Wednesday, July 11, 2012

[biofuelwatch] Guatemala farmers losing their land to Europe's demand for biofuels

> Guatemala farmers losing their land to Europe's demand for biofuels
> Indigenous smallholder farmers are being violently evicted as
> companies move in to satisfy Europe's hunger for biofuels
> John Vidal
> John Vidal, environment editor
>, Thursday 5 July 2012 13.29 EDT
> Maria Josefa Macz and Daniel Pascual were called at five in the
> morning, and asked to come quickly to the Polochic valley in
> southern <>Guatemala.
> Ethnic Maya Q'eqchi communities of smallholder farmers said they
> were being violently evicted by state security forces from land they
> had farmed for generations. Helicopters with armed men leaning out
> were flying overhead, private security guards and paramilitary
> forces were attacking people, and houses and crops were being
> burned. The farmers could not speak Spanish and needed help dealing
> with the police, as well as legal advice on how to stop giant
> biofuel companies taking their land.
> When Macz and Pascual, human rights workers from the Guatemala
> Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), arrived after a six-hour drive from
> the capital, Guatemala City, two of the communities had been
> brutally evicted. Over the next four days, 10 more villages were
> cleared. By the end of March 2011, around 800 families – about 3,200
> people from 14 communities – had been forced off land they believed
> they had a right to live and work on. Within months, hundreds of
> hectares of the lush valley in the province of Alta Verapaz were
> being planted with sugar cane that would be turned into ethanol for
> European cars, including British ones.
> Today, displaced families live by the side of the road with no
> access to shelter or food. "The men fled to the mountains, the women
> had to find a way to live. People lost everything; they became
> nothing but cheap labour," says Macz.
> "It was a military operation. It was like an invasion. We feel
> history is repeating itself and we are going back to the violence of
> 30 years ago," says Pascual, referring to the massacre by the army
> of 60 people in the nearby town of <,,AMNESTY,,GTM,,3ae6a9ba4,0.html
> >Panzós in 1978. The US-backed government claimed their troops were
> turning back a peasant invasion fomented by "international
> subversives". The reality was that the peasants were petitioning the
> mayor for land.
> There is a long history of land disputes in the Polochic valley and
> across Guatemala, with companies claiming title over land that
> communities believe they have bought or have historical rights over.
> In this case, the land had been sold to one company by a larger one
> that had been receiving rent from the communities, who had been on
> the land for generations. At the time of the evictions, the land was
> under threat of foreclosure and negotiations were taking place with
> the government.
> But the unprecedented worldwide rush for land to grow food or fuel
> crops for the international market is now hitting some of the
> poorest communities hard, and leaving them at risk of violence and
> landlessness. Guatemala is now one of the world centres for growing
> biofuel crops.
> In Guatemala, says Pascual, who is petitioning European governments
> and the UN over the atrocity, more than 300 requests for land have
> been made in the past few years by large companies to mine for gold,
> silver and nickel; prospect for oil; develop hydroelectric power; or
> grow biofuel crops. More than 150 other areas have been identified
> as places of potential conflict over resources. The Polochic valley
> has been earmarked by international companies as suitable for
> biofuel crops.
> The 2008 decision by EU countries to obtain 10% of all transport
> fuels from <>biofuels
> by 2020 has proved to be the catalyst for many evictions, says
> Oxfam. To meet the EU target, the total land area required to grow
> industrial biofuels in developing countries has been estimated as
> 17.5m hectares (43.2m acres), more than half the size of Italy.
> "What happened in the Polochic valley exemplifies what is now
> happening all over the world. The latest data suggests up to 203m
> hectares of land has been acquired by companies in land deals and
> two-thirds of that is for biofuels," says Hannah Stoddart, economic
> justice adviser at Oxfam. "The UK government should immediately
> freeze its biofuel targets and call on the EU to scrap the
> directive. There is a mass undermining of rights and livelihoods,
> and no improvement in food supplies. They are just diverting food
> for stomachs to gas tanks."

Rachel Smolker
Biofuelwatch/Energy Justice Network
802.482.2848 (o)
802.735 7794 (m)
skype: Rachel Smolker

respect existence or expect resistance


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Biofuels are a wide range of fuels which are in some way derived from biomass.

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