The regional campaign "Secure indigenous territories to protect life" focuses on the importance of guaranteeing the legal security of land and territorial rights of indigenous peoples to ensure full recognition of their fundamental rights.
To learn about the obstacles faced by Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala due to the lack of recognition of their territorial rights, we had a conversation with Neydi Juracán, spokesperson for the campaign. She is a young Mayan Kaqchiquel leader, member of the Comité Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA) and of the National Land Coalition of Guatemala promoted by ILC LAC.
For Neydi, the lack of recognition of territorial rights is a historical problem for indigenous and peasant families. It is a problem faced in not only in Guatemala, but throughout Abya-Yala, "where the invaders - also called "'conquerors' - had appropriated territories and natural resources".
In the last 20 years she observes that the plundering of indigenous communities has intensified: families are being evicted from their territories and mother nature is being exploited.
" When you don't have secure rights to land and territory, other fundamental rights are also undermined, such as the right to housing, water, health, education, food and freedom of movement," explains Neydi. On top of these multiple violations, a deeper and more brutal problem looms:
"We, the Indigenous Peoples, who live in situations of racism, discrimination and marginalisation, are facing an ethnocide. It seems that the policy of extermination of Indigenous Peoples in our region is still in force".
In the face of demands for the recognition of indigenous peoples' lands and territories, the state's response is, according to her, non-existent. "The state is weakened. Not only does it promote extractivist policies and the expansion of monocultures in the territories, but it also responds to the interests of the oligarchy and organised crime. These actors take advantage and extend their borders into our territories", says Neydi. For her, the republican system based on the division, control and balance between the three powers, is broken: "In Guatemala, the alignment of powers is evident. As CCDA, in recent years, we have not had a single case resolved, despite the fact that we maintain a constant dialogue and advocate to resolve the high level of conflict that is concentrated in the territories".
INDIGENOUS WOMEN, POLITICAL ACTORS IN THE DEFENCE OF LAND AND TERRITORY
When it comes to defending land, indigenous women are the main promoters of peasant family agriculture for the construction of what is known as Utz K'aslemal, the Good Living of the Mayan peoples. The new generations, Neydi shares, have promoted a reflective process within their organisation, questioning the gender roles rooted in the peasant family farming model.
Women have always played an important role in the conservation of life and territories, producing food, preserving seeds and guarding native plants for alternative health care. Despite this, for Neydi, Guatemala has a historic debt to women. From the 1950s to the present day, the percentage of land that has been directly allocated to women has only reached 10.8%, despite the fact that they are the main promoters of family agriculture and are directly linked to the territories.
The active role women play exposes them to more difficulties. "Currently, the CCDA alone works with more than 350 women with arrest warrants in territories with agrarian conflicts. In most cases, the persecution is not only against rights linked to the territory, but also against their bodies. The processes of repression and persecution are accompanied by attitudes of violence and misogyny", says Neydi.
THE ROAD TOWARDS GENDER EQUALITY AND FULL PARTICIPATION IN DECISION-MAKING REMAINS CHALLENGING DUE TO THE PERSISTENCE OF A HETEROPATRIARCHAL SYSTEM AND STRUCTURAL RACISM.
Neydi acknowledges some progress, but considers them insufficient. "In the CCDA, 67% of the total membership are women and about 60% participate in decision-making spaces, such as boards and committees". But when it comes to land rights issues, women's representation barely exceeds 35%.
"Historically, land has been seen as a symbol of power. The mere possibility that women can be given a small space to assume that power in our country still implies challenging male privilege," she says.
YOUTH, WITH A RENEWED ROLE IN THEIR COMMUNITIES
Indigenous youth in Guatemala face similar challenges. In a scenario of great conflict in indigenous and rural territories, the only perceived option for young people is to emigrate. The young, indigenous and rural population, observes Neydi, concentrates the greatest inequality, and at the same time, it is the one that preserves and keeps alive the collective historical memory.
Youth also contribute, through the use of digital tools and alternative communication channels, to making cases of rights violations visible and systematising them. At a time when democracy in the country is weakening, for Neydi, the role of youth is fundamental in its recovery and reconstruction.
"We continue to claim our rights to land and our territories," Neydi stresses.
The committed and long-lasting struggle of indigenous communities, with the active participation of women and youth, in Guatemala and the region, still has to overcome numerous obstacles.
In the midst of a complex reality, the communities' resistance and the search for the Good Living continue.