
4 CUC ¡Grito por la Madre Tierra! Official CUC communiqué. Guatemala, April 11, 2008. (http://www.cuc.org.gt/comunicado_09.html)
6 CUC, Official communiqué. Op. Cit.
7 Interview with Daniel Pascual, director of CUC. Guatemala, April 15, 2008.