Keep on Happy Motoring!!
Now people are fueling with the blood of "peasants"
Who Cares, it seems
Massacres and Paramilitary Land Seizures Behind the Biofuel Revolution
by Oliver Balch / and Rory Carroll
Armed groups in Colombia are driving peasants off their land to make
way for plantations of palm oil, a biofuel that is being promoted as an
environmentally friendly source of energy.
Surging demand for “green” fuel has prompted rightwing paramilitaries
to seize swaths of territory, according to activists and farmers.
Thousands of families are believed to have fled a campaign of killing
and intimidation, swelling Colombia’s population of 3 million displaced
people and adding to one of the world’s worst refugee crises after
Darfur and Congo.
Several companies were collaborating by falsifying deeds to claim
ownership of the land, said Andres Castro, the general secretary of
Fedepalma, the national federation of palm oil producers.
“As a consequence of the development of palm by secretive business
practices and the use of threats, people have been displaced and [the
businesses] have claimed land for themselves,” he said. His claim was
backed up by witnesses and groups such as Christian Aid and the
National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia.
The revelations tarnish what has been considered an economic and
environmental success story. The fruit of the palm oil tree produces a
vegetable oil also used in cooking, employs 80,000 people, and is
increasingly being turned into biofuel.
“Four years ago Colombia had 172,000 hectares of palm oil,” President
Alvaro Uribe told the Guardian. “This year we expect to finish with
“Four years ago Colombia didn’t produce a litre of biofuel. Today,
because of our administration, Colombia produces 1.2m litres per day.”
Investment in new installations would continue to boost production, he
However the lawlessness created by four decades of insurgency in the
countryside has enabled rightwing paramilitaries, and also possibly
leftwing rebels, to join the boom. Unlike coca, the armed groups’ main
income source, palm oil is a legal crop and therefore safe from
state-backed eradication efforts.
Farmers who have been forced off their land at gunpoint say that in
many cases their banana groves and cattle grazing fields were turned
into palm oil plantations. Luis Hernandez (not his real name) fled his
170-hectare plot outside the town of Mutata in Antioquia province nine
years ago after his father-in-law and several neighbours were gunned
down. When he and other survivors were able to return recently, they
found the land was in the hands of a local palm producer.
“The company tells me that it has legal papers for the land, but I
don’t know how that can be, as I have land titles dating back 20
years,” said Mr Hernandez. He suspects palm companies collaborated with
the paramilitaries. “I don’t know if there was an official agreement
between them, but a relationship of some sort definitely exists.”
A government investigation reportedly found irregularities in 80% of
palm oil land titles in some areas. “If there have been abuses and the
titles are shown to be false, then the land needs to be returned and
all the weight of the law needs to be brought down on those that are
responsible,” said Dr Castro, of the producers’ association.
Christian Aid is funding an effort to protect peasants who are trying
to reclaim land from the paramilitaries, said Dominic Nutt, who has
visited the plantations. “It is the dark side of biofuel.”
The paramilitary groups, first formed in the 80s by businessmen,
landowners and drug lords to fend off guerrillas, became a powerful
illegal army which stole land, sold drugs and massacred civilians.
Under a peace deal with the government they have officially disbanded
but many observers say remnants remain active.
Displacement continues, with an average of 200,000 cases registered
every year over the past four years, according to the UN High
Commission for Refugees, with most coming from palm oil-growing areas
on the Caribbean coast. “We can’t keep up, they just keep coming,” said
Ludiz Ruda, of the Hijos de Maria school in a shantytown outside the
coastal city of Cartagena. Since opening last year it had been swamped
with impoverished newcomers, she said. “More than 80% are refugees.”
Cocaine output rises regardless
Coca production in Colombia has surged despite US-funded eradication
efforts, according to an estimate that casts fresh doubt on
Washington’s “war on drugs”. Satellite imagery collated by the White
House Office of National Drug Control Policy survey suggests that
cultivation of coca, the raw ingredient of cocaine, jumped 8% last year
to 156,000 hectares.
The estimate was made public before a trip to Washington this week by
President Alvaro Uribe. If confirmed, it would be the third consecutive
rise in production, and a blow to the US strategy of bolstering
Colombia’s security forces to help them destroy the crops.
Under its Plan Colombia project, Washington has funnelled more than
$5bn (£2.5bn) in mostly military aid to its South American ally since
2000 - its biggest aid project outside Afghanistan and the Middle East.
The Democrats say the security forces are accused of human rights
abuses and complicity with traffickers.
Mr Uribe revealed the unpublished findings in an effort to get the bad
news out of the way before he started lobbying Congress; the White
House did not immediately respond.
“They told me they were worried about revealing this number because of
my upcoming trip to the United States - that the Americans should
reveal it,” he said. “But that’s why I’m revealing it. We’re not trying
to put makeup on what is a serious matter.”
Plan Colombia began in 1999 and was supposed to halve production of
coca within five years, using sprayer planes and officers on the
ground. But the latest estimate suggests that since then it has risen
Last month Mr Uribe trumpeted a UN report that said cultivation was
down to 79,000 hectares. The conflicting figures were incomprehensible
and disorienting, said the president: “Could it be we’ve worked in
vain? That all our work hasn’t produced the desired results?”