In common with many other countries in Latin America, Guatemala suffers from a highly unequal “bimodal” distribution of land. More than half of the land in the country is covered by private land estates owned by either families and individuals or by mining, logging, agribusiness and plantation companies. In contrast, smallholdings amount to one fifth of the land area and are occupied by peasants and small farmers who make up 80% of the population. Indigenous peoples are the customary owners of land throughout the country, but in many cases do not have legal demarcation nor titles to their ancestral territories. Despite promises to recognise indigenous peoples’ and peasant farmers’ land rights, made in the 1996 Peace Accords and in stagnant proposals for agrarian reforms, little has been done to secure the land rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.[i]
The importance of ensuring respect for the rights of forest peoples’ to control their forests, lands and livelihoods, becomes ever clearer and yet more contested. As the articles in this edition of our newsletter starkly reveal, land and resource grabs are not just being imposed by commercial developers but are being actively promoted by governments, whose principle responsibility should be to protect the rights of citizens. Yet these same impositions are also being resisted, sometimes at great personal cost, by local communities and indigenous peoples.