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Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa 

Creating hope in Guatemala's South Coast

After decades of persecution, intimidation and fear, the families of victims the "Great Sugarcane Strike"(February 1980) decided to break their silence. Survivors and victims' families want to know the truth about the crimes that were committed against their loved ones and the severe damage that they suffered from for long years.  

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What happened in Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa in 1980?

In February 1980, more than 80,000 migrant farmworkers from sugarcane plantations located on the Guatemalan South Coast carried out the largest strike in the country's history, demanding better living conditions and a considerable increase (from $1.12 USD to $5 USD) in their daily wages. This historic event is best known as “La Gran Huelga Cañera” (The Great Sugarcane Strike) which began in Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa - the heart of the sugar industry of Guatemala - and lasted 15 days.


Although the Government agreed to a raise in the wages to $3.20 USD per day, the landowners opposed. The backlash that followed was marked by strong repression and constant violence: targeting community leaders, farmworkers who lead the strike, and religious missionaries who had supported the farmworkers’ demands. Targeted victims began appearing dead on the streets, with over 100 forced disappearances among predominant community members. The trade union movements and social groups in the area were virtually and practically dismantled and, until this day, remain disarticulated; mainly in fear of possible reprisals by the Army and local land owners.

When did the survivors and victims' families take the case to court and why?

Almost 40 years later, the victims’ families decided to break their silence after decades of persecution, intimidation and fear. These Guatemalan families came together and filed a joint demand against the Guatemalan State at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), revealing for the first time, on an international scale, the crimes that were committed against their loved ones. 


         Summary of the thematic hearings at the IACHR. 


What are the demands of the survivors and victims' families?  

  • To find the remains of missing victims in order to give them a proper burial;

  • To hold those responsible for the violations accountable and attain justice; and 

  • To reach a situation where farmworkers can demand better work conditions and labour rights, without any violent consequences.

How does Impunity Watch support the Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa case?

  • Together with the organisation for the surviving relatives in Santa Lucía, AMDE, Impunity Watch collected further evidence for the indictment against the Guatemalan State. The evidence was presented on 1 October 2018 to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).  

  • Impunity Watch conducted extensive research into the Archives of the Guatemalan national police and discovered new police reports that will help identify the identity of the perpetrators; hence leading to concrete formal indictments.  

  • Together with AMDE, Impunity Watch conducted, in 2020, a research on the psychological impact of the murder and disappearance of victims on a group of more than 80 surviving family members. Throughout the research, trauma experts provided psycho-social support to the family members who were speaking about their experience for the first time in decades.

  • In 2021, Impunity Watch will produce a map of Santa Lucía that indicates precisely where the murders and abductions took place at the time, in addition to exposing the structures of the police and army units that were involved in the torture and murder of the missing people.

  • Impunity Watch will prioritise locating more mass graves in the south coast area as well as conducting further DNA research.

  • Impunity Watch will conduct historical research on the systematic destruction of the trade unions for the south coast plantations in the 1970’s and 1980’s.


The victims of the sugar cane repression in Guatemala have waited 40 years for justice to be done

Together with partners, we are standing up for the plight of Guatemalan workers who disappeared without a trace some 40 years ago, and the people they left behind. The people of Santa Lucía are counting on our solidarity.

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Pursuing justice for 40 years on the Guatemalan South Coast 

This factsheet provides an overview of the Santa Lucía case and the repressive role of the Government and land owners when protests broke out in the 1980s. It explores the role of civil society, survivors, and victims' families in seeking justice.  


Join us in supporting the survivors and victims

With your support, we can help the Santa Lucía survivors and victims' families seek accountability for the human rights violations and systematic injustice against them. 

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People used to gather on a plot of land... There, they held their meetings and workshops. Over time, I also began to participate in a Family of God group, the one where my mother was most integrated in... I remember that the topics discussed in this space included the poverty and injustice that farmworkers faced in the sugarcane plantations, although everyone maintained a positive attitude. The issues discussed were based on the Holy Bible teachings and were contextualized with elements from our daily life.

Manuela de Jesús Aguilar, the sister of two victims of enforced disappearance.

We search for justice because we simply want to dignify our loved ones. A great step forward has been to overcome our fear to speak out on what we have suffered as a result of the armed conflict. And now, having initiated this process before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, we hope and trust to finally achieve the justice that we have been seeking for 35 years.

Alicia Juárez, survivor.

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We have suffered a lot because of our love for our family members. Even now, we are still suffering a lot because we have spent years fighting. 

Alejandra Ramírez, survivor. 

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We need everybody to know 

This mural painting presented was realised by family members of victims of the internal armed conflict in Guatemala. With this painting the families, both adults and young people, wanted to visualise the acts of violence that took place in Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa, and the consequences of this violence for the victims.

Check out the full version here: 

English, French and Spanish