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Guatemalan refugees express love for their new land

Guatemalan refugees express love for their new land

Former Guatemalan refugees receive from Mexico's President property deeds on the land they have been working on for years.
5 June 2002
Former Guatemalan refugees meet Mexican President Vicente Fox at the land title presentation ceremony in Quetzal-Edzná.

CAMPECHE, Mexico (UNHCR) - It was mid-day in the usually quiet settlement of Quetzal-Edzná in Campeche, Mexico. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, three helicopters approached, swirling up the dust. They landed in succession, and out stepped Mexican President Vicente Fox. As he made his dramatic entrance and stopped to greet the crowd, one woman asked, "Which one's the President?"

President Fox was making his first visit to a settlement of former Guatemalan refugees as they attended an official ceremony on May 8 to receive property deeds on the land they had been working on for years.

"I'm so happy to be getting this document," said Candelaria Jiménez. Like tens of thousands of Guatemalans, she personally experienced the horrors of the war between the Guatemalan military and insurgent guerrillas. The conflict killed her husband and two sons. When she fled Guatemala in 1982, pregnant and with two daughters in tow, she left behind another child who was not up to the harsh journey because of a physical handicap.

Candelaria arrived in Chiapas state in Mexico, where she gave birth to her sixth child, who became the first Mexican in the family by birth. Between 1984 and 1985, as part of the Mexican government's relocation programme, they were transferred to Campeche state, to the community of Quetzal-Edzná, among a total of approximately 18,000 refugees transferred to communities in the state of Campeche and Quintana Roo.

A few years ago, all the members of Candelaria's family received their naturalisation papers and now they, like her youngest son, are Mexican. Two of her daughters live in the community of Los Laureles while her youngest child is now a member of the Mexican Army.

Like Candelaria, Rosalío Alvarado Nojo and his wife María Jorge were very excited about receiving the property deed, which grants equal rights to men and women. "We're able to work in peace, thank God," said Rosalío. "Who would have thought that we would have been given this land?"

The elderly couple left behind 10 of their 12 children in Mazatenango, Guatemala, to begin a new life in Mexico. But they have survived the traumatic experience of exile, and are now proud grandparents to 36 grandchildren.

María Jorge said, "I won't let myself be trampled on by military men ever again. I feel very happy here. And for the rest of my life, I'll feel calm."

As part of the National Crusade for Legal Security in the Countryside, a total of 2,806 property deeds were granted to both naturalised and other Mexicans at the ceremony.

"We know that the ultimate aspiration of humankind is the love of the land," said Santiago Aguilar Pérez, Quetzal Edzná's municipal agent and himself a former Guatemalan refugee. "This property deed provides a legal guarantee for this piece of our country, and of our land of which we are the social owners and which constitutes our family's heritage. It is interesting to note that the Spanish words for homeland and heritage - patria and patrimony - have similar roots."

He added, "As new Mexicans, we feel enormous respect for Mexico and Campeche and are very proud to live here. That is why we are determined to contribute, through our everyday work, to the growth and development of our state and country."

Summing up the positive mood at the ceremony, Under-Secretary of the Interior Javier Moctezuma Barragán told the crowd, "You have benefited and we have benefited, because together we are building a new nation."

Between 1981 and 1984, more than 200,000 Guatemalans sought refuge in Mexico after fleeing the fighting in their country. Some 46,000 of them were registered and allowed to remain in the camps or local communities. But by 1999, UNHCR had assisted 43,000 of the refugees to voluntarily return home. Another 22,000 chose to remain in Mexico.

By Mariana Echandi
UNHCR Mexico