COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: Despite arrest threats, people of Las Pavas continue to struggle for their land

28 March 2011
COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: Despite arrest threats, people of Las Pavas continue to struggle for their land

by Eloy Garcia

[Note: Please sign the petition calling for the safe return of the Las Pavas community to its land.  Also, check out the Colombia team’s Lent, Palm Sunday and and 8-11 April Days of Prayer and Action materials.  A Las Pavas blog is available here. ]

The people of Las Pavas are a sustainable farming community in the southern Bolivar department (province) of Colombia.  Through the years, paramilitary violence has forced community members to leave the land but each time they have returned.  In 2006, the community was in the process of claiming its land rights under Colombian law when a Daabon consortium[1] bought the land from absentee owner, who had lost his rights to the land due to years of abandonment.  On 14 July 2009, the Colombian riot police forcefully removed the community of Las Pavas.  Over a year has passed since the illegal eviction of the 123 families (more than 500 people) from the Las Pavas farm.  Unable to grow their own food, throughout this year the community has been living in a humanitarian crisis.

The findings of a 10 June 2010 independent commission sponsored by The Body Shop and Christian Aid—who investigated the displacement of the Las Pavas community and palm production on Papayal Island—confirmed that the land is not suitable for palm oil agribusiness, because it was harming the region's environment and culture.[2] The damage includes the destruction of river channels and lakes, and the clear-cutting and burning of the community forest, an area preserved for hunting and wildlife preservation.

In early October 2010, the cosmetics retailer The Body Shop announced it would stop buying palm oil from Daabon.  The Body Shop announcement was a result of international pressure from different entities including CPT, which undertook acts of public witness in front of Body Shop stores in the U.S., Europe, and Canada.  In a 2010 public press release, Daabon announced that it would end its oil palm operations in Las Pavas, but to this date has not ceased its work there [3]

In January 2011, the Las Pavas community and accompanying entities gathered together as the Mesa de Interlocution de Sur de Bolivar[4] and released a statement to inform the national and international community that

1. Palm cultivation activities by Daabon in Las Pavas continue uninterrupted.
2. The community of Las Pavas continues to be displaced from its territory.
3. The impacts of environmental and cultural damage by the palm industry continue to affect ecosystems in the territory of Las Pavas and the region between the Papayal and Magdalena River.  

Las Pavas attorneys have verified that CI Tequendama SA is still registered as the owner of the land of Las Pavas, the subsidiary of the Daabon group and has not relinquished its ties to the Las Pavas land.  In fact, it has filed three recent lawsuits to claim even more land from the Las Pavas area, lands known as baldilos, common lands, without prior title.[5] 

Even with the documented evidence of Daabon's complicity in the displacement and environmental damage, Daabon's international marketing campaign claims "to ensure that our activities be socially, economically and environmentally sustainable."[6]  Furthermore, Daabon seeks to become the first Latin American palm oil producer certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO.  RSPO certification is the global guideline for supposedly sustainably produced palm oil.  Daabon wants to certify its Colombian palm plantations by 2012[7],  and continues to deny complicity in human rights violations and environmental destruction.[8] 

Because of Daabon’s behavior, the Las Pavas community and its accompanying groups, have launched an international and national nonviolent resistance campaign to pressure Daabon to return the land to the community.  The community learned that Daabon would be present at two important international food fairs in Germany: Fruit Logistica 2011 Berlin and Biofach 2011 in Nuremberg, and began to mobilize their international allies.  

CPT Europe sent a letter to German food manufacturer Allos & Alnatura who purchase palm oil from Daabon.  The group is planning a CPT Europe public action in March.  Three European NGOs—Working Group Switzerland, Kolko, Human Rights for Colombia, and Association Save the Rainforest—sent a letter requesting that the organizers of the European food fairs deny Daabon any display platform, and saying that Daabon should be sanctioned in its efforts to RSPO-certify its palm plantations in Colombia.  

The community of Las Pavas has participated in a series of meetings with different international embassies from Argentina, Sweden, United Kingdom, the U.S., France, Canada, Holland, and others in order to elevate the profile of its case internationally.  CPT Colombia seeks to mobilize church groups and other organizations in the United States during Palm Sunday.  The Las Pavas community leaders continue to ask what the Colombian land institution (INCODER) is doing in terms of recognizing the right of possession held by the displaced and dispossessed people of Las Pavas.  

The people of Las Pavas continue in their efforts to fortify themselves spiritually and mentally for the inevitable return to their lands.  The community recently participated in a workshop of nonviolent resistance and individual protective measures against police brutality.  Such activities have not come without repercussions.  In January, Aportes San Isidro (a subsidiary of Daabon) put out flyers and radio announcements that the community of Las Pavas was planning a forceful takeover of the land.  It threatened legal action against anyone who helps the Las Pavas community in its land claim.[9]  

On 19 February 2011, ten armed men entered the village of Buenos Aires with a known paramilitary looking for one of the community leaders, claiming to have an arrest warrant.  After further investigation, the community learned that no arrest warrants are pending, but that national police have started an investigation against three leaders of the community for the crimes of possible land invasion and clandestine meetings in preparation for the crime.  In other words, they are being investigated for the possibility that they will return to land that is rightfully theirs.

Despite these threats, the community continues to make public its claim that its people are legally entitled to the restitution of their land, and its right to return to the land, based on the Colombian national constitution and international law.

[1] Aportes San Isidro is co-owner of the property with CI Tequendama SA (palm oil subsidiary of the Daabon Group), which jointly purchased Las Pavas through the Consorcio El Labrador a consortium between the two companies.

[2] See - Report-Independent Evaluation of the land Conflict in Las Pavas - Bolivar, Colombia, the Body Shop and Christian Aid June 2010.

[3] It should be noted that Daabon Business Group is under scrutiny for its connection with a corruption scandal (AgroIngreso Seguro) in which the group received 2,634,703,151 Colombian pesos, equivalent to more than $1,300,000 U.S. dollars in government grants that were designated for the poorest of campesinos—like those who make up the community of Las Pavas.  See  - "Denuncian a beneficiario de Agro Ingreso Seguro, que ahora respalda candidatura de Arias" Noticias Uno / Martes 6 de octubre de 2009; "Un ministro mentiroso, como el actual de Agricultura debe renunciar, dice Robledo," Oficina de Prensa Senador Jorge Enrique Robledo, Bogotá, 5 de octubre de 2009

[4] The coalition includes CPT, Fedagromisbol, PDP, ASOCAB, Corporation Sembrar, and others.

[5] Personal Interview with lead attorney Las Pavas case, 23 February 2011.

[6] See - Daabon's webpage 

[7] See - SGS Qualipalm Associated Document, oil palm plantation management verification report, Assessment Against RSPO Colombia LI requirement CI Tequendama 5 May 2009 at page 8 and 9.

[8] Ibid at page 35 and 36.

[9] See comunicado Aporte San Isidro, January 12, 2011.