PBI-Guatemala accompanies BDH at court hearing of community leaders accused of ‘aggravated usurpation’

Published by Brent Patterson on

On January 15, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project posted, “Yesterday we accompanied the BDH [Human Rights Law Firm] to the Criminal Court of First Instance in Cobán. The lawyers, together with their CUC [Peasant Unity Committee] colleague, represent three community leaders accused of aggravated usurpation. Their community La Cumbre, Tactic, was violently evicted in November 2017.”

The Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence (BTS) Network has previously reported on the eviction at La Cumbre, Tactic, Alta Verapaz that took place on November 1, 2017 that displaced 25 families from their homes.

BTS notes, “Women reported sexual violence during the eviction. The community was associated with the Peasant Unity Committee (CUC) and had previously labored on a plantation owned by the Morales Cahuec family. During the eviction, current workers of the plantation were involved in destroying homes.”

“The community had been participating in a dialogue table with the Secretary of Agrarian Affairs to recognize their right as legitimate owners of the land.”

The Guatemala Solidarity Project further explains, “The eviction was blatantly illegal for a number of reasons, including that there was no advance notice through the Human Rights office and that it was carried out on a holiday which is against the law.  After 45 minutes the Army commenced burning down houses, all the while forcefully questioning people as to the whereabouts of community leaders with fraudulent arrest warrants who had fled into the mountains to avoid arrest.”

“La Cumbre, like many other communities facing violence that we work with, is a village of former ‘mozos colonos’.  These are families who were forced to live and work on plantations for generations without receiving any pay. Because of changes in the international economy, ‘landowners’ often no longer need the indigenous labor and are using extreme violence to evict these communities and then extract natural resources from the land.”

Furthermore, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, has stated in a report to the UN Human Rights Council that the “crime of aggravated usurpation is commonly brought against indigenous land rights defenders.”

She highlights, “Disregard of indigenous rights of traditional lands ownership breeds tensions, subsequent violence and criminalization, as indigenous peoples become trespassers or illegal occupants of their own lands, subject to criminal charges such as ‘usurpation’ or illegal occupation, and liable to forced evictions and removal from the lands they rely upon for their livelihoods, social and cultural cohesion and spiritual traditions.”

Land distribution in Guatemala continues to be deeply unequal with the largest 2.5 per cent of farms currently occupying more than 65 per cent of the land while 90 per cent of the farms are on only one-sixth of the agricultural land in the country.

Indigenous and peasant farmers were dispossessed of their land in the 18th century through colonization that drove Indigenous and peasant farmers to the less fertile highlands. About 40 per cent of the population of Guatemala is indigenous.

BDH is a group of lawyers who represent those whose human rights have been violated. It has been accompanied by PBI-Guatemala since 2013.

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