By Shawna Quinn Blue
In May, I represented CUPE on a Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence (BTS) delegation. BTS coordinates delegations to Guatemala to express solidarity and to learn firsthand about the peoples’ struggle. We arrived during a period of heightened repression, with the intent to meet as many human rights activists and community leaders as possible.
CUPE has a partnership with the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA). CCDA is a Mayan peasant farmer and rural workers’ movement that works to defend the rights and culture of Indigenous peoples in Guatemala. During the short time that we were in the country, three CCDA community leaders were assassinated. I want to name and remember Mateo Chamán Paau, José Can Xol and Luis Arturo Marroquin. These courageous men were very active in their communities struggling to defend their land, territory and rights.
We met with several community members who told us that the Guatemalan government provides more protection to large plantation owners who control the land using violence, rather than protecting the majority of the people who rely on the land to simply live.
We also met with Abner Pérez López, coordinator of the Free the Rivers campaign against water privatization. CUPE is supporting this campaign through the Global Justice Fund. Guatemala faces a significant water crisis due to climate change and the growth of industrial-scale agriculture and mining in the country. There are extended droughts in some regions and extensive flooding in other regions. At the same time, plantation owners are illegally diverting rivers from their natural course to irrigate expanding sugar cane and African palm mono-crops. Communities used to rely on these creeks and rivers for drinking water and crop irrigation. They have been left high and dry. The CCDA and other rural organizations are campaigning to free the rivers for public use, and to have access to water recognized in Guatemala as a fundamental right.
During my visit to the CCDA headquarters, I found similarities between Guatemala and Prince Edward Island. Islanders are protesting the Water Act and any legislation or actions that compromise or deny access to safe, public water for everyone. One example is water rights and access being limited when tourists and large corporations buy land.
The CCDA is just one of many groups we met with in Guatemala who are fighting for their rights and for justice. I have taken back lots of stories and experiences that I will never forget from meeting the wonderful and courageous people of Guatemala.
Shawna Quinn Blue is a member of CUPE 3260, representing PEI educational assistants and youth services workers. Learn more about BTS at breakingthesilenceblog.com