GRAND PLAN — A History of the Q’eqchi’ Territory
By: Carol Ixtabalán
“The earth is the cornerstone of Guatemalan social structure because through it, wealth and opulence have been forged by some–yet for the great majority, it has meant misery and abandonment by their government.” These words open Rafael González’ documentary Plan Grande: Una historia del Territorio Q’eqchi’. Its first showing is at the 5th Festival of Shorts and it closes out the Visible and Safe campaign by UDEFEGUA. Its goal is to divulge, communicate about and inform the general population regarding criminalization of and aggression towards those who defend human rights.
Grand Plan recounts how the Q’eqchi’ people have struggled against large corporations that disposses them of their ancestral land. It reveals the exploitation of them by these companies as a cheap labor force and the social injustices which are consequences of the government’s abandonment of them. Throughout the storyline a Q’eqchi’ man narrates how his father left the community known as Murciélago, traipsing through forests, mountains and getting lost in vast flatlands. And from that originates the name of this community, Big Plan, a place, like many in this area of northern Guatemala, that have been affected by abusive third-party actors and dispossession of lands.
The exploitation of Grand Plan began when production of bananas was introduced to the area in 1978. This created an expectation among the people that a “great opportunity” was available due to the establishment of a major corporation in the region which would offer life-long employment for adults and their future children. It turned out to be a half-truth: there was work, very difficult and demanding work, which did not pay decent wages.
Alberto Chub Caal, a human rights and indigenous peoples’ rights defender talks about how in 2008, thirty years after the setting up of banana growing a group known as Campo a Campo arrived in the community talking about workers’ rights and the obligation to pay fair wages. It was then that people became more aware of the value of their work and began demanding what was rightfully theirs. As some Q’eqchi’ men have stated, “The wages were between 35-38 quetzales (about USD 4.60-USD 5.20) per day, working approximately 12 hours/day, yielding 250 quetzales (approximately USD 34) every two weeks.” This is insufficient to survive, even more so, if one has a family.
There were obstacles for the banana producers once the demands began. Their solution was to seek support from those high in the government who would facilitate the repression of the indigenous communities and facilitate the appropriation of their lands. They went as far as burning homes and crops, activities carried out by the national police.
Experts in the field view this dispossession as a new cycle of private enterprise’s appropriation of lands: a process since colonial times which has continued through today. Its purpose is to advance mining megaprojects, monoculture or hydroelectrics. For this reason Alberto Chub Caal unwaverly defends the rights of indigenous communities who eat and live off the land. The land they plant which provides them with many resources for their subsistence. Alberto Caal was accused of illicit association with intent to silence the people. Then after two years and some months in prison he was released after he demonstrated that he was innocent.
This story is identical to that of many defenders of rights of indigenous people vis-a-vis natural resources in Guatemala and in all of Latin America. People who raise their voices in self-defense or in defense of others are quashed by those who take advantage of power.
“Land is a human right, she is “our mother” because she gives us everything.”
The Plan Grande can be viewed in UDEFEGUA’s youtube channel.
Image: James Rodríguez