Parroquia (parish) of San Lucas Tolimán - San Lucas Tolimán: Indigenous Maya community of approximately 40,000, located in the central highlands of Guatemala. - Sister parish of the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota, USA since 1964. - Goal of the sister parish relationship: Enhance and enrich the whole person spiritually, intellectually, and physically. - The mission: Fight both the immediate causes of poverty and its underlying causes.
Parroquia programs Land development Home construction Health care Education Apprenticeship Experimental farming Reforestation Coffee Honey Fuel-efficient stoves
Primary source of poverty: Unequal access to land When one thinks of Guatemala, one thinks of images like those on the previous pages— beautiful Lake Atitlán, or colorfully attired Mayan women on market day, or the grand temples of Tikal. Such beauty, though, masks an unfortunate reality of grinding poverty in which the majority of the people do not have access to the primary means of production: land.
Poverty continued… The following two pictures illustrate rural and urban poverty respectively. In the first photo, the poverty depicted in this house, constructed of cast-off pieces of “lamina,” or roofing metal, results from an absentee landlord. Rural poverty and inequality of land distribution results in an exodus to urban areas, as the hillside slum in the second photo reveals.
Statistics on poverty and inequality The top 20% of income earners receive 63% of the nation’s income and own 80% of land. Life expectancy: less than 50 yrs. Infant mortality: 80 deaths (per 1000). 60% can’t meet minimal nutritional needs. Stunted growth in 95% of indigenous children.
A picture is worth a thousand words Go back to the previous picture and look at it carefully. Yes…, it is a picture of a cave used for Maya worship services. But look even more carefully to the right side of the picture. Do you see the sharp angle of the hillside, and the corn planted on that hillside? Well…, that is part of a family’s farm! When land is unequally divided, such tiny, nearly inaccessible parcels are what ordinary people—those without power or privilege— must use to eke out a living.
Why such land inequality? Land was forcibly and violently expropriated from the Maya in stages beginning with the Spanish conquest in the 1500s. The process accelerated with the “liberal” reforms of 1871, whereby land used to feed families and communities was taken for coffee farming, thus making it more “efficient.” Further acceleration occurred during the scorched-earth military policies of the1970s and 1980s when over 600 communities were simply wiped off the map.
Why not redistribute the land? 18 extended families have controlled Guatemala’s land for centuries, and have been able to do so with the assistance of the military and para-military forces. These families have no interest in redistribution. The agrarian reform of 1952 under the democratic administration of Jacabo Arbenz came to a halt when it touched upon the holdings of the United Fruit Company. The US labeled the effort “communist,” and an ensuing CIA coup resulted in 40 years of brutal military dictatorships.
The Parroquia of San Lucas Tolimán addresses the land problem When Father Greg Schaffer arrived in 1964 he found a community in need of, well…, everything. It needed hope most of all. It also needed land, housing, access to agrarian resources, health care, education and more. The parish quietly began its own version of agrarian reform by using its US-based financial resources to buy plantation property that would occasionally come up for sale. The land would then be distributed or sold to families on concessionary terms.
A mix of communal and private land holding in new Maya communities The following photo depicts a group of families in nearby Panamiché who received land (about 100 acres) from the parroquia land program. A typical arrangement in cases like this is for home sites to be owned individually, and the agricultural land to be worked communally.