Information on the Kekchi indigenous community and their treatment by the government, including the armed forces [GTM27575.E]

The following information was provided during a 25 August 1997 telephone interview with the director of the Guatemala City-based Centro para Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (CALDH), one of Guatemala's leading human rights organizations.

The director stated that he did not have information on recent acts (last two or three years) of violence committed against the Kekchí (or Q'eqchi') indigenous community, but mentioned that this community is located in Alta Verapaz department, a region known for violence related to land issues. The director stated that the area known as the Franja Transversal del Norte in Alta Verapaz has been and still is targeted by the military for expropriations of land. The Kekchí communities have lost a substantial amount of land as a result of such incidents. The director added that the Kekchí have colonial title and ancestral rights to these areas but that they do not appear in the land registry, thus enabling the military to force them from their lands, often using violence. The director reported that the military has traditionally been very strong in the department of Alta Verapaz, where the national arms factory is located. One of the most well-publicized massacres in Guatemala occurred in Panzos in 1979 when 100 Kekchís were killed by the army. Various Kekchí areas have been flooded as a result of construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric project. The director also noted that refugees have returned to Alta Verapaz as part of the designated refugee-return area of Yalpemech in the municipality of Chisec. He characterized the current situation in the Kekchí region as tense but did not know of any recent violent actions specifically involving the Kekchí community.

The following information was provided by the regional coordinator of the United Nations Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) office in Cobán in the department of Alta Verapaz during a 25 August 1997 telephone interview.

Most of the problems facing the Kekchí indigenous people are linked to poverty and land conflicts. The source stated that the current land situation in Alta Verapaz is "extremely complex" with ambiguity of land demarcations making it very difficult to determine legitimate ownership of a specific plot. In this context both landowners and indigenous groups use violence to secure or claim their right to the land. The coordinator mentioned that there are still violent land-related incidents in Alta Verapaz, as there are in other departments. He clarified, however, that these incidents are not distributed evenly around the entire department but are concentrated in specific unidentified troublespots.

The following information was provided during a 26 August 1997 telephone interview with an anthropologist and director of the Centre of Latin American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. The professor authored a 1988 book on Guatemalan refugees entitled Refugees of a Hidden War and is a specialist on Guatemala's indigenous communities. She is a regular visitor to Guatemala, where she is currently conducting research on a Quiché indigenous community.

The professor stated that the overall situation of the indigenous communities remains difficult in Guatemala. Although it is unlikely that massacres of indigenous people similar to those in the past will reoccur, the possibility of harassment or persecution of indigenous peoples depends to a large extent on the specific situation in each region. The professor mentioned that even though the Peace Accords offer state protection to the indigenous populations, the practical implementation of such a concept is problematic and may take years to realize.

The professor stated that the relationship between the Kekchí and the military is characterized by distrust and contempt. The strong Kekchí participation in the guerrilla movement in Alta Verapaz, mainly in the Ejercito Guerrillero de los Pobres (EGP or Guerrilla Army of the Poor), along with their ability to escape military searches by hiding and surviving in the Guatemalan rain forest for long periods of time has frustrated and angered the military. As a result the military views the Kekchís "as people they cannot count on". The source added that many villages in Alta Verapaz were destroyed and their inhabitants massacred during the war.

The professor reported that Guatemalan indigenous people tend to be very rooted in their respective communities. Consequently a Kekchí Indian that has left Alta Verapaz for another department in Guatemala may arouse the suspicions of local authorities, who will wonder why the individual is not living in his or her community.

For information on the general situation of indigenous communities in Guatemala, please consult the attachments.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the DIRB within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Centro para Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (CALDH), Guatemala City. 25 August 1997. Telephone interview with the director.

United Nations Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA). Regional office of Cobán, Alta Verapaz. 25 August 1997. Telephone interview with the regional coordinator.

University of California, Berkeley. 26 August 1997. Telephone interview with the director of the Centre for Latin American Studies.


Cultural Survival Quarterly [Cambridge, Mass.]. Summer 1997. Vol. 21, No. 2. Kay B. Warren. "The Indigenous Role in Guatemala Peace," pp. 24-27.

_____. Summer 1997. Vol. 21, No. 2. Victor D. Montejo. "The Pan-Mayan Movement: Mayans at the Doorway of the New Millenium," pp. 28-31.

_____. 1989. Vol. 13, No. 3. William V. Davidson and Melanie A. Counce. "Mapping the Distribution of Indians in Central America," pp. 37-40.

Minority Rights Group International. December 1989. No. 62. "The Maya of Guatemala". London: Minority Rights Group, pp. 27-30, 32.

Additional Sources Consulted

Amnesty International Report.1992-1997.

Amnesty International. Urgent Action. Guatemala. 1992-1997.

Central America NewsPak [Austin, Tex.]. 1993-1997.

Central America Report [Guatemala]. 1992-1997.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. 1994-1997. U.S. Department of State. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Critique: Review of the Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. 1994-1997. New York: Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

Guatemala Human Rights Bulletin [Washington, DC]. Quarterly.

Guatemala Human Rights Update [Washington, DC]. 1994-1997.

News from Human Rights Watch/Americas [New York]. 1995-1997.

Latinamerica Press [Lima]. 1992-1997.

Latin American Weekly Report [London]. 1992-1997.

Latin American Regional Reports: Central America & the Caribbean [London]. 1992-1997.

Material from the Indexed Media Review (IMR) or country files containing articles and reports from diverse sources (primarily dailies and periodicals) from the Weekly Media Review.

Newspapers and periodicals pertaining to the appropriate region.

Unsuccessful attempts to contact five oral sources.