Since early December, hundreds of private contractors of a multinational banana corporation have illegally invaded and occupied Afro-Colombian peace communities in the Curvaradó river basin with the intent to clear the land and actualize banana production for Banacol Inc. Their actions have been supported and assisted by local paramilitaries, army soldiers and municipal governments.
The peace communities’ collective territory is protected under the Colombia Constitution and protective measures under the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
According to documents released by the Colombian human rights organization, Intereclesial Comisión de Justicia y Paz (Justicia y Paz), Banacol Inc. is paying vulnerable people to displace equally vulnerable Afro-Colombian peace communities and grow bananas for them. Enabling Banacol Inc. to usurp protected, ancestral, sovereign territory and exploit its rich soil for profit; under the justification of nonlocal vulnerable Colombians needing residence and work.
The peace communities filed a legal complaint with the municipality of Carmen del Darién, but no action by the police or Colombian army has been taken. The Carmen del Darién police ordered an eviction of the illegal occupiers and then said that they do not have the resources to carry out such an action.
The latest demonstration of state support and collusion with the illegal occupation was the funneling of flood victims relief funds to the illegal invaders by the Mayors Office in Carmen del Darién.
The Banacol Corporation is occupying resource rich land, not only taking the private property of already vulnerable communities, and putting them at risk for displacement, but they are also destroying the crops of ancestral subsistence farmers, destroying natural habitat and contaminating their waterways.
Fliers posted in poor neighborhoods and communities lured the squatters into Curvaradó in the Urabá region of Chocó, Colombia. The fliers assured three months of paid living expenses, titles to 2.5-hectare plots, materials and pay to build settlements, and a contract with Banacol Inc. to grow bananas.
What the fliers didn’t include is that the Curvaradó territory is already inhabited by afro-descendent communities, committed to maintain their collective territories, granted to them under law 70 of Colombia (1993), which recognizes and protects Afro-Colombians’ right to collectively own and occupy their ancestral territory.
These communities had been previously displaced in 1997 by joint military and paramilitary operations according to survivors’ testimonies. Since those mass violent displacements palm oil plantations, extensive cattle ranches and banana companies have moved onto the vacant land, still protected by paramilitaries.
Today approximately ten percent of the original inhabitants have nonviolently returned to their ancestral territory with the help of human rights organizations and protective measures granted to them by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Since their return, it has been a constant struggle to maintain the retaken territory.
The “bad-faith occupiers,” as the Curvaradó residents call them, are made up of vulnerable individuals; some displaced by violence in other regions of the country, some farmers without land, and others recently unemployed by palm oil or banana plantations. Unfortunately, their vulnerable situations put them at risk to be taken advantage of by the corporate agenda, promising them “the good life”, and thus at risk to further impoverish other vulnerable communities for their gain.
The squatters say they expect to receive up to 180,000 pesos ($90 U.S.) for each hectare cleared. So far, according to Justicia y Paz, they have cleared-out over 200 hectares and built over 122 temporary huts and camps.
Although the squatters would not identify where the money is coming from, the promised contracts with Banacol Inc. implicates them as the instigators and funders of an intended illegal displacement for profit.
This invasion puts the Afro-Colombian communities at increased risk for two reasons. The first is that it greatly diminishes the communities’ ability to cultivate subsistence crops, since the invaders are clear-cutting the area; many of their crops along with native flora are being killed. If they don’t have food to eat, they will have to leave their homes in search of food.
The second reason is that such a drastic shift in the local population, with an average of fifty people in each humanitarian zone, greatly affects elections, which ultimately decide the fate of these communities, including their ability to inhabit the land, cultivate the land, and maintain their cultural traditions.
As history shows us, this strategy of corporate takeover is not new in the region or for Banacol Inc. The Colombian tropical fruit company, Banadex Inc. changed its name to Banacol a few years ago when it was linked to a Chiquita Banana lawsuit in which Banadex was the Colombian subsidiary funneling Chiquita funds to terrorist paramilitary groups in the same Urabá region.
According to reporting done by El Espectador, a Colombian newspaper, the Colombian prosecutor’s office found that since the lawsuit Chiquita Brands Inc. has acquired two cover companies to continue their relationship with the A.U.C.: Invesmar, by means of Banacol Inc. and Olinsa Inc. The Prosecutor’s Office even has testimony of a former A.U.C. member, alleging that Banacol Inc. paid his group three million pesos. The Attorney General’s Office investigated the claim by reviewing Banacol Inc.’s accounting records and found funds given to terrorist groups.
If Banacol Inc. has continually found ways to fund paramilitaries to use as intimidators, stealers and killers, it is fairly certain that this scenario is again taking place in the Urabá region.
Banacol Inc., with their paramilitary sidekicks, is being assisted by the Colombian state to realize a massive occupation of sovereign Afro-Colombian territory, a clear-cutting of natural habitat, and possibly a near future violent displacement of peasant farmers, in order to enable Banacol Inc. to have Colombians and Colombian soil produce mass amounts of bananas to export overseas for their profit.
The more the international community allows multinational corporations to exploit our brothers and sisters, and our environment in this way, the more we allow them to exploit all of us.