GUATEMALA CITY – Thousands of Guatemalan campesinos marched on the capital city March 30 to press demands for the resolution of agrarian disputes, access to land and an end to the granting of mining concessions in the Central American country.
A crowd estimated by local media at more than 5,000 also railed against laissezfaire economic policies and the U.S.-Central American Free-Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
While the mining issue has to do with concerns about damage to the environment, small farmers say that CAFTA and similar trade pacts expose them to unfair competition from subsidized producers in the United States and other wealthy nations.
Guatemalan President Oscar Berger, however, downplayed the protest, which was organized by two coalitions of campesino groups, saying it was nothing “dramatic.”
He said his government has the political will to meet the campesinos demands, adding that a high-level commission headed by Vice-President Eduardo Stein had been set up to find a solution. In the interior of the country, hundreds of campesinos also gathered in key areas to protest the lack of access to land and police evictions of campesinos from farms and ranches they have occupied.
According to Amnesty International, 62.5% of the arable land in Guatemala is in the hands of just 1.5% of the population. The watchdog-group on March 29 criticized the government for responding to the demands of Guatemalan indigenous squatters with forceful evictions that, according to the group, resulted in beatings and even some killings.
Stein, for his part, told reporters that the campesinos were demanding a confiscatory land reform that is unacceptable because it violates the Constitution. He said the President has instructed the commission to seek a rapid solution to the historical problem of unequal land distribution in the impoverished country.