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Colombian farmers return home

The 123 Colombian farmers forced off their ancestral land by riot police two years ago have returned home en masse, having lost patience with the legal process.

'The facts are on the table and its about time to do something concrete to move the struggle on' explained Eliud Alvear, one of the community leaders.


Forced eviction

In July 2009, Colombian riot police forced the community of Las Pavas off the land they had been living on and cultivating, leaving them no time to harvest their crops and telling them that the land had been sold to a palm oil company.

Christian Aid partner PDPMM came to the assistance of the Las Pavas, providing them with legal advice, encouraging them to challenge the eviction on the grounds that it ignored their previous legal claim to the land.

At the time, PDPMM contacted Christian Aid to ask us to raise the profile of the case.

Christian Aid discovered that the Daabon group - a subsidiary of which was the Colombian company in the consortium who obtained the court order to throw the farmers off their land - was also a significant supplier of palm oil to The Body Shop.


The Body Shop review

We then brought the issue to the attention of The Body Shop and it agreed to co-finance an independent review into the case.

On the basis of the factual findings made following the nine-month probe, Christian Aid considers that the Daabon group had no excuse for being ignorant of the legal dispute surrounding the ownership of the land at Las Pavas.

Body ShopMisael (pictured above) is one of the farmers evicted from Las Pavas

The Body Shop gave Daabon two months to contact the farmers and begin to negotiate a settlement. But when the deadline passed with no contact having been made, The Body Shop decided to sever its trading relationship with the company.


Returning home

After returning to the disputed land earlier this week, community leader Misael Payares said: 'We are very happy, because without land we are nothing. Its not just about working on the land, we want to restore our territory, environment and culture. This is what we are fighting for'.

At the moment the palm companies do not want to relinquish their claim to land title either. Reporting back from a meeting held with two representatives from Colombia’s Agriculture Ministry, representatives of the Las Pavas community said the government wants the community to ‘lend’ their land to the palm company.

The palm companies would continue to cultivate and the community could live there too.

This is not a workable solution for the Las Pavas farmers as their crops would be overwhelmed by the Africa palm trees which require intensive farming techniques.

For several months, members of the community have been publically harassed by the Daabon group and others associated with the consortium of palm companies.


Standing their ground

The farmers now say they are prepared to stand their ground on the disputed territory as long as necessary, and asked the Colombian government to protect them from attacks by armed groups and speed up the process to grant them legal title to the lands, which they have been fighting for since 2006.

 

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