GUATEMALA CITY – Thousands of Guatemalan Indians marched through the streets of this capital on Tuesday to demand the approval of a Comprehensive Rural Development Law to help alleviate pervasive poverty in the countryside.
The head of the National Indigenous and Peasant Coordinator, or Conic, Juan Tiney, told reporters that the Indians had decided to undertake the march because of the lack of attention being paid to their demands by President Alvaro Colom and Congress.
Coming from assorted rural communities, the peasants demonstrated on the main streets of Guatemala City and staged sit-ins at Congress and on the Plaza de la Constitucion without incident.
Tiney said that Congress is refusing to approve a land reform and food security measure that the poor peasants in this country have been demanding for several years.
“They have no will. It’s something that doesn’t interest them,” the peasant leader said.
The Indians were received at the presidential residence by Catalina Soberanis, who told reporters that the government had not been able to attend to the demands of the peasants “due to the lack of resources,” and she invited the rural organizations to join the demands for Congress to approve changes to the budget.
The Colom administration “is willing to attend to” the peasants’ demands, but it insists that to do that it needs resources that it does not currently have, she said.
In addition to demanding the approval of this bill, the Indians and peasants also are protesting against mining and oil drilling in the National Laguna del Tigre Park, in northern Peten province.
The license held by the French firm Perenco to continue with the extraction of crude in that area was extended for another 15 years last month by Colom, despite the opposition of environmental organizations.
During the march, the demonstrators also demanded that reconstruction projects move forward in communities that were affected in May by Tropical Storm Agatha.
Government figures indicate that seven out of every 10 Indians, which comprise 42 percent of Guatemala’s 14 million citizens, live in poverty. EFE