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Random Thoughts

In Black Culture, CULTURE, HOT BUTTON TOPIC, INTERNATIONAL NEWS on March 22, 2010 at UTC.08.31.

This article taken from Afro Presencia:

Ulrich Oslender writes in Another History of Violence: The Production of “Geographies of Terror” in Colombia’s Pacific Coast Region (2008) that:

“Violence runs like a red thread not only through the country’s official history, but also through the personal, intimate life histories of most Colombians.  Everyone seems to have a story to tell about a relative black-mailed, a friend kidnapped, a neighbor shot, or a colleague disappeared, or family friends driven off of their land”

This is the history of Chocó.

Oil Palm

The increase of oil palm plantations, illicit coca crop cultivation and other agro-business interests under the auspices of the Colombian government’s “development” program has caused not only the deforestation of once fertile land, but has also led to the displacement of almost 3 million people, of those 2 million are of Afro-Colombian descent (Nijhues 2004).  Additionally, the World Bank funding of a biodiversity conservation program in the area with 9 million US dollars in the early 1990s (GEF-PNUD 1993; Proyecto Biopacifico 1998), and the U.S. financed aerial pesticide fumigation process (a joint policy between the U.S. and Colombia, designed to eradicate illegal coca crops) is destroying the regions’ biodiversity and its citizens’ health (Branford and O’Shaughnessy 2005). 

Prior to President Uribe’s term, Otto Reich writes in Uribe to the Rescue: Colombia’s president is winning the battle for his country’s future (2008) that when Colombia was controlled by two Marxist armies: the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) the guerillas oftentimes “controlled towns, kidnapped citizens and sabotaged oil pipelines and storage facilities” and created an environment of fear for the people afraid of Colombia.  He continues by stating that when Uribe was elected in office he made “confronting FARC the centerpiece of his campaign”; and today “Colombians…look at 2002 as the year their country was reborn” (Reich 2008).  By all superficial accounts, the educated, Washington backed Uribe was the leader the country needed; however, his policies for economic recovery have been at the expense of poor and indigenous populations of the Choco region.

One example of blatant disregard for the lives of such population is his development policy for an oil plantation project to be implemented in the Riosucio Municipality-a town in the Choco region of Colombia.  The primary objective of the project is to cultivate 20 thousand hectares of palm trees in Chocó and Antioquia.  The document Timber exploitation and Human Rights, Lower Atrato-Chocó (Explotación Maderera y Derechos Humanos Bajo Atrato-Chocó), expresses the profound concern of the members of the community in Lower Atrato (Cacarica, Jiguamiando and de Curvarado, among others), over the oil palm plantation project (Díaz Cañadas 2002).

            This palm oil development project is to be undertaken by the Urapalma S.A. Company (Díaz Cañadas 2002) a small multinational corporation located in Antioquia. To force people of the region out, paramilitary groups operate with the support of the 17th Colombian Army Brigade (; and are responsible for 13 forced displacements of people from that region.  The paramilitary strategy developed in complicity with the Colombian Army has included economic blockades (rationing of food supplies and water), selective murders, massacres and torture.

As Afro-descendents are ignored and the illegal sowing of oil palm continues, paramilitary groups such as the “Aguilas Negras” (Black Eagle) continues to threaten black and indigenous populations; even those who currently live in designated Humanitarian Areas set up by Biodiversity Zone-an environmental protection that protect areas of high biodiversity or wildlife (Lovett 1993). Additionally, in spite of documented evidence regarding the illegal nature of growing oil palm plantations (as acknowledged by General Attorney’s Office and the Ombudsman’s Office), the Colombian government has not taken effective measures to prevent this situation or to restitute the land to the Afro-Colombian communities. According to the report of the Colombian Institute of Rural Development, INCODER published in March 2005, 93% of oil palm plantations in the area are on land for which Afro-Colombian communities hold collective land titles.

Colombia is the fourth biggest producer of palm oil worldwide, as of this date it has more 300,000 hectares; but the government intends to expand those plantations to 1 million hectares over the next four years (IPS, 2008). According to the Colombian NGOs Grupo Semillas, ILSA and ACVC, that figure could be nearer 2 million hectares. Colombia is the second most bio-diverse country, with 10% of all the world’s species, 30% of them found nowhere else (p.43). Between 200,000 and 300,000 hectares of forest are already being destroyed every year in Colombia and bio-fuel expansion is likely to greatly accelerate this destruction.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommends that provisional measures to be granted to the so-called ‘humanitarian refuge zones’ (2003).  In the preamble to this order, the Court stated: “Since 2001, the company Urapalma S.A. has begun cultivating oil palms on approximately 1,500 hectares of collective land of these communities, with the help of ‘the military protection of the Army’s Seventeenth Brigade and armed civilians in their factories and seed banks”.  It also stated that, “under these circumstances, the cultivation of African palms and the exploitation of the natural resources on the communities’ territory endangers the lives and survival of these families” (Organizations of American States, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Order of Provisional Measures, March 6th 2003, p. 2).

The expansion of agro-fuel mono-cultures, mainly for bio-diesel, is threatening the lives, livelihoods and lands of Afro-Colombian and peasant communities and indigenous people, not just in Chocó, but elsewhere, including in Tumaco, Magdalena Medio, Vichada, Meta and the Amazon regions. Agrofuel projects are already being implemented in the departments of Cesar, Atlantico, Magdalena, Santander, Norte de Santander, Bolivar, Antioquia, Caqueta, Meta, Cundinamarca, Casnara, Narino and Cauca (Organizations of American States, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Order of Provisional Measures, March 6th 2003, p.7).  According to the UN High Commission for Refugees, 200,000 people are displaced every year in Colombia, totaling some 4 million over the past 20 years – the second highest rate of displacement in the world – with land expropriation in excess of 6 million hectares.  The root cause of many forced displacements relates to land issues including the drive to expand monocultures and other agro-business.

As in so many other places in tropical regions, natural and cultural diversity is running the risk of disappearing to be substituted by large-scale monoculture tree plantations that only serve company interests, aimed at production and marketing of palm oil. And just like so many other cases, resistance to companies appropriating land is growing increasingly strong. What needs to be done to protect the human rights of the black and indigenous populations is to (1) restitute the ancestral land to the various Afro-Colombian communities affected by monoculture populations; (2) stop further deforestation and exploitation; (3) acknowledge and respect local civilian initiatives aimed at protecting the environment, such as those land owner residing in Biodiversity Zones and (4) provide civil protections against FARC and AUC paramilitaries to Afro-Colombians in communities such as Choco.