COLOMBIA: Campesinos threatened with displacement by Biofuel Palm Industry

CPTnet
21 May 2009
COLOMBIA: Campesinos threatened with displacement by Biofuel Palm Industry

by Stewart Vriesinga

At the request of a peasant organization, CPTers Sarah Shirk and Stewart Vriesinga travelled to Hacienda las Pavas—a 1,235 hector plot of land that a group of 123 families of campesinos (peasant farmers), has occupied and cultivated.  A representative of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office of Rioviejo joined the CPTers.  The group travelled for over an hour on the back of motorbikes through a very large palm oil plantation.  Las Pavas Welcome

The situation of the peasants of Las Pavas was reminiscent of those with whom the team has worked in the community of Garzal (See http://www.cpt.org/content/garzal-lands-court)  These campesinos, most of whom live in the nearby town of Buena Vista, have occupied and worked the land in Las Pavas since 1993.  The original landowner, an uncle of the infamous cocaine cartel leader Pablo Escobar, had abandoned the farm in 1993.  Under Colombian law, after occupying and working land for a period of five years or more, squatters have the right to receive titles to their holdings—a requirement that the campesinos of Las Pavas clearly meet.  As is the case with Garzal, the original title-holder “sold” the land, in this case to a huge palm oil plantation, as if the campesinos of Las Pavas had no legitimate claim to it.  The palm oil company got an eviction order against the campesinos,  which was scheduled to go into effect the day after CPTers arrived, but the community was able to have the eviction order lifted the day before their arrival.  The original land seller had failed to disclose that his ownership of the land was in fact in dispute.  By presenting photo, video and paper evidence of INCODER’s (the government body in charge of land titles) earlier visit to inspect the land in question, the community managed to have the eviction order lifted.  Although INCODER has never granted the campesinos titles, it has not officially denied the legitimacy of the campesinos’ claim to the land either.  Since title of the land cannot be legally transferred to a third party until this issue is resolved, the campesinos of Las Pavas were able to get the eviction order procured by the oil palm industry overturned.

In addition to legal threats to their retaining the land they have cultivated, community members have suffered police harassment, have had their cocoa and lumber trees destroyed, and have had to stop working their land for an extended period due to threats by armed groups.  There is also still no guarantee that INCODER will not eventually rule in favour of the former titleholder, thus facilitating the sale to the oil palm industry, which would then undoubtedly result in a new eviction order and mass displacement.

The community of Las Pavas hopes to continue producing food for people (rather than biofuel for cars) as well as preserving parts of the surrounding forest for wildlife.