The UVOC was founded in the 1980s and includes over 200 campesino communities in the departments of Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, Izabal, and El Quiché in Guatemala. It works principally on access to land for indigneous and campesino communities and to provide support in the process of legalisation of the communities’ land titles. The organisation also offers training to communities affiliated to the UVOC and supports development projects within those communities.
One of the main problems faced by the communities is land evictions, says UVOC's director, Carlos Morales: “In some cases the communities that are evicted have been living on the land for hundreds of years and from one day to the next the police present a notification that gives the community a maximum of one hour to leave the land with all their belongings. If the community does not comply, their houses, schools, churches, and belongings are burnt, their crops destroyed and their animals killed and in many cases members of the community are beaten. Following the eviction the community is forced to live on the streets or in temporary shelters."
One of the most serious cases over the last few years was that of the ‘La Mocca’ estate, where several people received gunshot wounds during the violent eviction of campesino families living on the estate, and one person died in ensuing conflict between the evicted families and alleged supporters of the estate owner. The evicted families had no alternative land and were stuck living on the side of the road leading to La Mocca for the next five years. UVOC provided them with support and legal representation, and the case was included in the Report for Mr. Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, compiled by 10 Guatemalan civil society organisations for the visit of Philip Alston to Guatemala.
Members of the UVOC have experienced surveillance and intimidation as a result of their work.
Carlos Morales said: “I have been threatened and attacked. It’s a constant worry having to hide day and night and not having any freedom to leave. This also affects my family, who can’t even go out in the street. We have had to resort to all possible security strategies."
PBI's accompaniment has enabled UVOC to continue its normal activities and carry on fighting for campesino rights.