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Before the landslides that caused at least 160 deaths, with still missing, in Guatemala city, the country’s social organizations had to mourn the murder of another community and territory defender: Rigoberto Lima Choc, a young environmental activist denounced the highly polluting activities of the African palm oil industry.
Rigoberto was one of the indigenous leaders that together with 20 local communities was fighting against the ecocide in La Pasión River by the companies that in recent years have established oil palm monoculture plantations in this region in the North of Guatemala.
“Our comrade Roberto Lima Choc, in response to the lack of attention by the local authorities and together with other communities affected by the expansion of monocultures, decided to demand justice of the relevant bodies in the protection of the environment, the Prosecutor´s Office and the Human Rights Ombudsman Office”, said Lourdes Gomez, member of the National Network for the Defense of Food Sovereignty in Guatemala (REDSAG) to Real World Radio.
Both Roberto and the other members of communities that started to publicly denounce the action of companies and the absence of a response by the State started to receive threats from hitmen in June this year.
The pressure from the communities was such that on September 17, an Environmental Court of Peten Department ordered the closure of REPSA for six months due to the pollution in La Pasion River.
The following day, three community leaders of this struggle were captured by company members. Rigoberto was negotiating the release of his colleagues when he was murdered outside the Court of Sayaxché, Peten department.
The death threats haven´t stopped, said Lourdes, and the situation continues to be delicate for the leaders in this struggle against palm monocultures in the North of Guatemala. So far there has been no advance in solving the crime. On the contrary they are “bringing community leaders to justice”, denounced the member of REDSAG.
“The companies don´t have sanitary controls, or environmental impact assessments, they pour waste with agrotoxics in La Pasion River and have eliminated all aquatic life there”, said Lourdes about the situation of monoculture plantations in the region.
Monocultures in Guatemala were first introduced through cane sugar in the South, and then through African oil palm: “they have been promoted on the basis that they would ensure food for the inhabitants, but they did nothing more than worsen the food scarcity in the country, because monocultures have expanded onto highly productive lands”.
This monoculture expansion took place in the five departments in the North of the country, promoting “an unmanageable land grabbing for ten years, displacing many communities under threats, without environmental impact assessments, or permits for logging, and disregarding labor rights of the people who work for these companies”.
The situation is disastrous according to Lourdes: “the companies have their taxes exempted by the government, they pollute water, they grab lands, they attempt against communities and the natural heritage of the country. It is a system that generates big economic benefits for a few”.
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