Oppose the planting of oil palms and support the communities
Since our previous email alert last year, Colombia’s government has continued to promote agrofuel expansion. Plantation expansion for agrofuels remains a major threat to the lives, livelihoods and the environment of Afro-Colombian and other peasant communities in the department of Chocó, Colombia. This is one of the most biodiverse regions worldwide, with large areas of rainforest now facing destruction. Communities, rainforests and other biodiverse ecosystems are under threat from palm oil and sugar cane expansion for agrofuels in other parts of Colombia, too, for example around Tumaco, near the border with Ecuador, in Santander and in Magdalena.
The exiled community leader Ligia Maria Cheverra has summed up the situation: “Our territory is being given to the palm oil producers. We need to stop every monoculture and the projects that are targeting our Colombia. This will affect the whole continent. Everything will be lost: the land, the water, the air, the animals, the people. What belongs to us is being destroyed. In Colombia those who speak out with a loud voice are being killed. Here only the ones who sell themselves are rewarded, and those who don’t are called guerrilleros.”
Serious threats and human rights abuses continue against communities settled in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó basin in Chocó. Community leaders who are opposing the planting of oil palms and supporting the communities which hold legal land titles in returning to their land have been receiving death threats. Other local people have been harassed by members of the paramilitary and military forces. Last September, two people were shot and injured by men believed to be members of a paramilitary group. Threats against communities who have returned to their land continue. Since 2001, 113 killings, 13 forced displacements, many death threats and illegal land occupations have been reported. Last December, the Attorney General filed a case against 23 representatives of palm oil companies, however this has not led to any real efforts to stop the expansion of palm oil and cattle ranching on community lands. Decisive government action is needed to guarantee the lives and the safety of community members and to ensure reparation for the environmental destruction and the human rights abuses which have happened.
The government’s National Council for Political Economy and Social Affairs (CONPES) recently announced new policies to increase government support for agrofuel expansion with a view to turning Colombia into a major global agrofuel exporter. The human rights abuses in Chocó and elsewhere, and the accelerated destruction of rainforests and other vital and biodiverse ecosystems are the direct result of those government policies. Please ask the government to stop and reverse those policies and to protect communities and the countries rich environment from further destruction for agrofuels.
I am deeply concerned about the ongoing rainforest destruction and human rights abuses in Chocó and other regions in Colombia which are linked to the government’s support for agrofuel expansion. The National Council for Political Economy and Social Affairs (Conpes) has recently announced new plans to promote agrofuel production which will mean large-scale expansion of plantations, particularly of oil palms and sugar cane. Such policies will aggravate environmental destruction and human rights abuses.
There have been further threats and other human rights abuses against community members who have returned to their lands and resist the illegal occupation of that land by palm oil companies. In Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó basin, department of Chocó, community leaders have been receiving death threats. In February 2008, the representative of a palm oil company offered a large sum of money to a gunman to kill community leaders Ligia Maria Chaverra and Manuel Denis Blandon. Other local people have been harassed by members of the paramilitary and military forces. Last September, two people were shot and injured by men believed to be members of the paramilitary group “Aguilas Negras” (Black Eagles). Those threats happen simultaneously with the continuing expansion of palm oil plantation and deforestation by companies.
Since 2001, 113 killings, 13 forced displacements, many death threats and illegal land occupations have been reported in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó. I am deeply concerned that government officials have been questioning the legal status of the Humanitarian Zone before the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights.
Agrofuel expansion is already destroying some of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems, such as in Chocó and Nariño, greatly accelerating global warming and destroying both the present and future livelihoods of the population.
A moratorium on agrofuel developments from large-scale monocultures and a review of the government’s biofuel policy are essential to prevent further human rights abuses and to avoid catastrophic biodiversity losses, freshwater pollution and depletion, soil erosion and accelerated global warming. A full enquiry into social and environmental impacts of large-scale monocultures must now be carried out. The government must guarantee the safety, human rights and land rights of the communities in Chocó and elsewhere and investigate and all prosecute human rights abuses, including the recent death threats and attacks.
It is essential that the government
- Immediately returns the ancestral land to communities affected by monoculture plantations, such as the Curvaradó Afro-Colombian communities affected by oil palm plantations, and to implement the 169 Convention of the International Labor Organization;
- Stops further deforestation and exploitation of large-scale oil palm plantations and the processing of palm oil in the Curvaradó river basin and elsewhere in Colombia;
- Guarantees the reparation of human and environmental damages generated by the imposition of large scale monoculture
- Recognizes and respects local civilian initiatives aimed at protecting the environment such as the recent creation of Biodiversity Zones.
Those measures are essential for avoiding a social and environmental disaster.
Vicepresidente de la República
Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores
MARIO IGUARAN ARANA
Fiscal General de la Nación
EDGARDO MAYA VILLAZON
Procurador General de la Nación
Defensor Nacional del Pueblo
JULIO CESAR TURBAY QUINTERO
Contralor General de la Nación
Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI 53701-1505
phone: (608) 257-8753
fax: (608) 255-6621