Saturday, September 23, 2023

die trying to immigrate to America to save family land from invasion by palm plantations

The last time Florinda Zol saw her son Byron was when he left his Quechi Mayan community of Río Zarquito in northern Guatemala for the United States. The 26-year-old thought he would have to help support his widowed mother and keep her small piece of land.

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But he was not found. “That was my biggest fear,” Florinda has tears in her eyes. Byrne is one of 40 people who died in a fire at the Ciudad Juarez Immigration Detention Center on the US-Mexico border in March.

According to his mother, Byrne faced the perilous journey only because the family was troubled by the threat of large-scale African palm plantations trying to encroach on the land they had lived on for decades. With the first small consignment Byrne expected to ship from the United States, the family planned to erect barbed wire fencing to prevent oxen from neighboring plantations from cutting down their crops and workers from cutting down their trees.

Byrne’s decision to leave is an example of a new wave of migration from the Quechi region, an area of ​​about two million people, about half of whom speak Quechi Mayan.

Wendy Geraldina López, a lawyer for the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala (Udefegua), says the surge in migration is largely driven by growing inequality in land holdings and the conflicts that arise from it. , which documents this type of conflict.

Large landowners are expanding dams, mines, and plantations, especially for export of crops such as sugarcane, bananas, and African palm, reducing the possibilities for farming communities to access land and water. And, sometimes, it forces them to relocate, explains Lopez. Guatemala’s growing African palm plantations, many of which supply palm oil to companies such as Nestlé, Cargill and ADM, are often at the center of these disputes.

330% increase

Guatemala has already become the second most common country of origin for migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border, and migration from the Quecchi region, which began about five years ago, continues to accelerate. The number of migrants deported from the United States and Mexico to the department of Alta Verapaz — the heart of the Quechi region where Florinda’s family lives — is set to increase by 330% between 2020 and 2022. According to data from the Guatemalan Institute of Migration, this more than tripled nationwide and happened faster than anywhere else in the country.

Alta Verapaz’s poverty rate is above 80%, and the United Nations estimates that the proportion of households with moderate to severe food insecurity has already exceeded 80% before the COVID-19 pandemic. To put food on the table, families often give up other basic needs, such as medical expenses or education. The illiteracy rate in the department is more than 30%. “Lack of access to land and water is at the root of these problems,” says López. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of inequality in the distribution of land in the Northern Hemisphere, and the problem is particularly acute in Alta Verapaz and its surrounding departments.

“Land rights are not respected, there are too many displaced people…landlords are so powerful that they even ignore or turn their backs on court orders,” UN Representative on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Touli-Corpuz said after visiting the region. “Indigenous people are often treated as criminals for defending their land,” he laments.

Little has changed since that visit. Many people, like Florinda, do not have official ownership deeds, but say they have lived on their land for decades or even generations. Now they live in fear of eviction: since 2018, eviction and criminalization have become more common than ever in the Quechi region, Udefegua reports.

an example and an exception

Landlords often justify these evictions by showing official ownership of the disputed land. However, lawyers representing communities say these titles are often fraudulent. In 2019, a Guatemalan court ruled in favor of the Quechi community facing eviction, finding that native property titles had illegally overlooked the presence of indigenous residents. One reviewed case study suggests the problem may be widespread across the country. The judges also ordered the release of community leader Abelino Chub Cal, who had been imprisoned for two years.

The decision set an important precedent, but it remains an exception. The land ownership structure continues to be dominated by the extensive latifundia of the 19th century. 36 years of armed conflict in Guatemala – sparked by a CIA-sponsored coup in 1954 – led to an even greater concentration of land ownership, as the military razed hundreds of Mayan villages to ashes in a massacre that displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Gave and led the country’s first wave of emigration to the United States.

“This migration and criminalization will only get worse until the courts decide to objectively study land ownership,” López says. “But given the power of landlords and the decline of the judicial system, this seems impossible at the moment,” he says.

Meanwhile, communities and families like Florinda’s are facing painful decisions. Despite the trauma of his brother Byron’s death, Frymar, 20, says he now feels it is his turn to try to reach the United States: “If we knew we were going to keep our land, I wouldn’t would go.

World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Desk
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