GUATEMALA CITY – Thousands of Guatemalan campesinos marched down the streets of the capital Aug. 5 to demand government action to ensure food security for the mainly poor inhabitants of this Central American nation.
Protesters from throughout Guatemala, many accompanied by their children, took part in the procession to Congress and the presidential palace.
Juan Tiney, head of the CONIC Indigenous and Campesino Federation that organized the event, said the aim of the mobilization was to persuade the government to commit 80 million quetzales ($10.8 million) to the production of basic grains for people “dying of hunger.”
He said that sum could be used to rent arable land for some 32,000 destitute campesinos and provide them with the seeds and other resources they need to be able to feed their families.
Tiney said CONIC also wants the government of President Alvaro Colom to write off $15.4 million in debt owed by 3,350 families who took out loans to collectively purchase 32 large agricultural properties. Given the soaring cost of living, “it’s impossible” for those families to pay their creditors, the campesino leader said.
The global surge in the cost of food and fuel has had a devastating impact on the more than 73 percent of Guatemala’s 13.3 million people who live below the poverty line.
“We demand that (the government) keep its promises and modify its policy because we can no longer endure the hunger. A number of families are withdrawing their children from schools” due to financial pressures, Tiney said.
He said Guatemala’s struggling campesinos did not want to hear that past government promises were no longer viable, and he warned that they would resort to “more drastic measures” – such as blocking roads – if officials and lawmakers did not take action to relieve their plight.
Tiney was alluding to a statement last week by Colom that the commitments made to campesinos earlier this year by then- Agriculture Minister Raul Robles are now considered to be “financially unfeasible.”
While declining to meet with protest leaders, the president said that a commission headed by the current Agriculture Minister Cesar Recinos would put before the campesino groups a counterproposal in line with “the financial reality.”
Last week’s six-hour-long march passed without incident, though the throngs on the streets did tie up traffic in the capital.