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Indigenous Rights & Land Reform in Guatemala:
Will Foreign Investors Approve?

Alfredo Ché
Co-Founder, Guatemalan Campesino Movement Association
7 p.m., Saturday, October 19, 2002 in MIT Room 3-133

Guatemala's thirty-six-year-long civil war ended in 1996. Probably more than 200,000 people were killed, mostly civilians. Probably as much as 80% of the slaughter was carried out by the Guatemalan military. The political leaders of the day apparently condoned the killing — while various branches and agencies of the US government had some knowledge of it as well. Now, six years after the end of the war, high-ranking military personnel are for the first time being put on trial for human-rights abuses. Has Justice finally come to Guatemala?

Our guest, Alfredo Ché, will discuss the work he and others have done to demilitarize Guatemalan society, to bring about land reform, to guarantee the rights of rural workers, and to build a model for sustainable development that includes respect for human rights. He will also tell us about the continuing campaign of political killing in Guatemala: in the last week of June, 2002 alone, 3 indigenous land-rights activists were murdered, bringing the total to 6 in the last 15 months. Who are the assassins and what are they afraid of?

Background information on economic development in Guatemala:

Background information on human rights:

  • An overview of the history of human rights in Guatemala, provided by Trudy and Andrew Miller.

  • Guatemala: Memoria del Silencio, the final report of the Guatemalan Historical Clarification Commission (1999), which condemns the United States government for aiding a "criminal counterinsurgency" against the indigenous Mayan population. (A revised version in Spanish is also available.)

  • Amnesty International's current Guatemala campaign:

    "Six years after the signing of the United Nations-brokered Peace Accords that ended 36 years of civil war in Guatemala, the country is once again descending into lawlessness and terror. In the past year, Guatemala has experienced a sharp increase in abuses against activists, journalists, lawyers, and judges working to combat corruption and impunity. […] Human rights violations in modern-day Guatemala include those committed in the context of the so-called 'corporate mafia state.' These crimes occur when certain economic actors, including subsidiaries of some multinational corporations, collude with sectors of the police, military, government officials and common criminals to pursue mutual economic interests."

  • Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack Chang was murdered in 1990 — she had just published a study on the millions of Guatemalans, mostly indigenous Maya Indians, who were treated brutally by the military during the civil war. This year, high-ranking military personnel were prosecuted for the crime; one of them has been found guilty. The trial was the first in Guatemala to use declassified US government records as legal evidence against Washington's former allies.

  • US human-rights attorney Jennifer Harbury sued the US government for misleading her about its knowledge of human-rights abuses in Guatemala. In June, 2002, the US Supreme Court decided against her.

  • The Guatemala Accompaniment Project, organized by the Network in Support with the People of Guatemala, places U.S. volunteers who are willing "to live side-by-side with at-risk communities and organizations in an effort to deter human rights violations."