COLOMBIA: Palm Oil Company Retaliates After Las Pavas Receives Favorable Court Ruling



17 October, 2017

COLOMBIA: Palm Oil Company Retaliates After Las Pavas
Receives Favorable Court Ruling

by Caldwell Manners

Twenty workers of palm oil
company Aportes San Isidro on the morning of September 8 occupied and planted
over one hundred palm oil tree saplings on the Las Pavas farm, only two weeks
after the Consejo de Estado, Colombia’s highest administrative court,
ruled in favor of the campesinxs of Las Pavas. The court’s decision affirmed
the Colombian land institute’s (INCODER) finding that through the process of
eminent domain the 3000 hectares of land in dispute belonged to the state. The
responsibility now lies in the hands of INCODER’s successor, the Agencia
Nacional de Tierras
to implement their decision and guarantee the
campesinxs’ right to return to their land.

A boy from las Pavas

A boy from
Las Pavas plucks a palm oil nut. Photo: Caldwell Manners

In a recent urgent action,
ASOCAB – the campesino association of Buenos Aires to which the farmers of Las
Pavas belong – wrote, “once again the evidence shows that whenever there is a
decision of the Colombian state unfavourable to their [Aportes San Isidro]
interests, they respond with direct and serious harassment that undermines the
fundamental rights of the farming community of ASOCAB.” Since the land grab,
ASOCAB member Filomena Alvear and her partner Rafael Enrique Perez have had to
set up a system of round-the-clock vigilance for fear that the company may
plant more palm oil trees or destroy their farm house. “We had to build the
roof of our home with tin instead of the native traditional palm [palma de
vino] because of the company’s history of torching our homes,” said Perez.

In June, after heavy rains
and flooding displaced Jose Isaac Alvear from his plot, company security set
fire to the wood that he had stacked for the construction of a new home.

A farmer from Las Pavas

A Las
Pavas farmer looks over his field of plantain trees chopped down by Aportes San
Isidro security in June 2015. Photo: Caldwell Manners

In 2010, a few years after
INCODER began the eminent domain process, the national government in an effort
to resolve historic land conflicts selected the campesinxs’ dispute as a
emblematic case. Between 2011 and 2012 the campesinxs were displaced for the
fourth time with over nine farm houses destroyed or burned, yucca plants
uprooted, plantain trees chopped down and fences cut. These hostile actions
continue to date.  Even with national recognition, and in spite of being
recognized as victims of the armed conflict, which give ASOCAB a special
protective status, any attempt of returning to their land has been met with
violent retaliation.

The influence of the palm
oil company over local judicial processes and law enforcement has maintained a
status quo of inaction in providing the necessary safety guarantees for the
campesinxs. As of September 29, twenty days after the military arrived to the
Las Pavas farm in response to the aggression of the company, the unit from the Battalion
Nariño have yet to visit the affected plot. Late last year, after ASOCAB was
granted a project by the Ministry of Agriculture in conjunction with the local
mayor’s office of El Peñon, the company retaliated by planting one hundred and
fifty new palm oil trees, effectively taking away from the farmers land that
they had been guaranteed for food crops.  The mayor of the municipality
ordered a decree of eviction and uprooting of all trees he has yet to execute.
In their urgent action, the campesinxs demand the mayor implement “resolution
022 of January 30, 2017, to evict the company Aportes San Isidro S.A.S from
plots of the Las Pavas farm.”

The state’s abandonment of
rural Colombia lies at the crux of the campesinxs ability to return and farm
safely on their lands. The Consejo de Estado’s ruling exhorts the Agencia
Nacional de Tierras
to administer lands that have been returned to the
state through the process of eminent domain, to make sure that they are not
misused, and to take all measures to guarantee ASOCAB’s right of return.

What remains to be seen is
whether the state can show up and execute its own decisions and guarantee its
citizens – victims of the armed conflict, who have safeguards under the law and
under the agrarian reform point of the peace agreement between the FARC-EP and
the government – their fundamental rights.

“The company”, says Perez,
“knowing fully well that these lands belong to the state planted palm oil.” The
legal issue here is not one between the company and the campesinxs but rather
the private enterprise illegally occupying land that belongs to state. “If this
has anything to do with the national government, and if they [government] want
the land returned to the campesinxs, they need to find a way to have the Agencia
Nacional de Tierras

The question is: is the
state willing?


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