Kilometer 207. Highway to Champerico, Retalhuleu, Guatemala.
As it tends to be the trend in our Latin American countries, large landholdings are commonly controlled by a few. Thousands of hectares are dedicated to livestock and the cultivation of single cash crops such as sugar cane, soy, and others destined to become bio-fuels. Meanwhile, the majority of the population, mostly poor peasants seeking to feed themselves via subsistence farming, suffers due to the lack of arable land available to them. Historically, those in power have favored exuberant profits over the nutrition of their fellow citizens. According to Amnesty International, as of the year 2000, Guatemalan land distribution remains grossly unbalanced: 1.5% of the population controls 62.5% of the land, while 94% of Guatemalans, the majority countryside peasants, only have use to 18% of the national territory. (1)
The Nueva Linda landholding is located along kilometer 207 on the highway which leads to the coastal town of Champerico. Hector Reyes, a local peasant leader who belonged to the Landless Maya Workers Union (STMST), sustained his family by working in Nueva Linda. Reyes, however, disappeared mysteriously on September 5, 2003, while running an errand for the then-owner and Spanish citizen Carlos Vidal Fernandez. (2)
Due to the lack of clarification by the authorities regarding the disappearance of Hector Reyes and the probable complicity by the owner of the landholding, peasants from 22 nearby communities occupied Nueva Linda in October 2003. “It is important to emphasize that, in this case, the main goal by the peasants who took over Nueva Linda was to pressure the authorities into clarifying the disappearance and to demand justice. In other words, this case differs from other land lot occupations where the main demand is usually an improvement in labor benefits or the acquisition of the land itself.” (3)
Almost a year later, on August 31, 2004, Guatemalan security forces unleashed a violent eviction in Nueva Linda which left a final tally of 12 dead: 9 peasants and 3 police officers. After the event, the family of Hector Reyes and a number of supportive members of nearby communities settled in between the few meters which separate the land lot’s fence and the highway. Four years after the disappearance of Hector Reyes and three years after the massacre, the Nueva Linda Movement for Justice continues its struggle through resistance along the side of the road.
“In commemoration to the example in resistance led by peasants of the southern coast against a system dominated by large landholdings”, the Committee for Peasant Development (CODECA) and the Anti-Imperialist Bloc convoked the second annual Caravan for the Memory which initiated from Guatemala City and concluded in Nueva Linda. Dozens of nearby community members as well as those belonging to a number of social organizations from other parts of the country joined in the resistance outside the immense land lot. (4)
“We demand Justice for the Forced Disappearance of Hector Reyes and the Massacre of August 31, 2004.”
The community in resistance primarily feeds itself by consuming corn grown in the narrow gap between the fence and the highway.
Doña Carmen offers us a delicious tamal made from local corn.
A well, which the Nueva Linda owners have attempted to poison on several occasions, provides vital water to the settlers in resistance.
The huts, which are made from wood, palm leaves and plastic, are located only a few meters from the road.
A series of events took place on the night of September first.
Different music ensembles provided entertainment to those in attendance.
A large truck dashes by dangerously close.
Nevertheless, the main event was without a doubt the screening of the recently presented documentary by French filmmaker Grégory Lassalle. Titled Kilometer 207: Along the Side of the Road, the film details the events as well as the three-year struggle dealing with the Nueva Linda case.
Bety Reyes Toledo, daughter of the disappeared Hector Reyes, declares in the documentary: “If a rich person would have been kidnapped, a poor person would already be in jail. But, since it was a rich person who kidnapped my father, nothing has been clarified. Three years have passed in our struggle for justice, and nothing is clear. That is why we want justice to be applied equally… It is as if justice does not apply to us poor.”
Despite having suffered a number of harassments and even been shot upon with gunfire, family members of Hector Reyes and the formidable group of peasants who accompany their struggle continue their peaceful resistance in search for justice. A community member reaffirms: “We have received threats, persecutions and intimidations by the private security. But we do not care. We will not take one step backwards until justice is made.” (5)
To view a two-minute synapse of the documentary Kilometer 207: Along the Side of the Road, please click here.
1 Lassalle, Grégory. Kilometer 207: Along the Side of the Road. Documentary. 42 Minutes. Guatemala, August 2007.
2 “Masacre en Nueva Linda: Caso Abierto…” A Rights Action Report, (November, 2005). p 9.
4 “Jornada contra la impunidad: Justicia por Nueva Linda”. Communiqué by the Anti-Imperialist Bloc. Guatemala, August 22, 2007.
5 Lasalle. Op. Cit.