Congressman demands UN expel Colombia’s Argos from carbon trading scheme

Congressman Ivan Cepeda has asked the UN Secretary General to expel Colombian cement company Argos from the UN’s carbon trading scheme over allegations it is using land stolen from displaced people.

Cepeda wrote to Ban Ki-Moon claiming Cementos Argos used its links to leaders of the now demobilized paramilitary group the AUC to appropriate land following the paramilitary assault on the Montes de Maria region in north Colombia.

Between 2000 and 2006, paramilitary groups committed an estimated 49 massacres and displaced 140,000 people in their campaign to clear the area of guerrilla groups.

A government report published last week showed that after the assault, 100,000 acres of land left vacant by fleeing locals was snapped up by illegal armed groups, big landowners and private companies with the help of corrupt government officials.

Argos, Colombia’s largest manufacturer of cement and one of the highest valued companies in the country, acquired its land during that period.

According to Cepeda, “Cementos Argos has tried to pass itself off as a third party acting in good faith in the purchase of the lands of Montes de Maria, that is to say, to make out they did not know there had been massacres, murders, rapes and displacement.”

He added the stance was “not believable” as the situation was widely known about, both nationally and internationally.

Cepeda also listed a number of Argos executives who allegedly had direct or indirect links to leading AUC paramilitaries.

In February, an Argos subsidiary, Reforestadora del Caribe, received approval to use its lands in the region to participate in the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) by planting 7,500 acres of Teak trees to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

The CDM allows industrialized countries to purchase carbon credits from emission-reduction projects in developing countries in order to meet their commitments agreed to in the Kyoto climate change treaty.

CDM projects earned $140million for Colombian companies in 2010 according to Colombian NGO Social Organisation for Community Assistance and Capacity-Building (COS-PACC).

In testimonies collected for a COS-PACC report, locals claim the arrival of Reforestadora del Caribe has been accompanied by a return to the region of paramilitary groups.

Locals claim the company’s plantations are patrolled by armed, uniformed men who have identified themselves as the “Aguilas Negras“, a known neo-paramilitary group, the “Botas Amarillas”, or the “Protectoras de la teca”.

Cepeda concluded by requesting the UN withdraw Argos from the program, citing the UN’s Global Compact, an initiative in which companies, including those part of the CMD, agree to standards regarding human rights, corruption, labor and the environment.

In September, Cepeda raised the issue of the Montes de Maria land theft in Congress, calling for an investigation into the role of former President Alvaro Uribe. He said, “the Montes de Maria are in the power of friends of ex-president Uribe.”

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