Since early December, hundreds of private contractors of multinational banana corporation Banacol have illegally invaded and occupied the lands of Afro-Colombian “peace communities” in the Curvaradó river basin of Chocó department, in order to clear the area for banana cultivation. The lands are part of a “humanitarian zone” declared by the local communities, where all armed actors in Colombia’s civil conflict are unwelcome. Since the new wave of land invasions began, there has been a visible presence within this zone of right-wing paramilitary groups.
Fliers posted in poor neighborhoods and communities across Colombia’s northwestern Urabá region lured the squatters into the Curvaradó Valley. The fliers assured three months paid living expenses, titles to 2.5-hectare plots, building materials, and a contract with Banacol Inc. to grow bananas. What the fliers don’t say is that the Curvaradó territory is already inhabited by Afro-descendant communities, committed to maintain their collective territories under Law 70 of Colombia’s 1993constitution.
The “bad-faith occupiers,” as the Curvaradó residents call them, are mainly made up of landless peasants from elsewhere in northwest Colombia, some themselves displaced by violence. The peace communities have filed a legal complaint with the municipality of Carmen del Darién, but have received no action from local authorities thus far. The human rights group Justicia y Paz charges that Carmen del Darién municipal authorities actually funneled relief funds for flood victims to the illegal land invaders.
In but one incident of recent paramilitary harassment, on Dec. 30, Adriana Tuberquia, a leader from the peace community of Camelias, who had been protesting the invasion of collective lands, was held and threatened by gunmen who stopped the bus she was riding at an illegal roadblock. (Upside Down World, Feb. 2; Comisión Intereclesial Justicia y Paz, ibid, Jan. 19)
Afro-Colombian communities in Chocó have had their lands expropriated over the past 20 years by palm oil producers for the biofuel market, massively backed up by paramilitaries. Following an investigation by the Prosecutor General’s office, the government has recently taken steps to restore these illegally usurped lands to the communities.