Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled
I’ve been here in Colombia with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) for a week and a half. This week I’ll be visiting Las Pavas, where CPT has been working with 123 families since 2009. They have been struggling to get title to the land where they have lived for decades while A palm oil company has been trying to push them off.
My colleague and I will be a presence with Las Pavas during an official visit by INCODER, the Colombian agency who grants land titles. I’m looking forward to meeting the community personally for the first time since I’ve been hearing about them for so many years.
Here’s a brief summary of the Las Pavas story from an article last year by the Colombia team.
The people of Las Pavas are a sustainable farming community in the southern Bolivar department (province) of Colombia. Through the years, paramilitary violence has forced community members to leave the land but each time they have returned. In 2006, the community was in the process of claiming its land rights under Colombian law when a Daabon consortium bought the land from absentee owner, who had lost his rights to the land due to years of abandonment. On 14 July 2009, the Colombian riot police forcefully removed the community of Las Pavas.
On April of 2011, the community returned to their homes. But their struggle has continued, with the state prosecutor’s office claiming in December that the whole community of Las Pavas as well as CPT were lying about their displacement.
Land has always been a huge issue here in Colombia. Today, 0.4% of landowners own more than 60% of privately owned land (source). Those 0.4% justify this inequality by claiming that subsistence farmers aren’t “productive” because they aren’t creating monetary income. Instead they should be growing African palm, Colombia’s current monoculture for palm oil, the export of choice in tierra caliente (hot lands). In the view of the large landowners, everyone else should be an agribusiness employee. Or better yet, move to the city and become a factory worker in the free trade zones.
However, under Colombian law, if a farmer can show they have been on the land for 10 years or more they can claim title. Landowners have traditionally dealt with this through threats of violence, and when necessary, massacres.
Indeed, it was one such massacre that is credited with beginning “La Violencia” that led to the Colombian civil war. On a Sunday morning in December 1928, Colombian soldiers fired machine guns into a crowd of striking banana workers and their families killing hundreds. The killing were influenced by US pressure to protect the interests of United Fruit Company, the target of the strike. Read more in Wikipedia.
So what does this all have to do with CPT? Our project work here in Colombia has been part of making massacres like the more difficult for landowners. CPT’s Body Shop campaign has made the struggle of Las Pavas community visible in the international community. Actions like this one I was part of organizing in 2009 in London were part of that campaign to convince the Body Shop to stop buying palm oil from Daabon Organics, one of the companies that had pushed Las Pavas off their land:
Similar vigils were held outside stores in Chicago and other North American cities. In October 2010, when The Body Shop stopped buying Palm oil from Daabon, Abondano Alfonso DÃ¡vila, vice president of Daabon Group was quoted in El Espectador complaining that, “…some activists stood in front of The Body Shop stores in Chicago, so the company decided to terminate the contract.”
This work, along with many other organizations, opens the space for their struggle towards the day when they will be able to live ‘neath their vine and plantain tree, in peace and unafraid.
Next week, watch this space for photos of some of those trees.