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Report from Salvador Xolwitz, devastated by October's storms


By admin - Posted on 01 November 2011

Hello,

I had the opportunity to visit Salvador Xolhuitz cooperative this week, the CCDA-affiliated community that was most affected by the recent rains. The members ofthe community showed me the damages suffered on their property, and requested thatI put together an article for their English-speaking friends to convey the impact of the damages and theirconcerns for the future.

The people of Salvador Xolhuitz have been through their fair share of struggles, since gaining access to their finca (plantation) through the government's land fund in 2004. They have worked to build their community, overcome internal conflict and attempted to meet the annual payments required to pay off their debt. Despite these challenges, residents are grateful for the land they now live and work on,and are determined to make their story a successful one.

Just as the rainy season was drawing to an end, the residents of Salvador Xolhuitz were presented with another challenge. After days of heavy rain, the earth gave way, and their finca suffered numerous landslides. Thankfully, there were no injuries or deaths, since the landslides occured in the part of their property designated for production. The result however, is the loss of productive land, in the middle their harvest. Their losses are principally banana trees, coffee and trees used for wood. It is estimated that the cost of the damages is over Q 800,000.00 or $101,105.81 Canadian dollars. 

The effects ofthe landslides would be devestating to any community, but in Salvador Xolhuitz there is an additional challenge, their debt. Altogether, Salvador Xolhuitz owes Q 2,740,123.28 (345,883.97 Canadian dollars)for the land theybought through the land fund in 2004. This figurere presents an immense challenge, considering that each benefactor earns approximately Q 20 ($2.50 Canadian) a day[1]. As interest accumulates on their debt, the people of Xolhuitz find themselves further and further away from paying off the finca, with their payment plan to expire in 2016.

Guatemala's land fund was founded in the1996 Peace Accords for the purpose of addressing the hugely unequal access to land that plagues Guatemala. The land fund adheres to a market-based approach to land reform, which  means that it serves as an intermediary between groups of campesinos interested in accessing land, and landowners interested in selling their property. Unfortunately, this program has failed to alleviate the problem of landlessness, as only 253 communities have succeeded in buying land since the fund began its operations in 1998. Among land fund benefactors, the majority live in conditions of poverty, due to the poor quality of land accessed. It is common for fincas bought through the land fund to be remote, lacking infraestructure such as roads, potable water and electricity,and to have been long abandoned with land that is no longer productive.Since the creation of the land fund provoked a surge in demand for land, with few landowners willing to sell, the land accessed isoften overvalued, leaving benefactors with a large debt. As a result , it is predicted that 139 of the 253 communities that accessed land through the fund, will be unable to pay off their debt, and therefore are at risk of loosing their land. To date, three communities have lost their land after finding themselves unable to repay their debt.

 Despite being among the 139 communities at risk of loosing their land, the residents of Salvador Xolhuitzare fortunate. The land they accessed is of good quality, and they have been able to build a school, install electricity and enjoy access to water. Since accessing the finca, they have had several good harvests, but have so far not been able pay the full amount outlined in their annual debt payments. Now, having lost approximately half their coffee harvest, as well as other crops, they find themselves worrying about making ends meet, nevertheless fulfilling their debt payment.The damages suffered to the finca are yet to be acknowledged by the land fund, whichhas failed to provide any assistance to the community.

Aside from the land fund, the governmen thas also failed to provide assitance to the community of Salvador Xolhuitz amd other small producers affected by the devastating rains. Unfortunately, when natural disasters strike Guatemala, emergency relief is often channeled through the government, where it rarely reaches campesinos. It is for this reason that the residentsof Salvador Xolhuitz have turned to the CCDA and their international partners, in this time of need.

In my conversations with the governing council for Salvador Xolhuitz, I was told that any help received would be directed replanting lost crops and repairing damages, all of which will help them make this year's debt payment. Residents expressed their frustration, that they have been forced to turn to the CCDA and international partners for assistance, in times where it is the government's responsibility to come to their aid.

Donations can be sent to CoDevelopment Canada at #260 2747 EastHastings St., Vancouver, BC, V5K 1Z8. Any donation over $20 will receive a tax receipt. In order to ensure that your contribution is directed to the CCDA, please write "CCDA relief" on the memo line of your cheque. Donations will be accepted by CoDevelopment until the end of December 2011. For more information, please write: <cjgreenbeans@gmail.com>

I (Laura) would be happy to answer anyquestions. I can be reached at l_fanjoy@hotmail.com. Please pass this information along to your communities!

 

Laura Fanjoy is a Canadian working with the CCDA through Breaking the Silence's internship program, She is also a member of Education in Action, the Ottawa member organization of the Cafe Justicia Network.

Recent mudslides destoyed many crops in the CCDA community of Xolhuitz