The Colombian government is in favor of national biofuel production and boasts that Colombia is the world’s second biggest producer of biofuels (after Brazil). But human rights groups denounced the cultivation of biofuel crops such as palm tree oil in Colombia to BBC World June 3, charging their production is linked to land theft and atrocities by paramilitary groups.
The UN has also requested the freezing of all investment in biofuels because it believes their production is contributing to the global food crisis by diverting lands from subsistence crops These concerns were dismissed by Colombian Agriculture Minister Andres Fernández, who said it is a government objective that the industry “continue to grow.” Asserting that food and biofuel crops do not “compete” for land in Colombia, Fernández added: “I think that that is just a fallacy disseminated by people who don’t believe in biofuels.”
Fernández said that the development of the biofuel industry has had a “wonderful” effect on the lives of small farmers, who now have work “where before there were no crops, nor food, nothing.”
Eustaquio Polo Rivera, a campesio from the municipality of Carmen del Darien in Chocó department, told BBC World that he and his neighbors cultivated bananas, corn and rice until paramilitaries arrived in the area in 1996 “to murder the farmers.”
“They used the argument that they were there to remove the guerrillas but we later realized that their objective was to kick us off our land,” he said. “We resisted leaving but the army told us that they wouldn’t help families who stayed.”
According to Rivera more than 500 people fled the area. “When we tried to return to our land, it was full of palm trees,” he said. “There has been no willingness on the part of government to ensure the return of our territories, because the paramilitaries are still there and they are in partnership with the business.”
Human Rights Everywhere (HRE) is one of the NGOs that denounced the forced displacement of Afro-Colombian communities so that palm oil crops can be planted on their land. Fidel Mingorance, president of HRE, said forced displacements to plant palm oil crops have been happening since 2005 and that the case from Chocó has been brought before the Inter-American Human Rights Court. Mingorance said that “all the violations, displacements, murder, invasion of land, are connected to the expansion of the paramilitary, who supposedly demobilized some time ago.”
Leonidas Tobon, director of Technological Development at the Ministry of Agriculture, said reports of human rights violations are unfounded, and that 30% of palm crops belong to small-scale producers. He did acknowledge the case of forced displacement in Chocó but said “it was only one time and the government is compensating those affected.” (Colombia Reports, June 4)