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  HOME | Central America

Guatemalan Former Rebels Trade Rifles for Hoes

SANTA ANA, Guatemala – With the roar of gunfire seared into his brain, former guerrilla Raymundo Galiegos has spent the 20 years since the end of Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war trying to make a new life as a member of an agricultural cooperative.

In Nuevo Horizonte, a remote village in Peten province, the 60-something Galiegos and 482 other veterans of the conflict grow crops and raise cattle and fish on a spread of 900 hectares (2,200 acres).

“My father was a peasant and we had no land to work. Since I was little, I understood the inequality that exists in Guatemala, that’s why I took up arms,” he says of his decision to join the guerrillas at the tender age of 12.

Though Nuevo Horizonte is a relative success, the members are unhappy with the failure of successive Guatemalan governments to fully implement the December 1996 agreements that ended a war blamed for some 250,000 deaths.

“We must form a society that presses and obliges the state to fulfill the peace accords,” a former rebel identifying himself only as Geronimo tells EFE as he feeds tilapia in a pond.

“The struggle is to forge a collective consciousness without weapons,” he adds.

“There are things that work and others that don’t. The cattle-raising and the aquaculture are good, but there are other things that have gone badly for us,” Nuevo Horizonte farmer Jesus Martinez acknowledged.

Martinez, 40, said that actions of Guatemala’s business elite and the U.S. government have hampered development in the Central American nation.

“The revolutionary movement was a school. It taught us to respect women, who are not just a factory to have children,” Geronimo says. “But the system that dominates us has not changed in Guatemala, though today there are social movements that pressure the government.”

Nuevo Horizonte represents an alternative. The co-op members have their homes on the property and have also established a clinic, a school, a library, grocery stores and other community institutions.

In fact, families in nearby villages send their children to the school in Nuevo Horizonte, which has computers, unlike the provincial public schools.

Yet the members of Nuevo Horizonte remain vulnerable to factors outside their control.

“The price of maize is going lower all the time. My family and I break our backs to sew and harvest the crop and we make almost nothing. This is not what they promised us,” a 50-year-old former rebel says while planting seeds.

The 1996 accords have not been honored, Galiegos says.

“What kind of peace are we talking about? Peace is not just being able to sleep at night. Peace is having the certainty that you will have work every day and that you will be able to provide your children with food and education,” he adds.

That kind of peace “doesn’t exist in Guatemala,” Galiegos says.


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