700 Guatemalans take refuge in Mexico

Demand the IDB stop driving poor communities from their homes and stop militarizing the Mexico- Guatemala Border
The community of Laguna Larga, from the municipality of San Andres, Peten sought refuge on Friday in the southern Mexican state of Campeche, fleeing in advance of Guatemalan state security forces, reportedly 1000 police and military, on route to evict the community. A Mexican- Guatemala border working group reports that the settlement is experiencing a humanitarian crisis, with acute medical needs compounded by a fear of local authorities. They demand recognition of the families’ right to refuge in Mexico.
Laguna Larga was one of 37 communities situated within the Laguna del Tigre Protected Area, which forms part of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. An eviction of the community of La Mestiza, comprised of almost 300 families, is currently scheduled for June 14. The order is being appealed.
Lawyers with the Bufete Jurídico de Derechos Humanos have worked with 27 of these communities over the past five years, and have verified that they were established in the area between the 1970s and 1990s. While the Laguna del Tigre Protected Area was declared in 1989, in the early years the population of the Petén was unaware of the designation. They found that communities established in the 1990s came to work with the French petroleum company Perenco, granted a concession to operate in the heart of the protected area, though environmental defenders and communities have long blamed Perenco for extensive pollution.
Concerned about their precarious situation, local leaders created a sustainable development proposal which would allow long established communities to make a sustainable life while protecting of the Laguna del Tigre, a model which has been successfully employed in other areas of the Petén department. This proposal was presented to the Guatemalan government on November 4, 2016, but the government refused to establish a serious dialog, and instead continued to wrongfully criminalize community leaders.
In March 2017 Jovel Tovar, a leader of the community of La Mestiza who spearheaded the effort for dialog, was arrested. Lawyers have been denied access to evidence against Tovar, and have been prohibited from disclosing information about the public trial, both illegal under Guatemalan law. Tovar is charged with clearing land, and his community admits to having cleared 100 out of 43,000 hectares cleared in the Laguna del Tigre in 2016. Communities, environmentalists, and human rights defenders ask why authorities prosecute communities who clear small parcels, while the “narco-ranchers” clear thousands with impunity.
The IADB supports the management of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, including funding of the CONAP agency which promotes the evictions. The IADB is also currently preparing a $100 million “Border Integration Loan” to the implemented by the Guatemalan army along the Mexico – Guatemala Border.

Communities seeking dialog have come into conflict with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a USAID supported conservation organization, which controls the forest management concession in Laguna del Tigre, and that markets carbon credits through Rainforest Alliance. While WCS has a long history in Guatemala and has successfully promoted partnerships with Petén communities in the past, in the case of Laguna del Tigre, it is reported that WCS has actively pursued the eviction of existing communities within the reserve.

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