Demonstrating for environmental and human rights in Guatemala
On June 5th, World Environment Day, community members at the southern coast of Guatemala protested against the rapid spread of large-scale palm oil, sugar cane and banana plantations in their region. Utz Che', our local partner organisation, joined the march.
Hundreds of women and men walked to the office of the regional government to share their concerns about the negative impacts of the plantations on the environment, on which they depend for their livelihoods. The communities have a shortage of water because rivers are diverted and dry up due to excessive water consumption by agro-industrial companies. In addition, rivers, the air and the crops of surrounding small farmers are contaminated by pesticides and chemicals.
"Government: Take Measures"
The communities therefore demand that the government take measures to protect human rights and to guarantee the right to water, food, health and a healthy environment. Further requirements of the population are that the agro-industry does not drill deep wells to pump up groundwater, the government prohibits the use of industrial chemicals and stops the expansion of large-scale monocultures, as it causes major damage to the locals population and the environment, whilst profits of these plantations only benefit the rich landowners.
Project to protect the river
The march was part of a project where Both ENDS works with Utz Che' to protect the Madre Vieja River. Several local communities depend on this river for fishing and for their water supply. The river is also an important water supplier for the mangrove forests on the coast.
The Madre Vieja-project consists of three elements: first, Utz Che's supports local communities to organize themselves, focusing mainly on women's participation. Although women suffer most from water shortage and contamination, they usually do not have a role in decision-making processes. In this project, therefore, much attention is paid to involving women in decisions and actions. Already, women have organized themselves to make their voice heard and claim their rights to a clean living environment.
Secondly, Utz Che', together with the Italian NGO Source International, conducts participatory scientific research into the effects of plantations on the river and the soil. The investigation looks at what human rights are being violated and helps the communities collect evidence in their struggle to defend their lands.
Thirdly, Utz Che' has entered a legal process to protect the river and enforce measures to stop the dehydration and pollution of the river. The research that is being done provides evidence for this process. The purpose of the legal process is not only to protect the Madre Vieja, but to create a precedent for other cases in which the agro industry causes damage to rivers in Guatemala.
Both ENDS supports Utz Che' financially, gives strategic advice and helps to map the production chain of the plantations: from financiers to buyers of palm oil and sugar. This way, all actors in the chain can be held accountable for violating international standards and laws designed to protect people and the environment.
- Weblog by Anne: Guatemala: why the sugar is not so sweet
- Video by Utz Che' about the Madre Vieja-project (in Spanish)
Pictures by Utz Che'