Agro-fuels and gold-mining: the human consequences

With Frog-Lover the fourth member of Espacio currently in Colombia – see her blog

A leader of Colombia’s largest paramilitary group once described paramilitary strategy in terms of clearing the ground for a model of “development” geared towards corporate interests.

He explained that once the paramilitaries had eliminated potentially subversive members of the population, imposed an authoritarian social structure, ensured that land once owned by peasant farmers became the property of large landowners and begun employment, health and education programmes in conjunction with state bodies, these right-wing death squads would stop being a “loose cannon of the State”, having “put in place the necessary structures for the victorious expansion of national and multinational capitalism and the ‘modernising’ State will be able to install itself with the cooperation of the private sector, non-governmental organisations and the “organised” communities.’ (Carlos Castaño, quoted by Colombian economist Libardo Sarmiento in 1996).

He was referring particularly to paramilitary strategy in the Magdalena Medio region of the country, where Espacio’s Frog Lover has been based for the last few weeks, providing solidarity accompaniment to communities there.

The region was taken over by paramilitaries – in full complicity with the “official” state forces – in the late 1990’s.

Although Colombia’s armed conflict is often misrepresented as being primarily to do with drugs, the well-documented, institutionalised links between the armed forces and paramilitaries, the recent “parapolítica” which revealed close ties between numerous top politicians and paramilitary groups and the numerous testimonies of collaboration between multinational corporations and paramilitary groups point to a different logic driving the conflict: the violent imposition of a model that geographer David Harvey calls “accumulation by dispossession”, which is being imposed, with differing degrees of violence, the world over.

When the paramilitaries arrived in Southern Bolívar, they made it clear to communities why they had come. In one part of the region – where local people make a living as small-scale gold miners – the paramilitaries killed one of the leaders of the Farmers and Mining Federation of Southern Bolívar, decapitated him and played football with his head before putting it on a pole looking towards the mining zone and telling the inhabitants that they were coming for the mines and they were going to hand them over to people who would work them better and make more rational use of them.

Today, gold mining in the region is controlled by multinational corporations, such as Kedahdah Anglo Gold. One of the current leaders of the Federation is Teófilo Acuña, who will be in Bristol on Wednesday, was last year was imprisoned at the order of the army battalion responsible for protecting the multinationals’ interests.

Monocultures of oil palm – a crop used for agro-fuels (also known as biofuels) as well as in the fast food industry – are another important interest linked to paramilitarism in the region as well as to international policies designed to keep capitalism going and provide what Bristol Rising Tide aptly desribe as a “false technical fix” for climate change.

In a country where eight million people are reported to by dying of hunger, the imposition of monocultures in place of local food crops is itself lethal – quite apart from the violence used to dispossess people of their land.

In the town in Southern Bolívar where Frog Lover has been living, it is planned that 16,000 of the available 24,000 hectares will be used for growing Oil Palm.
This does not leave much space for food crops. And much of this ‘available land’ is only available once wetlands have been drained, affecting fish and bird populations as well as destroying the livelihoods of local fishermen.

Frog Lover has met farmers in the region surviving on one meal a day since being forced off their land by a palm oil company, people working for palm companies paid poorly and paid late, and many who are angry and saddened that in such a fertile area they are having to import food from elsewhere.

The village of San Cayatano is one example of the misery caused by agro-fuel monocultures.

When Señor Numa, the owner of a 900 hectare farm died 23 years ago, the villagers waited five years for his relatives to claim the land before they started to farm it. They were there for fourteen years: around forty families, again growing staple foods.

It is still unclear whether the men who arrived claiming to have bought the land from Señor Numa’s sons actually ever did, although it is understood that they aquired the land for growing Oil Palm. What was clear were the threats behind the request for these families to leave the land. People were offered small amounts of money and were told that if they didn’t leave the good way, they would be leaving the bad way. Given the paramilitary presence in the area, people took this pretty seriously. The last man left was taken by the paramilitaries to be killed, but managed to escape.

That was three years ago. ‘Misery’ was the word used to describe life for them since. Unemployment is especially uncomfortable when there are eight children to feed. One meal a day becomes normal. Hunger universal.

Meanwhile, smallholders nearby have been persuaded by falling crop prices into growing Oil Palm through the EU-backed policy of “strategic alliances” between peasants and corporations (alliances that disguise grossly unequal power relations and the fact that the peasants take the risks while the company reaps the profit).

For the first three years, while the palms are growing, the farmers get a loan of 400 000 pesos (106 pounds) per month from the company – San Lucas – to cover the upkeep of the 10 hectares. It actually doesn’t cover much. At least two people are needed every day for keeping the area weed free. (If you are reported for having livestock on the land, the payment stops) If the workers are not family, they need to paid 40 000 pesos per day. If they are, they need feeding.

On top of this, when repayments start after 5 years, the 400,000 pesos per month will have to be paid back to the company.

Some farmers use herbicides, also supplied on credit from the company.

Most of these farmers currently have a loan of around 25 million pesos (6600 pounds) and many see losing their land as a real danger as a result of their debt. When their trees start bearing fruit, they will be at the mercy of global prices and the amount that San Lucas chooses to pass on to them.

It is not a company that has so far inspired much confidence. Three years ago they made an agreement with the community to sort out the local road which is impassible in the winter – children struggle to school knee deep in mud and arrive 2 hours late according to the teacher. The company also undertook to put in a drainage system to help against flooding. None of this has been done, and in fact the problem with flooding has been far worse as the drainage system from the company’s own land directs more water onto the old airstrip, and another palm oil company at the other end has blocked where it used to drain away.

This Tuesday, 15th April, mandatory biofuel blending comes in, meaning that 2.5% of fuel sold at the pump must contain biofuel. Espacio members in Bristol will be with Rising Tide at Tesco, Eastville from 4.30 – 7pm on Tuesday 15th, highlighting the impact of the agrofuels in solidarity with communities who are struggling to keep their lands. See:


Thousands march against state terror

protesters in Bogota

On Thursday we were on the streets of Bogotá as thousands of Colombians took to the streets again, this time in homage to the more than 15,000 victims of state terrorism in the country. We marched with campesinos from BP’s oil exploration region of Casanare, in the capital to attend the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes forum being held this weekend.

The slogan, ‘for our dead, not a minute of silence, only a lifetime of struggle’ was particularly poignant as we stood beside, Dolores, a woman we know from Casanare (not her real name) whose two sons were killed by the army last year and the neighbours of community activist Armando Montañez who shot dead last month after he and other members of the community were blacklisted by a sergeant of the 16th Brigade.

Many of the marchers carried photos of friends, family members and neighbours who had been killed by the state forces and state-linked paramilitaries. Some wore t-shirts baring the words ‘we are all Colombia’ in response to the ‘I am Colombia’ trade mark of last month’s government-backed march against the FARC guerrilla (see our report at

Despite the fact that bosses encouraged employees to take the day off for the previous march, on Thursday workers were threatened with sanctions if they didn’t turn up for work. Despite this, the streets were thronging with people and, although it’s difficult to estimate numbers when the mainstream press are concerned to play down the significance of the march, the streets were far more densely packed than on 4 February at which according to generous estimates over 8 million people marched across the world.

There was also widespread support for the march in other countries, including across Europe where Colombian exiles and groups in the network we’re part of – the Red de Hermandad y Solidaridad con Colombia – and other solidarity networks organized protests, vigils and street theatre. In Paris, around 600 people joined a vigil in the Trocadero, while at home in Bristol, other members of Espacio Bristol-Colombia, alongside people from Colombia Solidarity Campaign and others highlighted the situation in Colombia through a piece of street theatre (see the u-tube clip at and report at…37421)
The mobilization was convened by Colombian social organizations to demand an immediate end to the persecution of members of social organizations and trade unions, human rights defenders, journalists, students, peasant-farmers, indigenous people and all those engaged in democratic opposition and to demand the victims right to truth, justice and meaningful reparation.

For more than 50 years the Colombian conflict has been the cause of one of the most longstanding and devastating humanitarian crises on the planet, with hundreds of thousands of dead and ‘disappeared’ and more than four million people internally displaced within the country. The vast majority of crimes have been committed by paramilitary groups that act under the protection of the armed forces and senior figures in the Colombian state and which, in many cases, are financed by multinational corporations.

These paramilitaries and their allies have caused the death of more than 15,000 people, including 1,700 indigenous people, 2,550 trade unionists and 5,000 members of the Patriotic Union – a left-leaning political coalition. These victims have been buried in more than 3,000 mass graves, or their bodies thrown into rivers. Six hundred people have been murdered every year since 2002, when the government supposedly began a ‘demobilisation’ of the paramilitaries.

Since 2006, a number of public scandals have demonstrated the tight links between paramilitary groups and dozens of politicians, including members of parliament, regional governors, military officers and other state agents. Many of these people continue told hold public office or positions as diplomats.

On Wednesday, UN High-Commissioner for Human Rights’ delegate in Colombia, Javier Hernández, issued a statement warning that paramilitary groups continue to thrive in the country and that what the government now refers to as mere ‘criminal gangs’ in fact have “structures of command and control, arms, operational capacity and uniforms” and include at least 15% of those paramilitaries have supposedly demobilized.

Like the Hydra, the great sea-snake of Greek legend, ‘it could be that we have only cut off one head, from which another seven will emerge’ he said. The UNHCHR delegate also underlined the need to clarify the links between paramilitary groups and corporations and the importance of reparation for victims that includes the recuperation of their land (a large proportion of land in Colombia has been turned over to corporate interests through displacement at the hands of the paramilitaries which has subsequently been legalized by the state).….html
Over the last few years, there has also been an increase in extra-judicial executions by the National Army. Since 2002, national and international human rights organizations have reported the murder of more than 950 civilians who the army tried to pass off as guerrillas killed in combat.

Casanare, where we work, is far from an exception and the army continue to protect the interests of BP and other companies linked to oil extraction and exploration. Dolores told us yesterday that now, months after the murder of her sons, a Canadian company has begun seismic exploration on her land with asking her permission or giving her any compensation for the damage to her farm.

Espacio and COS-PACC, the Colombian social organization we’re working with in Casanare, have set up a scheme to protect threatened members of rural communities in the region by ‘twinning’ them with people in Britain, who undertake to follow-up their situation with the authorities and build up personal solidarity links as pen-pals, to remind people that they are not alone and disposable, as the strategists of state terror would like to have them believe. If you are interested in getting involved, contact us as

the 4 feb demo against the farc

‘I am Colombia’ were the words stamped across the rather artificially large chest of the woman who nearly ran us over in her four-by-four on Monday morning. No doubt she was on her way to the government-sponsored mobilization against the FARC guerrilla that took place in cities across the world today, despite condemnation from Colombian social movements, the left-leaning opposition and the mother of Ingrid Betancourt – the former Green Party senator who has been a hostage of the FARC since 2002.

I am Colombia’ were the words stamped across the rather artificially large chest of the woman who nearly ran us over in her four-by-four on Monday morning. No doubt she was on her way to the government-sponsored mobilization against the FARC guerrilla that took place in cities across the world today, despite condemnation from Colombian social movements, the left-leaning opposition and the mother of Ingrid Betancourt – the former Green Party senator who has been a hostage of the FARC since 2002.

Despite the uniform of white T-shirts claiming to embody Colombia and demanding ‘no more kidnaps’, ‘no more lies’, ‘no more deaths’ and ‘no more FARC’, the idea that the FARC are at the root of Colombia’s humanitarian crisis is almost as daft as blaming Joseph Stalin for World War Two. However, in a country where the media is a vehicle for government spin to a degree that makes even the BBC look subversive, and where critical journalists have a disturbing pre-disposition for ending up exiled or killed, historical and political analysis has been replaced by the nationalistic slogans currently gushing from the botoxed lips of television presenters.

The demonstrators had little to say about the far deeper issue underlying the conflict in Colombia – that of state terrorism and a ‘democracy’ that has claimed more lives than all the Latin American dictatorships put together. However, as the marchers drew a border around themselves and declared themselves to ‘be’ Colombia, they delineated the boundaries of another space, outside that border, a ‘non-Colombia’ populated by the thousands of non-citizens who every day face the possibility of being victims of state-sponsored violence.

These non-citizens are not armed outlaws but members of social organizations who oppose the policy of privatization of just about everything, the destruction caused by multinational corporations or the violence with which the state’s neoliberal development policies are imposed on poor communities. People like our friend Luis Eduardo García who just before Christmas had three consecutive death threats from paramilitaries (whose links with the state are extensively documented) because of his work with the Colombian food-workers’ union.

Also inhabiting this non-Colombia are the surplus populations who have no value to the government except as corpses who can be dressed in military garb to show that the army are meeting their macabre targets of guerrillas killed in combat. Dulcelina, who sent her two sons off to buy cheese from a neighbouring farm at midday on 30 March last year and was later presented with an army video showing their corpses wearing military boots, is one of many people we’ve spoken to who’ve told us of the how their loved-ones’ corpses have been manipulated in this way.

The recent testimony of an army whistle-blower has revealed that extra-judicial executions and the passing-off of civilian corpses as those of guerrilla is a policy that extends to the heart of the Colombian army, which recent years have given carte blanche to combat the guerrilla under President Uribe’s curiously-named policy of ‘Democratic Security’. Last month, Sergeant Alexander Rodríguez spoke out on the murder of civilians by the 15th Brigade of the Army, who subsequently presented the corpses as those of guerrillas killed in combat. To make their story credible, the soldiers changed their victims clothes and put a gun next to them. But in a world in which everything has a price and those with the least resources must pay for them, the soldiers’ were asked to pay 20,000 pesos (approx £5) each to the cover the cost of the gun. ‘If you want to pay, that’s fine – if not, it’s ok too, but think about the five-day leave you’ll get if you do’ the soldiers were told by their superiors.

The Commander of the Colombian Army, General Mario Montoya, as the head of a special commission into the accusations, responded by withdrawing Sergeant Rodriguez from active service – on the basis of his supposed lack of discipline – and by promoting the commander of the offending 15th Brigade. The strategy of accusing the accusers is a standard response of the Colombian state to charges against it.

It has become a mantra of the government and its supporters that human rights groups are ‘auxiliaries of the guerrilla’, a charge that is little short of a death sentence for human rights defenders in Colombia. The European network that Espacio Bristol is part of – the Red de Hermandad y Solidaridad con Colombia – was, along with Peace Brigades International and several prominent Colombian human rights NGOs, itself declared part of the ‘juridical wing of the FARC’ in an article in the national newspaper El Espectador on 15 December, despite the fact that some of the social organizations we accompany have themselves been declared military targets of the FARC as a result of their different views on how to respond to state terror and multinational capitalism.

In oil-rich Arauca, a region of eastern Colombia, social organizations have for decades been implementing their own alternative social and economic models but in recent years have suffered violence at the hands of the army and paramilitaries defending the interests of oil multinationals (see Amnesty International’s report at In January, they issued a call for international solidarity in which they stated that they were now being attacked by Fronts 10 and 45 of the FARC as well as by the state forces.

Despite the outrage inspired by the FARC’s policies, the question of what to do in the face of a state that thrives on a strategy of terror against non-violent opposition remains unanswered, indeed ignored, by today’s march. The Colombian state is responsible for many millions more murders and illegal imprisonments than the FARC but continues to consolidate its position in international public opinion as the ‘legitimate’ bearer of arms. As peasants and social activists face on-going extermination and stigmatization with little support from those who find it a more convenient option to focus only on the FARC, it is hardly surprising that a significant minority of people in Colombia see little option other than to take up arms in order to defend themselves and their communities.

The Colombian trade union federation – la CUT, Colombia’s left-leaning political coalition – the Polo Democrático Alternativo, and members of various social and human rights organizations also marched on Monday in a counter-demonstration that was all but invisible to the eyes of the mainstream media. They, too, were protesting against kidnapping but demanded that the government enter into a humanitarian agreement with the FARC and negotiate a political, rather than military, solution to the conflict in Colombia.

friends told they’ll end the year in a mass grave

On Wednesday night, we stayed with our friend Luis Eduardo Garcia who is a member of the Colombian food-workers’ union, Sinaltrainal, and a worker in the Coca-Cola factory.  At 5 o’clock on Thursday morning Guayabo went with Luis Eduardo and another member of Sinaltrainal, Jose Domingo Florez, to give out leaflets workers starting their shift, reminding them that that day, 6 December, was the eleventh anniversary of the murder union leader Isidro Gil, who was killed inside a Coke bottling plant during negotiations with the company.

On Thursday night, when Domingo got home, he found an envelope in his garage containing a death threat against himself, Luis Eduardo and the union president Javier Correa.  Further threats were received on Friday and Monday – and they make chilling reading:



Sinaltrainal launched a boycott of Coca-Cola in 2003 following the murder of eight unionized Coca-Cola workers – all during negotiations with the company.  Threats against Coke workers continue and have becoming all the more frequent in the city of Bucaramanga where Luis Eduardo and Domingo are based.

This is the fifth threat this year against members of Sinaltrainal in Bucaramanga, who have been told that in December they will be killed and buried in a mass grave.  On 10 February, Luis Eduardo and Jose Domingo and Sinaltrainal’s president Javier Correa received a threat, which was repeated a few weeks later.  Then, on 26 July, Luis Eduardo and Javier received a further threat, which was repeated on 2 November.

It is unlikely to be a coincidence that Thursday’s threat followed the distribution of leaflets commemoration Isidro’s murder.

6 December was also the 79th anniversary of the massacre of more than 1000 banana workers employed by the United Fruit Company – immortalized in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s nobel prize-winning novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.  United Fruit later became Chiquita Brands but the murders of workers didn’t stop and the company has admitted payments to right-wing paramilitary death squads.  Later that same day, Luis Eduardo and Jose Domingo went on to take part in an act of commemoration for the murdered United Fruit Company and Chiquita Brands workers, where they presented a photo gallery of all the unionized Coca-Cola and Nestle workers who had been murdered.

communities build their own ‘plan de vida’ amidst army murders

Casanare isn’t the only part of the country where the army is killing members of populations who don’t fit into a development model geared towards resource extraction by multinational corporations.  Last week we traveled to Catatumbo in the north-eastern region of Santander to hear evidence that social organizations had collected into murders by the army in the part of Santander near the northernmost part of the boarder with Venezuela.

This is an interview with a member of CISCA, the Committee for Social Integration in Catatumbo, which is made up of representatives of peasant farmer and indigenous communities and is building a local level model of society and economy called a Plan de Vida (Plan for Life).

We’re peasant farmers in Catatumbo who arrived in the region in search of work, through a process of land occupation.  Catatumbo is on the border with Venezuela and has rich deposits of coal and oil as well as great biodiversity.  The Catatumbo river runs through most of the region and is the main source of the Maracaibo lake in Venezuela.  The land is shared between farmers and the original inhabitants, the Barí indigenous people who have lived on thos land for centuries and who today work closely as a community with the campesinos – both in food production and in acts of resistance, so that both the Barí and campesinos can live on the land.

Through this, the Catatumbo Committee for Social Integration – CISCA – was born, the aim of building social proposals for remaining on the land and in defense of life, which integrates everyone in Catatumbo – teachers, workers, peasant farmers, the Barí people, women, children, old people – so that we can follow the dream of continuing to live in Catatumbo and oppose the Colombian state’s intention to remove the people who live here in order to exploit natural resources – to empty the region of inhabitants in order for the state, along with transnational corporations, to remain with riches like coal and oil and to implement new cultivation strategies, such as crops of oil palm, cocoa, caucho and higuerilla, which they have been proposing to us but which we haven’t accepted.

There’s extensive oil palm in lower Catatumbo [see our previous posting ], which reflects the fact that the area was under paramilitary control since 1999.  After the so-called paramilitary ‘demobilization’ in 2004, [] the oil palm crops were increased, as has the interest in oil and coal exploration and extraction by transnational companies and the Colombian government.  There is an important relationship between the paramilitaries and the current exploitation of natural resources [] and the repercussions this has had on the lives of those of us who live in the region.


We are in a region that has been abandoned by governments and hasn’t achieved the indicators of development that all human beings deserve as part of human dignity.  This abandonment is reflected in appalling roads to access the region, no possibility of selling our products, isolation, denial of the right to education, denial of the right to health – and to even talk of housing just highlights the impossibility of having a dignified home.  Because of this we’ve organized ourselves and begun to build a proposal called a Plan for Life (Plan de Vida), where the different communities begin to reflect about what it is we want, what we ought to have, what our rights are and to understand that there is a state that is responsible for what happens to us or what stops happening.  So, with the participation of the communities, the different villages, the Barí people and campesinos, we’re building a Plan for Life – a plan so that we can stay on our land, have life and live in Catatumbo.

However, the government has ignored all the iniciatives coming from the region and given us a military presence.  The only state presence in the region is Mobile Brigade No 5 and Brigade No. 30, and it’s being announced that from November Brigade No 21 will also be in operation.  Which is to say, a strong militarization for a region inhabited by only 250,000 people and made up on only 8 municipalities.  This offer of the state to the communities, in form of military presence, has mean numerous atrocities in the form of an increasing number of extra-judicial execution, which so far this year have amounted to more than 30.  There are 30 dead inhabitants of the region, who have had nothing to do with armed conflict, but who are presented by the military as guerrillas killed in combat.

We’re worried by the number of deaths and the way campesinos are being attacked.  We can’t walk on the paths alone any more because at any moment we could be shot and a ‘guerilla’ reported killed in combat, when it is a campesino who was going to market for their family, who was harvesting crops or just working on their farm.  This situation has been ongoing since February this year and represents a systematic decision to kill those who live in this region of Catatumbo.  To recount some cases…  Eliécer Ortega … is detained by the army and later appears in the Ocaña morgue reported as a guerilla killed in combat when he’s a campesino from the region. Carlos Daniel Martínez … the army arrive at this house and find him alone, a man of almost 50, and he’s killed in the morning and reported as a guerilla killed in combat.  The same in the case of the two young men who were detained by the army, murdered and thrown into the Catatumbo river – the bodies were found in the lower part of the river.  This could continue, there are more than 30 cases.

This is a great worry, because the army Brigades are ‘successful’ by killing campesinos and reporting them as killed in combat.  We want to tell the national and international community about all of this because what is happening to us is a decision to get rid of the people who live in the region of Catatumbo.  We know about the conflict in the region but we demand that they respect the civilian population, the non-combatants, the campesinos, the indigenous people, those of us who live in the region…. The only thing that we have is a bit of land to work and on which to raise a family.  We are not using arms, we are not saying anything other that that we want to live in the region and build a project for staying on our territory.

The national army is committing these atrocities against the population, and we have reported this to government bodies – the Vice Presidency of the Republic, the Ministry of the Interior and also to the Brigade commanders.  In the municipality of El Tarra, the community, the families of the victims, of those who have been executed by the army reported this behaviour to the high command of the Mobile Brigade No 15.

We believe that there should be some mechanisms so that the Colombian government and army understand that we have a right as Colombians to live in this region and to be allowed to live peacefully in Catatumbo.


The army Brigades are in the region under the pretext of counter-insurgency and of ending the guerrilla presence in the region.  However, we believe that underneath this military strategy there is an aim to guarantee the extraction of mineral and energy resources and natural resources in general… This military presence provides security for the oil companies, for the transnational corporations who are putting everything into coal extraction, those who are sowing oil palm, those who want to privatize the water, as well as providing a presence near the frontier to control the project of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.  It’s also a strategy to stigmatize those of us who live in the region, accompanied by the terror sown by the national army across the region of Catatumbo, village by village, saying that now the Black Eagles [paramilitary militias] are coming.

We think that this strategy of terror is being sown by the national army so that we are afraid, so that we leave.  In some cases, the army has directly asked the campesinos ‘why don’t you go, why don’t you leave the region’.  Which is to say that there is an interest in emptying the territory by whatever means – by criminalization, by legal cases against us, by detentions, by murders, by the strategy of terror, so that the people leave.  All of this goes hand in hand with whatever counter-insurgency strategy, so that there are the security conditions for the transnational companies to exploit the region’s resources.  That is how we understand it.

In the face of this horror, we ask the national and international community to be aware of our situation and ready to act because they are killing and displacing us in order to have a territory – a territory that is going to be practically wiped out as 15 thousand hectares of Catatumbo are being requested for open-face coal mining.  This will be an ecological disaster, it will end life in the region, end the culture of production and also certainly put an end to the Barí people, who despite having been in the furthest corners of the territory for years, the last bit that remains for them will be threatened by the exploitation of energy resources.

I want to thank you for giving us this opportunity to give your our voice and join it to the voices of the peoples of the world so that people know what is going on in the region of Catatumbo.  Here we are building resistance, building a project for life that will allow us to remain in the territory, that will allow us to bring up our families and participate in society….  The Colombian government may not be interested in the people, but only in resources and the riches of Catatumbo which can contribute to the enriching of transnational companies, but we are interested in life – for us the most important thing is to live life in harmony with nature.  For this reason, the indigenous people and campesinos of Catatumbo demand that the Colombian state respect our lives and our decision to remain in the territory.   We also ask for solidarity from all those who can hear us or read us, from those who know that we are building resistance, they don’t forget us, that they accompany us, that they are ready to act and help so that you are our voice in all places for the defence of life and the right to remain on the land.

A fraternal embrace from Catatumbo for everyone who is building resistance and the conditions for life in the world.

fake tan and ‘corporate responsibility’

We’re still up to our eyeballs in work and the rain hasn’t stopped. A couple of weeks ago we went back to the oil region to investigate an NGO that the oil companies set up and which trains rural community members in a more ‘entrepreneurial’ approach to farming, amongst other things. This was a wee bit nerve wracking as we had to go on our own (don’t ask – the Colombian organization we’re working with was meant to be coming to do research do, but things didn’t quite get organized according to plan). By now, we know what to do if we meet any of the armed actors in the region but nonetheless we were somewhat nervous.

I went sporting dark contact lenses and fake tan so that none of the farmers recognized me from previous trips to the region as I was trying to pass myself off as a right-leaning academic without any links to social movements. It must have worked because we spent part of the day with an NGO-worker who’d sat in on at a human rights workshop that I’d spoken at in the spring and he didn’t bat an eyelid. Guayabo Pastuso was also quite disturbed by my appearance and said he felt like he was having an affair my sister. He came along under the guise of concerned-partner-of-right-leaning-academic and did an excellent job of retreating to the loo every half hour in order to text our exact whereabouts to the social organization we’re working with in Bogota, just in case, although in the end everything was fine.

As one might expect, the oil companies have put tiny amounts of money into this rather dubious NGO in comparison with the huge amounts of funding given to the army in the region (who continue to extra-judicially execute civilians). I came close to blowing my cover when the NGO staff told us how the army had taken control of security in the region and there was no violence there now, just as we were passing the home of Roque Julio, the sixteen-year-old who the army tortured and killed, along with his father, on 19 march this year, but managed to keep smiling sweetly. Ho hum…

climate justice tribunal calls for social movements to unite against climate change and capital

Work seems to be never ending here and quite mundane for the last few weeks, which has been a bit of an impediment to getting round to updating the blog. I am sorry to report that I am still trying to find a strategy to make myself less attractive to the dog, who is still trying to mount me with relative frequency. He went through a brief period of relative calm when his owner started to get him trainer, but the trainer mysteriously disappeared and since then, the firmer I am with him, the more turned on he seems to get by what he appears to interpret as a dominatrix act.

It’s been raining for days and in the colonial part of Bogotá where we’re living the streets are frequently like small rivers and there’s a nasty smell of blocked drains permeating just about everything. Still, with a decent pair of wellies and an umbrella, life pretty much continues as normal (if you don’t mind the fact that your clothes never dry and start to smell of wee).

Higher up, on the outskirts of the city, where displaced communities have settled the steep mountain slopes, this sort of rain has the capacity to destroy people’s homes. Elsewhere in Colombia too, the poorest people in urban areas live in the places with the least protection against flooding, water contamination and so on, whilst small-scale farmers in rural parts of the country are most vulnerable to unpredictable weather conditions.

This week, we took part in a people’s Tribunal into Climate Justice. And this was one of the issues the Tribunal sought to highlight: that climate chaos (of which this unusually bad weather seems to be a symptom) is a social justice issue.

If you read the last update, you could be forgiven for thinking that Colombian social movements have gone tribunal crazy, with yet another tribunal – this time into climate justice – on top of the series of people’s hearings into crimes against humanity by specific multinational corporations that we talked about last time. However, the idea behind people’s tribunals is to define the responsibilities behind specific issues, as well as to move towards repairing damage caused and preventing future violations. And one difficultly with combating climate chaos is that responsibilities aren’t talked about enough.

Environmental catastrophes have the biggest effect on poorer communities, who are most vulnerable to floods, food shortages, disease, the extinction of species and so on. However, responsibility for climate change lies almost exclusively with the richest people and with a model of accumulation based on endless growth, consumption and the exploitation of nature, which has involved the privatisation of just about everything and dispossessing communities of collective resources – not only lands but even the atmosphere, which has effectively become the private property of a minority. As a spokesperson for the Process of Black Communities – one of the groups who organised the tribunal – put it, those who promote the dominant model of ‘development’ care very little for those they run over in the process.

Nowadays, those responsible for climate chaos accept the existence of the problem and even conservative analyses accept that climate change is due to human activity. However, they fail to accept the responsibility of corporations and their allies and this model of ‘development’ and wealth accumulation. The World Bank for example relates environmental problems to ‘poverty, uncertainty and ignorance’, and assume that businesses will automatically ‘do the right thing’ to tackle climate change, even though the figures make it clear that rich corporations are the main polluters (for example, research by Friends of the Earth found that just one company, US oil giant ExxonMobil and it’s predecessors, caused 4.7-5.3% of human-produced carbon dioxide emissions between 1882 and 2002).

Instead of accepting responsibility and challenging the model that causes climate change and dispossession the world over, governments and international institutions rely on the market and technology – part of the problem – to provide a solution.

Market ‘solutions’ to climate change tend to take the form of carbon trading under the Kyoto Protocol, with corporations from rich countries literally buying the permission to pollute – either through purchasing ‘carbon credits’ from poorer countries who pollute less or by funding ‘clean development’ projects – often involving monocultures of plants that absorb the extra carbon but destroy biodiversity and displace local populations. These market solutions treat nature as simply another form of capital with an owner and a purchase price, without any sense of the dangers of resource exploitation, the interconnectedness of nature and so on.

Technological ‘solutions’ involve the promotion of a variety of ‘clean’(er) forms of energy. One of the most popular ‘alternatives’ amongst corporations and governments is the promotion of crops for agro-fuels – in Colombia, these take the form of African Palm, which covers huge swathes of the Colombian countryside, and, increasingly, sugar cane and yucca. These monocultures have been imposed by the means of the violent displacement of small-scale farming communities and the production of food staples by right-wing paramilitary death squads linked to the Colombian state and corporations (see attached report for the Schumacher institute by a member of Espacio).

In theory, agro-fuels are ‘greener’ than fossil fuels as they are ‘carbon-neutral’ – i.e. the carbon emitted by burning plant oils is absorbed from the atmosphere by the plants when they are growing, they still emit carbon dioxide and contribute to climate change, as well as destroying biodiversity and the survival of rural communities.

Of course technology can sometimes be life-saving, but – as the Tribunal concluded – it will not bring sustainability and social justice where political and economic power remains in the hands of corporations and their government allies, who will ultimately defend the accumulation of wealth and the possession of political power in few but strong hands. A solution to climate change and other forms of dispossession means peoples’ sovereignty over resources and a radical change in the way societies define and organise their aims with regards to their means. The real solutions are social, political, economic and cultural, and will be proposed by communities fighting for their survival and social movements advocating peoples’ sovereignty.

Numerous participants at the Tribunal also pointed out that, if these struggles are to be successful, ecological activists need to join together with people involved in other struggles against the dominant economic and political model. One achievement of power has been to make social movements believe that we are involved in separate struggles around single issues (such as poverty, war, gender, sexuality, human rights, the environment and so on). There’s not point waiting for or trusting solutions coming from the establishment, which ultimately will defend the accumulation of wealth and the ongoing holding of political power in few but very strong hands.

Although people in Britain are mobilising around climate chaos and groups like Rising Tide do see this as an issue of social injustice and are critical of business-led solutions, it seems that the connections with social movements and communities fighting for survival in the ‘global south’ are still waiting to be made. In Britain the Rising Tide network probably does have a fairly unique approach to climate change, but the Tribunal highlighted that social movements in Colombia and other parts of the world have shared that approach for a long time.

In Spanish, people talk a lot about ‘articulation’ between social movements – which conveys the idea of social movements modifying part of their identity in order to take aspects of the demands and identity of other movements. So we’re passing on the call from Colombia that for international and cross-cultural links of solidarity against climate change and capitalist globalisation (not just because we’re tired of the rain and our clothes smelling of wee).

(Confession: quite a lot of this was copied and pasted from a report I wrote with Guayabo for Indymedia. See