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Colombia: Farmers demand right of return to lands taken for palm oil consortium

Communication from ASOCAB The Farmers Association of Buenos Aires, Community of Las Pavas | February 2011

We demand to return now!

We, the community of The Farmers Association of Buenos Aires (ASOCAB), have been victims of forced displacement by paramilitary groups and alleged drug trafficker, Jesus Emilio Escobar, who was owner of the Las Pavas estate. Several years after Emilio Escobar left the farm and the community had already established food crops, he reappeared to remove us by force and sell the land to the Consortium Labrador. This consortium is comprised of the companies San Isidro SA Contributions and C.I. Tequendama SA, which is part of the DAABON group. They are dedicated to the implementation of extensive oil palm cultivation and caused our last displacement in 2009 with the consent of the municipal, regional and national government by using an illegal political process. They expelled us from Las Pavas with the assistance of the National Police and perpetrating the crime of forced displacement.

We declare before the local, regional, National and International communities that the Consortium Labrador has endangered the life and physical integrity of our community by spreading an announcement through the communications media. In this communication they accuse us of trying to illegally and clandestinely invade the Las Pavas estate, violating the rights of workers in the palm and peace in the region.

This statement is nothing more than a defamation and criminalization of ASOCAB and is just one of the strategies used by the Consortium to violate the rights of our community and prevent us from exercising our fundamental right to return to the land. We do not intend to invade private property or engage in violent or illegal acts. We are farmers, living a deep humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by food shortages due to the eviction forced on us by the palm companies, the state and armed groups, whom deny our rights acquired by long years of work on the farm. This Crisis has been aggravated by the total abandonment by the state and a rainy winter that lasted several months and destroyed the few crops we still had left.

This situation leaves us, the 600 people, who comprise ASOCAB, only one option for survival, to exercise our fundamental right to return to the land from where we have been displaced, as the Constitution and the law enables us to do. We have stated publicly on major national radio broadcast stations that we confirm that we are going to exercise the right of return and condemn what the Consortium Labrador is doing to try to smear the current government policy, which seeks restitution and return of the land for Colombian peasants who have been victims of displacement.

The attitude of the DAABON economic group is very regrettable. They said publicly that they currently have no interest in the Las Pavas Estate, and they no longer own the property. However, when checking the documents of ownership, they continue to appear as the title holders. Added to this, they have initiated two processes in the Courts of Mompox, Bolívar, in order to seize a portion of the estate which we have rights as holders of the property and that are vacant, which we have reported and proved this to INCODER

So, what is clear is that DAABON, remains responsible for our eviction and accomplices in our forced displacement.

Equally, we condemn the strategy of intimidation that the Consortium Labrador has implemented against our community and are summarized in the following activities:

* The Presence of outsiders to the community in the district of Buenos Aires acting suspiciously and that constantly monitoring ASOCAB leaders

* The Presence of Mr. MARIO MARMOL a known paramilitary, who participated in the forced displacement that we were victims of in 2003. By his own account, he is an employee of Consortium El Labrador and now works in the district of Buenos Aires. He is armed and is saying that ASOCAB is not going to win the dispute with the Consortium. He is also threatening to put livestock in with the crop of those who have managed to keep a few crops on small areas of Las Pavas and requiring some members of the community to completely leave the premises.

* Threats made by Mr. DANILO PALACIOS, the counsel of Consortium El Labrador, against the leader of our association and professor of the township, ELIUD ALVEAR, which warns that if he does not remove himself from ASOCAB he will lose his teaching job. Added to this, ongoing work persecution against him by the Rector of the school community, Mr. Luis Villamil, who is also an ally of Palm Businesses.

* Unknown individuals set fire to a community meeting room that we had built as a venue for our meetings.

* The attempt to divide our community through bribery, blackmail, illegal offers of gifts and work on their plantations of palm, which are used to prevent us from exercising our rights.

All of these actions show that those who are truly acting illegally are the Consortium EL Labrador businesses. These acts create anxiety and terror in our community because we are peaceful people and we fear for our physical safety.

It is also necessary to condemn these companies in the region that have caused irreparable environmental damage. They now plan to build walls that surround the Las Pavas estate to stop flooding during the rainy season. This would cause exacerbated damming and flooding in the populated area, thus causing the houses in Buenos Aires and its people to disappear. The other project they are intending to implement is the canalization of the swamp “Mata Perros,” thus eliminating one of the fishing areas available to the region, aggravating the food crisis and accelerating the displacement of not only ASOCAB, but all residents of the area.

Furthermore, we want to appeal to General Oscar Naranjo, Director General of National Police, to review the actions of his men, who instead of ensuring our security for the return, as mandated by law, have acted on behalf of The Consortium of Labrador. They act as if it were a private security company and for several days have patrolled and fenced off the Las Pavas estate, preventing any access. Our children are reliving the psychological trauma created by the actions of police when they evicted us from our land on July 14, 2009 with weapons of war. It is necessary that the police remember that their constitutional obligation is to protect the population, not the criminals.

Finally, we express our surprise at the attitudes of the INCODER and the Ministry of Agriculture, neither of whom have given substantive solutions to our particular case. However, in an article published by a prestigious national newspaper on November 3, 2010, Dr. Juan Camilo Restrepo, the Minister of Agriculture, strongly criticized businesspeople who oppose the restoration of land to small farmers. He cites as an example of the consequences of this attitude, the decision of the multinational THE BODY SHOP to break its trade relations with DAABON for not resolving their dispute with our association at that time.

We clarified that we are not criminals, nor do we violate the right to work. We are farmers with dignity. We are a peaceful Christian community. We respect human rights and because of that we invite the Colombian government, the Economic Group DAABON and Consortium Labrador to assume a similar attitude.

We thank all organizations and communities of solidarity that send communications of support for the legitimate demands of ASOCAB.

Please send messages to the Minister of Agriculture, INCODER Manager, Vice President of the Republic, the Director of the National Police, the Director of Social Action, the Governor of Bolivar Department, the Constitutional Court and the Mayor of the Municipality of El Penon


Misael Payares Guerrero, presidente ASOCAB

(The Farmers Association of Buenos Aires(ASOCAB) is legally represented by its general manager, Misael Payares Guerrero, a resident of Buenos Aires,PeñónTownship, Southern Bolivar, Colombia)

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