COLOMBIA: Las Pavas community resists illegal palm planting

17 July 2012
COLOMBIA: Las Pavas community resists illegal palm planting 

An oil palm grower that has operated on the contested land of Las Pavas for years is attempting to extend its plantation to areas legally designated for use by displaced farmers.

In late June, over 250 of the farmers’ young banana trees were destroyed and 40 cows went missing. This act occurred during a visit from the governmental rural land titling agency INCODER aimed at resolving the dispute.

Aggressive action notched up the week of 9 July as workers for Aportes San Isidro (ASI) came to plant palm on land the farmers’ had cultivated. The farmers formed human blockades and a CPT Colombia team member was assaulted while documenting the conflict.

On Monday, 9 July, palm workers from the region gathered at the company’s ranch adjacent to the community’s cluster of small houses. Heavily armed police arrived soon afterward. When the community explained that Colombia’s Constitutional Court had upheld the community’s right to be on the land with the INCODER decision pending, the police stated that the company could not plant palm.

 Las Pavas farmers block palm plantation workers from entering their land.

The moment the police were gone, however, the palm workers disobeyed their orders and proceeded to plant. The Las Pavas community sprang into action, standing in front of tractors carrying palm to block their entrance to the land. Their nonviolent action forced the workers to carry the plants to a field a few kilometers away.

The next day, ASI workers planted still more illegal palm, and the community called the police. Police arrived by helicopter mid-morning and promised to mediate the situation. INCODER issued a statement calling ASI‚Äôs planting illegal and clarifying that INCODER had instructed Bolivar Department‚Äôs Police Commander, Colonel Jorge Vargas, to ‚Äúavoid illegal planting of palm until the final [ownership] decision is reached.‚ÄĚ The planting continued. Police said they could do nothing without a judicial order. 

By Wednesday, 11 July, the community was waiting on the rural municipality’s mayor, INCODER, and other government entities to stop the company from planting. As desperation mounted, the farmers reactivated their blockade. Tensions ran high and manifested in snide remarks from the palm workers. In one tense moment broadcast by national news program Noticias Uno, the palm company’s lawyer slapped a CPTer who was documenting events.

As of 16 July, ASI‚Äôs illegal palm planting and the community's nonviolent resistance and defense of the land continued. Colombia‚Äôs Minister of Agriculture added his voice to INCODER‚Äôs repeated pronouncements against the illegal planting, according to a 17 July report on the news web site.

video posted on youtube documents aggression against the farmers in Las Pavas (available in Spanish only at this time).

CPT Colombia invites prayer support for the farmers as they defend the land and their right to work it.