By Carolyn Konrad, April 2010 – Hamilton, On
Success Reaps Repression
Popular Guatemalan Peasant Movement Attacked
In February 2010, the CCDA (Campesino Committee of the Highlands, Guatemala) suffered a series of politically-motivated attacks. Following a wave of death threats, the National Coordinator, Leocadio Juracán and his family were forced to flee their country.
On March 30, Leocadio gave a public talk at the Skydragon Centre to a full and supportive crowd. This article is an overview of the event, interviews and conversations during his stop-over in Hamilton, Ontario.
El Comité Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA) is a rural Indigenous-peasant (commonly knows as campesino) organization which has struggled for 28 years to recuperate land, promote responsible agriculture, and defend human rights in order to bring about long-term social change for the rural (largely Indigenous) population of Guatemala.
Café Justícia … a means toward social justice
The CCDA has achieved much, and offers a real alternative for small-scale farmers through its Café Justícia project – a fair trade plus coffee (producers earn 60% more than the standard fair-trade rate), imported exclusively to Canada by social justice groups.
The coffee sales enable the CCDA to meet some of the most basic and urgent needs of rural families:
Leocadio proudly describes the construction of some 60 homes in the last 4 years: “These homes are made of block and wood for families that previously lived in horrible conditions sheltered only by plastic and sticks”. They’ve built a day care centre, funded educational scholarships, along with teachers’ salaries, health services; and remarkably, the CCDA will be inaugarating a small rural hospital – “a huge luxury for rural Guatemala”, he adds.
Yet these urgent needs remain dire.
Leocadio informs us that in 2009, 252 People died of hunger – not a result of any disease or illness – they simply starved to death. He adds that 49% of children under five are chronically malnourished.
He asks: “What does this mean for future generations? We all know the connection between malnourishment and learning difficulties…it ensures that Indigenous people will continue to be subservient and enslaved.”
“Esto es injusticia – hay que cambiarlo – This is injustice – it must be changed”, says Leocadio.
… And a means toward land reform
Café Justícia is also the CCDAs base for their broader social justice and political struggle. The CCDA aims to change existing laws that have historically and perpetually exploited Indigenous people.
At heart is land reform.
“Not only does 2% of the population own 70% the land, but these wealthy land owners [or large corporations] have the enslavement of campesinos and since they have the state at their service, can act with total impunity.”
“Esto es injusticia – hay que cambiarlo”, Leocadio reiterates.
Thus far the CCDA has obtained 4500 hectares of land for some 1600 families.
But only structural-legislative changes will transform he concentration of historically-established land ownership.
In April of 2008, Leocadio and other associates achieved a huge success in signing the “Rural Development Framework Agreement” with the current Guatemalan President, Alvaro Colóm. The agreement was seen as a starting point to discuss land reform.
“We aren’t interested in land handed over as charity.” Leocadio qualifies.
“We want land accompanied by technical assistance. We need capital for social infrastructure (schools, housing, etc) and productive infrastructure (warehouses, irrigation and access to agricultural markets). These are the absolute minimum requirements, and with this we could be successful. Of course the oligarchy doesn’t like this. They want cheap labour and for the Indigenous population to continue to be subservient. To change this is to threaten their interests.”
Leocadio and his associates have been publicly critical of the Guatemalan Government’s refusal to proceed with land reform talks; they’ve also spoken out against corruption, human rights abuses and impunity.
The CCDAs success (with Café Justícia, land reform and empowering communities) along with outspoken denunciations has angered some powerful enemies. They’ve been the victim of increasing retaliation and persecution since 2008.
Repression Aimed to Break the CCDA
Only one day after the 2008 “Rural Development Framework Agreement” was signed, Leocadio was attacked by gun-fire. A dozen bullets were fired at his vehicle, narrowly missing him. “These bullets were meant to kill us”, he recounts. Two years later, no thorough investigation has been carried out. As usual in Guatemala, the attackers are free. This wasn’t the first act of repression, nor the last.
Esto es injusticia – hay que cambiarlo.
In February 2, 2010, the CCDA, as a member of the Labour, Indigenous and Peasant Movement (MSICG) published the report “Guatemala: The Price of Labour Freedom”. The report specifies (from 2008-2010) details of murders, kidnappings, rapes and attacks against the labour, and campesino sectors.
One week later, $35,000 of Café Justícia was stolen from the CCDAs processing plant – a huge loss for the organization, micro-coffee producers, and their families. The attack is seen as a way of destabilizing and undermining the CCDA through the destruction of its economic base, Café Justícia.
At the same time a series of death threats were issued to both Leocadio and his family. Within hours the Juracán family went into hiding.
With the support of the Canadian embassy, international labour movement and volunteer Canadians in Guatemala they fled to Canada.
On Tour and Taking Action!
While in temporary exile, Leocadio toured Canada with the objective of publicizing and condemning repression, promoting Café Justicia and raising funds to offset the huge loss the CCDA has suffered.
He meets with unions, churches, schools, social justice groups, NGOs, government officials, coffee roasters, and gives dozens of interviews. During his “down time”, he continues to talk about advances people and communities have made, about politics, about corruption, crimes and impunity.
He never seems to tire.
Leocadio says he wants to return to Guatemala. He says he’d hoped in a few months things would calm down so that he could return to his community and life work. But they haven’t.
More news from Guatemala: 4 more recent murders of rural popular organizers, one of them severely tortured. The persecution not only attacks the CCDA, but the entire rural popular movement.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
- Send letters to the Guatemalan authorities and to Canada’s Ambassador to Guatemala. Suggestions and samples letters are at .
To date, despite all attacks have been reported to the National Police, no serious investigation has taken place.
- Support Café Justicia: available at OPIRG McMaster, or by contacting Carolyn (email@example.com).
- You can also sell Café Justicia as a means of fundraising for your own organization.
Learn more about it at .
Here is one of the many Urgent Action letters (by a 6 year old) sent to the Guatemalan government during Leocadio’s tour.
TEXT OF HANDWRITTEN LETTER (above):
Dear Guatemalan Government: I am worried about the CCDA. Please find out who stole the coffee. Please give them some land so people can build houses and grow food. And stop mining. And please stop war. Please throw out guns. My name is Natalia and I am 6 and I care about Guatemala. I live in Canada. Stop bad thing. Thank You.