PBI-Guatemala meets with water defenders challenging big sugar companies, the diversion of rivers

Published by Brent Patterson on

On July 8, PBI-Guatemala posted: “Last week, we visited the criminalized defenders and members of the Retalhuleu Council of Communities (CCR). We also met with Governor Ignacio Arreaga Cifuentes to express our concern about the safety of these defenders and the advocate for the right to water.”

Abelino Mejia Cancino of the CCR says: “We need people to realize that when they consume sugar, it has an impact on the life of the communities and on the right to water for all. We call for the consumption of what is healthy and good produced by the campesinos and not products made by the big companies.”

Notably, the Guatemalan Sugar Association (ASAZGUA) has identified Canada as the top export destination for Guatemalan sugar.

In September 2020 it reported Guatemala exported 333,596 metric tons of sugar to Canada. The next largest market was the United States at 261,628 MT.

The defenders

The defenders have stated: “We organize ourselves in a peaceful way to publicize the consequences of sugar cane, the diversion of rivers that the mills have.”

PBI-Guatemala has previously explained: “The CCR consists of more than 18 communities in the department of Retalhuleu (mainly the municipality of Champerico), belonging to the Mam, K’iche’ and Ixil peoples.”

“Its main objective is the defence of life, territory and human rights, in particular the right of access to water and agriculture on a small scale.”

“They began to organize in 2015 as a result of adverse effects caused by the expansion of the monoculture of sugar and the use of large-scale agrochemicals and pesticides used by the mills in the region.”

That article adds: “In recent years there has been drought and pollution of wells, rivers and lagoons, as well as the destruction of livelihoods, causing lack of access to water and health problems such as malnutrition and respiratory and renal ailments.”


In November 2019, Panorama Noticias reported: “Allegations of violations of the right to water, food and environmental pollution by the communities of the South Coast led to four defenders being criminalized by the mills of El Pilar and Magdalena.”

That article adds while the court terminated the case against the defenders, that decision was appealed by the sugar mills.

The Governor

As noted above, PBI-Guatemala also met with the Governor of Retalhuleu.

In September 2020, CRN reported: “Ignacio Osbelí Arreaga Cifuentes, a retired captain in Guatemala’s army, was recently appointed [by President Alejandro Giammattei] as the departmental governor of Retalhuleu. Arreaga, who is a lawyer, was a candidate for deputy in the 2019 elections for the Vamos party.”

PBI accompaniment

The Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project has been accompanying the Retalhuleu Council of Communities since April 2020.

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1 Comment

PBI-Guatemala carries out observation mission on extractivism and the right to water in Retalhuleu and Champerico - Peace Brigades International-Canada · September 10, 2022 at 5:58 pm

[…] Photo: PBI-Guatemala meets with frontline community defending water, July 2021. […]

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