Twenty-five thousand refugees return safely to Guatemala using international nonviolent accompaniment (Project A), 1993-1999

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Project A began organizing prior to 1993; however, did not begin acting until January 1993 with the first group of returning refugees.
Location and Goals
"We did what we had hoped to do, to stabilize a situation a certain amount so the people [Guatemalan refugees] could get back and start out without a lot of interference." John Payne of the Project A's organizers.

From 1960 to 1996 Guatemalans endured a civil war in which the Guatemalan military and leftist guerrillas fought for control. In order to defeat the guerrillas, the government focused on controlling and depleting the potential guerrilla population- generally the Mayan Guatemalans. Approximately 200,000 indigenous Mayans were displaced in the early 1980s and in 1987 they decided it was time to head home.

Due to on-going repression and poor living conditions in Mexico, Guatemalan refugees elected representatives to form the Permanent Commissions (CCPP). The CCPP published an open letter outlining several conditions that were essential to their return. Among these conditions included the right to be accompanied by international groups. The Guatemalan call for accompaniment caused the development of what came to be known as Project A (also known as Project Accompaniment and Proyecto Acompanimento).

In 1989, Canadians formed a working group to organize a Canadian response to the Guatemalans’ request for accompaniment. The working group created an action plan that developed the Project A Steering Committee. Two representatives with past Guatemalan experience were elected from each of the five participating Canadian regions (BC, the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, the Atlantic) to begin organizing and working with the CCPP to ensure accompaniment would be provided for returning Guatemalan refugees. People from across Canada headed to Mexico by either paying their own transportation or finding a sponsor NGO or church group to receive the necessary training to become an accompanier.

On October 8 1992 an accord was signed with the Guatemalan government, paving the way for Guatemalan refugees to begin returning home. Guatemalan refugees were the first people in the world to negotiate their own return to their country. Trained and prepared, the Canadian accompaniers and other accompaniers from around the world, began to plan along with the CCPP and the Steering Committee to return Guatemalans home to Guatemala

In early January 1993 the returnees tore down their houses in the camps and took everything they owned with them; tin roofing and wood from their homes, their dishes, clothing, machetes, and animals. The returnees carried their belongings on their backs down the mountainsides to main roads where trucks were waiting to transport their goods. On January 9, refugees and accompaniers left Qintana Roo in Mexico on foot and headed to Comitan, a city close to the Guatemalan border, a thousand kilometers away.

On January 20, 1993, the first convoy of returnees crossed the Mexican-Guatemalan border. 2,500 returnees clambered aboard seventy-eight buses with one hundred and seven accompaniers, of whom 65 were Canadian. On January 29, 1993, the first group of 362 refugees arrived home to the 2,800-hectare former community of Polígono 14 which had been burnt to the ground in February 1982 by the Guatemalan army. The community quickly became known as Victoria.

In early February 1993, the majority of accompaniers left Victoria and returned to Mexico to continue preparations to accompany additional groups back to Guatemala; however, many of Project A’s Canadian accompaniers chose to stay in Victoria and work with the Guatemalans and continue providing security. Accompaniers who returned to Mexico continued the process of accompanying Guatemalans back to their country from Mexico for years to come including the December 1993 return of 303 families. Overall, Project A allowed close to 25,000 Guatemalan refugees to return safely to their homeland with the participation of 140 Canadian volunteer accompaniers.

On December 29, 1996, peace accords were signed between the government of Guatemala and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Union. The peace accords represented the starting point of a gradual transformation of social, political, and cultural structures in the country. During the Labour Day weekend (May) of 1998, the steering committee of Project A met to discuss the future of the project. After much discussion, the decision was made to end Project A as its mandate of assuring the safe return of Guatemalans was no longer required. Project A officially ended in March 1999 with the creation of the Guatemala-Canada Solidarity Network, linking Project A groups and individuals to a wider network across Guatemala.

Research Notes

(1) The Guatemalan refugees were influenced by past work completed by Peace Brigades International and other organizations in the country as seen in

Abbott, Bethm. "Project Accompaniment: A Canadian Response." Nonviolent Intervention Across Borders : a Recurrent Vision. (2000): 165-174. Print.

Anderson, Kathryn. Weaving Relationships Canada-Guatemala Solidarity.. Waterloo ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2006. Print.

Burton, Emily. "Book Review: Weaving Relationships: Canada-Guatenzala Solidarity." Oral History Forum . (2003): 76-79. Oral History Forum. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.

Goodman, Bruce. "Chiapas, Guatemala, and Project Accompaniment." Peace and Environment News. N.p., 5 June 1994. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. <>.

Kurtenbach, Sabine. "Guatemala’s Post-War Development: The structural failure of low intensity peace." Faculty of Social Sciences Institute for Development and Peace (INEF) . (2008): n. pag. Postwar-Violence. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.

"Mission et vision." Projet Accompagnement Québec-Guatemala. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2013. <>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Derrek Bentley 22/11/2013