On 10 June 2014, the Guatemalan Congress approved Decree 19-2014, more commonly known as Plant Varieties Protection Bill or the Monsanto Law (because of Monsanto’s, a multinational company, promotion of the law) and it was planned to take effect on 26 September 2014. The Monsanto Law outlawed the replanting, transportation, or selling of privatized seeds without permission, and made these actions punishable by one to four years in jail and a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 quetzals (130 to 1,300 US dollars).
From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala was embroiled in a civil war fought between the government of Guatemala and the rural poor. In the early 1980s, under the leadership of military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, the Guatemalan military massacred 250,000 indigenous Mayans leaving deep wounds in Guatemalan society, which have contributed to the high murder and crime rates that continued to plague the country. Additionally, the government was famously corrupt; one non-governmental organization asserted that up to thirty percent of the annual national budget was lost to corruption.
On 9 June 1987 workers of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de Lunafil (Lunafil Thread Factory Workers Union, or SITRALU) were given unwelcome news by management.
The Lunafil factory was located on the main highway in Amatitlan, just 15 miles from Guatemala City (capital of Guatemala). In that factory workers spun cotton grown on Guatemalan plantations into thread. The thread was then shipped to other factories for Guatemalan workers to use in sewing garments for export, the so-called maquiladoras.
From 1961 to 1996 Guatemalans endured a bloody civil war. During this conflict the military-controlled government fought the leftist guerillas or the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG). These groups fought each other for political control. The extreme violence pushed many indigenous Guatemalans high into the country’s highlands or displaced them as refugees into other countries.
On February 4, 1976, a massive earthquake hit the highlands of Guatemala and displaced more than one million people. Indigenous groups from the departments of Sacatepequez, Chimaltenango, Guatemala, and Quiche were hit the hardest and the weak response from the national government brought to light the racial inequalities affecting indigenous peoples.
The Guatemalan people have endured numerous hardships throughout the years, but none more tragic than those perpetrated by the Guatemalan government and military during the country’s thirty-six year civil war. The Guatemalan civil war began in 1960, when a group of insurgents sought to depose the US-backed military government. The military had obtained complete authority in Guatemala by overthrowing the democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz in 1957.
Beginning in 1931 Jorge Ubico ruled Guatemala with an iron fist with the help of the vicious secret police. He admired Hitler’s tactics. By the summer of 1944, a similarly brutal dictator, Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, was overthrown in the face of a widespread nonviolent campaign in nearby El Salvador. This campaign served as a template for Guatemala’s own movement.