Land Acquisition and Sustainability in Guatemala

Over 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or forcibly disappeared in a civil war that raged from 1960-1996.  The roots of the Guatemalan civil war reach back through nearly 500 years of violence and ethnic exclusion.  The Spanish conquest of Guatemala replaced the  socio-economic order of the ancient Mayan civilization with a harsh plantation economy based on forced labor. Although Guatemala gained independence in 1821, it continued to be ruled by a series of military dictators aligned with the landed oligarchy.  In 1944, a civilian government was elected on a platform of ambitious land reforms which came to conflict with the interests of the powerful multinational corporations.  International forces helped orchestrate a coup d'état in June 1954 and installed a right-wing military dictator. For the next forty years Guatemala would be plunged into political violence.

During the civil war time, the Guatemalan government led a campaign to wipe out large portions of the country's indigenous populations.  In 1982, General Efraín Ríos Montt replaced Lucas García as head of state.  Ríos Montt launched a ‘scorched earth’ operation against the Maya. The army and its paramilitary units – including 'civilian patrols' of forcibly conscripted local men – systematically attacked 626 villages. The inhabitants were raped, tortured and murdered.  Over three hundred villages were completely razed. Buildings were demolished; crops and drinking water were fouled. Terrorized by the violence, between 500,000 and 1.5 million Mayan civilians fled to other regions within the country or became refugees abroad. Ríos Montt was finally ousted in a coup in 1983.  Later, in 1986, a civilian government passed a new constitution and eventually initiated a gradual peace process that culminated in the signing of a U.N.-brokered peace accord in 1996.  Two truth commissions examined human rights abuses committed during the civil war and discovered unequivocal evidence that the government had perpetrated genocide against the Mayan people. Nevertheless, efforts to hold the perpetrators accountable have faced many obstacles.  Guatemala continues to face major challenges to successful development, including poverty, malnutrition, and vulnerability to economic fluctuations and natural disasters.

Our Canisius team will be partnering with Agros International for a unique one-week immersion experience into Guatemala that is being offered for students together with their parents and will be led by Canisius College President John Hurley. Agros International is a faith-based organization that helps rural poor in Latin America escape the cycle of generational poverty through an integrated and long-term approach of land acquisition and sustainable village building.  Agros purchases land that can support farming families who in turn work together to establish basic housing, sanitary latrines, clean water and a democratically-elected governing structure.  There are currently 19 Agros villages in Guatemala and our team will focus on how some of these villages are developing coffee cooperatives together.  Participants will have the opportunity to build direct relationships with village members though meetings, home visits, farming, crafts, and communal celebrations.  To learn about Agros, visit http://www.agros.org/index.cfm 

In a country marked by overwhelming tragedy and poverty, this trip is an exciting, one-time-only opportunity that will help families understand the value of solidarity via a thriving model of sustainable development

For further information, contact Lu Firestone at x 2422 or firestol@canisius.edu