Fwd: ALERT: Threats against UVOC and communities

mail at vegburner.co.uk mail at vegburner.co.uk
Tue Feb 14 13:05:26 GMT 2012

Dear Sir or Madam,

Kind greetings from the PBI Guatemala Project. The purpose of this “Alert”
is to call your attention to and share our concern about the atmosphere of
threats in which the Verapaz Union of Campesino Organisations is carrying
out its work. These threats have been directed against its members as well
as different communities that the organisation accompanies and supports in
Alta and Baja Verapaz.

The Verapaz Union of Campesino Organisations (UVOC) is an indigenous,
campesino community organisation that focuses its efforts on the defence
and promotion of access to land for the campesino communities in the
departments of Alta and Baja Verapaz. Among other activities, UVOC offers
legal assistance and service to a number of rural communities on achieving
legal ownership of their properties and provide accompaniment in processes
aimed at the defence of their right to land. UVOC also takes part in
roundtable talks with the hope that these offer a way to bring about
solutions and changes that many reports have indicated as key to address
the problem of land and the agrarian conflicts.1 PBI has accompanied UVOC
since 2005 following serious threats and intimidation against several of
its members.

In December 2011 and January 2012, UVOC has identified and reported an
escalation of threats against members of the organisation and aggression
against several communities it supports in Alta Verapaz. UVOC has pointed
out that this context represents a serious risk to the security of its
members as well as to the development of community processes for access to
land which for years have been pursued by legal means, dialogue and

Among the threats and risks outlined, we call your attention to the

    regular surveillance of the UVOC office in Santa Cruz (Alta Verapaz),
and of the private home of one its members in that town by unknown men
as well as rumours about intentions to kill its coordinator, Carlos

    threats and violence against several communities supported by UVOC in
particular the community of La Primavera, and San Miguel Cotoxjá. The
community of La Primavera, in the municipality of San Cristóbal, is
made up of 400 families of pocomchíes settlers which for more than 100
years have inhabited that estate of the Azurdia Saravía and Azurdia
Poole family. Local inhabitants have reported that private security
agents using vehicles of the Eco Tierra company and supposedly sent by
Maderas Filitz Díaz Society, S.A., have committed serious aggressions
against them, jeopardising the rights of this population. The majority
of the original property owners of the land have become shareholders
of Maderas Filitz Diaz S.A and their property rights have been
attributed to the company in October 2011. Nonetheless, this land has
been subject to negotiation for over 10 years by means of access
and/or purchase by the Land Fund (FONTIERRA)3. Among other
aggressions, in the course of January the community has reported the
following to the respective authorities:

    repeated threats of eviction by heavily armed private security agents;

    death threats by heavily armed private security agents of the company;

    intimidation with weapons, insults, and harassment by the armed
private agents by removing the coffee seedlings planted by the
community on one part of the land subject to current negotiation4;

On January 26, the bodies of two elderly persons (Sebastián Xona, age 82
and Petrona Morán Suc, 72) were found bound, gagged and beaten in their
homes in the community of Santa Rosa, located within the estate of La
Primavera. Awaiting the investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office
(MP), these acts deepen the desolation and terror of the community in the
face of new acts of violence against it and its members5.

    Additionally, the community of San Miguel Cotoxjá, located in the
municipality of El Estor (Alta Verapaz) has observed armed people
circulating late at night and the neighbours were alerted to rumours
about intentions to kill one of the leaders of the community. The
community is made up of 78 q’eqchi families settled in the Polochic
river valley. The community faces displacement stemming from an
eviction order issued in March 2011 when another 13 communities from
the area were evicted as part of a land dispute with the Chabil Utzaj
company, a sugar cane producer. The community had reached an agreement
with the authorities during the roundtable talks in which it
participates with the support of UVOC, stating it would not be evicted
while a solution was being sought in these talks or in the courts.
Nonetheless, the eviction order has been pending for almost a year
causing constant concern among the community. This situation has
worsened during the first month of 2012

Given this situation, PBI urges the International Community to pay special
attention to the security situation of UVOC, its members and the
communities it supports and accompanies in the region. In particular we
call on you to:

    follow up on the investigation carried out by the MP and the
corresponding legal actions, to ensure these acts of violence reported
by the community of La Primavera do not remain unpunished;

    urge the responsible public authorities and institutions to make
themselves present in the communities accompanied by UVOC when it is
required, in order to protect the community population and the members
of UVOC as well as to guarantee their rights to life, physical
integrity and defence of their human rights;

    communicate to the respective public institutions the obligation of
the Guatemalan State to comply with precautionary measures ordered by
the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH) for the protection
of the Valle del Polochic communities and, in particular, those
measures aimed at guaranteeing security and food, and the
investigation of the acts that gave rise to the precautionary

    organise visits to the region by diplomatic missions or
representatives of the international community as a protective measure
and to make visible the international concern over the threats and
aggression that gravely affect the peaceful work of the communities
and of UVOC in defence of the right to land.

Finally, we encourage you to use all instruments and measures at your
disposal to offer protection to the UVOC and the communities it
accompanies in Alta Verapaz.


The PBI Guatemala Project


1 Among others, consult: CIIDH, Informe de seguimiento a las
recomendaciones del Relator Especial sobre el derecho a la alimentación
para Guatemala. Guatemala. October 2007; and CNOC and CONGCOOP, Fontierras
El modelo del mercado y el acceso a la tierra en Guatemala. Balance y
perspectivas Guatemala, September 2002.

2 Since 2003, a monthly roundtable is held where members of UVOC and
community leaders meet with government representatives from the Secretary
of Agrarian Affairs (SAA), the Land Fund (FONTIERRA), and the Title
Information Registry (RIC) from Alta Verapaz to discuss the ongoing land
conflicts. The purpose of the roundtable is to promote dialogue among
communities and authorities in search of peaceful solutions to the land
conflicts in the Verapaz regions.

3UVOC, Radiomontaje La Primavera, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOgr4F1A4nc

4UVOC, Memorial de la Comunidad La Primavera, municipio de San Cristóbal,
Alta Verapaz, 09.01.2012

5UVOC, UVOC condena el asesinato de la Sra. Petrona Morán Suc y el Sr.
Sebastián Xona en la finca La Primavera, comunicado 27.01.2012, .

6 CIDH, MC 121-11, Catorce Comunidades Indígenas Q'eqchi del Municipio de
Panzós, Guatemala, 20.06.2011,


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