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Colombia: Las Pavas: Farmers demand right of return to lands

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April 2011

las_pavas_1Buenos AiresI arrived in Buenos Aires having been driven the last two hours on the back of a motor bike. Buenos Aires is the place where the Las Pavas community, made up of approximately 123 families, has been forcibly displaced, whilst waiting to return to their land. They are literally on the edge of their territory.

In order to resist their displacement and return to their lands the farmers of Las Pavas have formed the Peasant Farmers Association of Buenos Aires (ASOCAB – Las Pavas). The Las Pavas community has suffered three forced displacements; in 1996, 2003 and 2009. The first displacement was by the paramilitaries from the unit known as Bloque Central Bolívar.

One of the leaders of Las Pavas told me they regularly saw bodies, or body parts, floating past in the Magdelena River at that time. So when they were threatened with the same, the terror was so great and so real that they fled.

However, they constantly tried to return to their land. It was following one of these returns that they were newly displaced in 2006, by presumed paramilitaries, commanded by Jesús Emilio Escobar, who had not demobilized. Following this second forced displacement Jesús Emilio Escobar sold the 14 plots of land that belonged to the farmers of Las Pavas, and 11 of the state owned communal land (Baldios), to José Ernesto Macías (Aportes San Isidro) and Alfonso Dávila Abondano (C.I Tequendama – Grupo DAABON). It was at this point that African palm started to be grown in their territory.

In 2009, the community once again returned to their territory but this time the state ordered their removal using a court ruling in favor of C.I Tequendama – Grupo DAABON. Today the community is waiting to hear from the Colombian Constitutional Court, hoping that it will defend their right to return to their lands. (Bajar el Comunicado Publico de ASOCAB haciendo un llamado a la solidaridad nacional e internacional para que les acompañen en el proceso que estan adelantando como comunidad)

las_pavas_2The community is waiting to hear from the Colombian Constitutional Court, hoping that it will defend their right to return to their lands. The community has a complete ecosystem that operates to the benefit of all the farmers living on these lands. Whilst I was there, they explained how each had their own farm, but there were commonly owned lands as well, some of which were wetlands. The community protected these communal lands, which also provided food for all the community. They also pointed out how on the corner of several of the farms there were small squares of land given over to communal use. When joined together, these plots provided room for a small forest where trees were grown for construction, basket making, and to build canoes. They had a different species of tree for each of these activities.

This ecosystem will only once again flourish if the community can recover all of its land. At the moment the palm companies do not want to move out. Reporting back from a meeting held with two representatives from Colombia’s Agriculture Ministry, the community says the government wants the community to ‘lend’ their land to the palm company.

Attaching these sorts of conditions to returning land to communities who were so violently displaced from it, is to newly dispossess them from their lands; but in the most perverse of ways – by removing the communities’ right to decide what they want or do not want to do with that land.
Las Pavas community has a way of living that they are dreaming of reinitiating; but a dream that cannot be realised if the palm plantation remains.

Those who have been terrorized and forced to displace from their lands deserve better. As the Agriculture Minister himself said: “…the policies of restitution and return for those displaced from land, constitute a huge, outstanding debt that Colombian society is urgently obliged to repay.” [1]


Notes:

1] ABColombia translation “…Las políticas de restitución y retorno de los despojados de la tierra, constituyen una gigantesca deuda insoluta que la sociedad colombiana está en la obligación impostergable de  pagar” . See Press Release from the Ministry of Agriculture “De los colores de la montaña a los dolores del desplazamiento’, 28/03/11.  

For more information download a report by Body Shop /Christian Aid report (in Spanish), which provides an independent evaluation of the land conflict in Las Pavas: Informe Evaluación Independiente Caso Las Pavas, junio de 2010, junio de 2010

Read more (in Spanish) from the community themselves on their webpage Retornolaspavas