MEXICO CITY – Before sunrise last June 2, Americo Chacon grabbed his documents, a few belongings and left Laguna Larga. Since then, both he and the rest of the residents of that Guatemalan community have been camping out on the Mexican border, waiting for the return of the land from which they were displaced.
Protected from the sun and rain by makeshift canvas tents, close to 450 people in the northern Guatemalan province of Peten have been waiting two months for permission to return home.
Accused of living in a protected area, even though at the time they had the authorities’ permission to settle there, the farming families of Laguna Larga were evicted on a judge’s order and their homes burned down by the army.
Now on the border, just 3 kilometers (2 miles) from their former community, they hope for a favorable ruling on the protection plea they filed with Guatemala’s Constitutional Court.
“We thought it wouldn’t take long, but it’s very slow – they haven’t settled anything,” Chacon, age 48 and the father of eight, told EFE.
The farm hand said the time they have spent on the border, across from the Mexican municipality of Candelaria in Campeche state, has worked against them. “We’ve lost our crops, and there’s nothing else we can do.”
The Guatemalans have used up the few resources they brought with them from their community, and depend exclusively on humanitarian aid from charitable organizations and the Mexican government through the so-called Beta Group, a unit of the National Migration Institute (INM).
Last week, a group of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), headed by Guatemala’s Luis Vargas, visited the camp, where they heard from the farm hands.
“The reason we’re camping on the border is because we remember that people in our country who have been evicted like us have been left in the streets – they’re given eight days at an inn and then they’re kicked out. That’s not what we want,” Chacon said.
During these weeks in the camp, people have suffered diarrhea and flu, which mostly affected the dozens of children in the community, but “now they’re under control,” he said.
The inhabitants of Laguna Larga came to that territory in the year 2000, and at that time obtained the acceptance of the Community Development Councils and government backing for their school.
One way or another, besides returning home, the farming families are going to demand compensation for the damage done to their community after they left.
“It really took a lot of work to construct our houses so we could live better, and what took us 17 years to build was destroyed in two days,” Chacon said.