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Cablegate: Palm Oil Creates Opportunities and Risks For

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #2274/01 0942204
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 042204Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3934
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 7471
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 8860
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ APR LIMA 4923
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 0159
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 5556
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

UNCLAS BOGOTA 002274

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EAGR PGOV PTER SOCI CO
SUBJECT: PALM OIL CREATES OPPORTUNITIES AND RISKS FOR
AFRO-COLOMBIAN COMMUNITIES

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Summary
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1. Colombia is increasing production and export of African
palm oil as a sustainable alternative to coca. There are a
small number of high-profile accusations that palm oil
producers, possibly in concert with paramilitaries, illegally
seized land from Afro-Colombian communities for palm
cultivation. These communities are especially vulnerable to
exploitation because of ambiguous land ownership, weak
internal organizations, and a history of violence in the
Pacific coast region. The number of such cases is unlikely
to dramatically increase, and the GoC is focused on the
problem.

---------------------------------
A Sustainable Alternative to Coca
---------------------------------

2. Colombia is ramping up African palm oil production.
President Uribe extols its virtues as a sustainable source of
biofuel, and alternative to coca. The amount of land under
palm oil cultivation has doubled to 400,000 hectares since
2002, and is projected to increase by about 50,000 hectares
per year over the next decade. The number of Colombians
directly employed in the industry has climbed from 30,000 to
close to 50,000 in the past five years. Colombia is now the
world's fourth largest exporter of palm oil, exporting USD
100 million annually, with demand expected to grow.

3. The model for palm oil production is shifting from large
plantations to strategic alliances between small farmers and
larger companies that process and sell the palm oil using the
cooperative model. Human rights and Afro-Colombian groups
generally critical of the palm oil industry admit the
benefits of this system for farmers, and agree it reduces
adverse environmental impacts. However, they worry over
increasing debts among small farmers, with some calling the
system, a "new slavery." In March a virus with potentially
devastating impact on African palm was found in Colombia,
which could damage small farmers and increase opposition to
palm cultivation.

4. USAID is supporting community and association-led African
palm investments on 50,000 hectares, representing over 10
percent of Colombia's total production. USAID recognizes
that land tenure and environmental problems have been
associated with palm oil cultivation. All projects are
vetted to ensure they are not linked to displacement, and
consultations with human rights and Afro-Colombian groups are
conducted prior to project approval. USAID is developing a
new protocol to ensure that communal land tenure rights are
fully protected and that Afro-Colombian and indigenous
communities are involved in all of its economic development
projects. Moreover, USAID is initiating a program to help
strengthen consejos communitarios.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Palm Cultivation Displaces Afro-Colombian Communities
--------------------------------------------- --------

5. Afro-Colombian and human rights groups say armed groups
have forced Afro-Colombians off dozens of communal
territories in the Pacific coast to grow palm oil. Still,
only a small number of cases have been documented. Communal
territories are a relatively new legal entity, created in
accordance with the 1991 Constitution, that cannot legally be
bought or sold. More than 5 million hectares of communal
lands are in the Pacific coast region where the country's
highest percentage of Afro-Colombians reside.

6. Populations in the Afro-Colombian communities of
Jiguamiando and Curvarado in Choco Department were displaced
by paramilitaries and other illegal groups in the late 1990s
through targeted assassinations of community leaders. When
they returned in 2001-2002, they found palm oil plantations
covering almost a third of their land. GoC agricultural
agencies had financially supported the plantations, but the
GoC's land titling agency, INCODER, ultimately ruled in favor
of the Afro-Colombians after the agency discovered the palm
oil companies' claims were based on false documents. The
Minister of Agriculture promised the lands will be returned
to the communities by the end of April.


7. In the Tumaco region of the Narino department, palm oil
companies also claimed contracts pre-dating communal
territories on about 800 hectares. The contracts were not
false, but the GoC determined that they were invalid because
they were entered into after the companies knew communal
territories were going to be created in the area. The
embassy will continue to monitor these cases.

8. Our contacts tell us there are likely smaller,
unpublicized cases of illegal palm plantations in the Pacific
coast region. But the GOC's increased focus on the
problem--and high palm production costs in the Pacific
coast--have deterred new land takeovers. Due to poor
infrastructure, palm oil production is between 15-25 percent
more expensive in the Pacific coast region than in other
parts of the country, and accounts for only about 10 percent
of Colombia's production--most of it legal on privately owned
land. Contacts think palm cultivation garners more attention
than the number of cases warrants because it symbolizes
critical issues such as the plight of Afro-Colombians,
violence and forced displacement, and paramilitary
activities.

--------------------------------------
Why Target Afro-Colombian Communities?
--------------------------------------

9. The structure and recent history of territorial
communities means they have unique vulnerabilities that
increase their odds of being targeted. Afro-Colombian
"consejos comunitarios" have to approve all land use. But
they are often weakly organized without clear guidelines on
who makes decisions. Afro-Colombian groups claim there are
numerous cases of palm cultivation in communal territories
where companies ignored consejos and instead made deals
directly with individuals claiming to be in charge. Fear of
additional violence is also a factor: perceived
relationships between palm oil companies and ex-paramilitary
organizations give companies enormous leverage when making
land deals.

10. Cloudy land title in Afro-Colombian communities creates
opportunities for exploitation. Unresolved claims usually
pre-date communal territories, some literally dating back to
the Spanish colonial period. In the Jiguamiando and
Curvarado cases, claims by peasants who were granted land in
the area decades ago complicated ownership, and palm oil
companies took advantage of this. Property lines are equally
unclear, and plantations have sometimes encroached into
communal territories. Contacts tell us that
corruption--local officials issuing false
documents--contributes to the problem.
Drucker

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