Colombia: 'Green fuel' kills

February 28, 2009

In October 2008, Ualberto Hoyos, a Colombian citizen, was shot through the head and killed by paramilitaries. Was this part of a drug feud? Was Hoyos a sympathiser of left-wing guerrillas?

No, he was killed as a consequence of European Union (EU) policies aimed at protecting the environment.

In Colombia, there are numerous cases of right-wing paramilitaries being used to remove local people from land used to produce palm oil.

The EU is strongly encouraging Colombia to produce more palm oil, despite human rights abuse and environmental damage.

The EU is promoting a free trade agreement with Colombia. EU plans to produce 10% of fuel from biofuels will increase demand for Colombian palm oil and accelerate human rights abuse.

"The paramilitaries are not subtle when it comes to taking land", said Dominic Nutt of Christian Aid, in an interview with the London Times in June 2007. "They simply visit a community and tell landowners, 'if you don't sell to us, we will negotiate with your widow'."

Some farmers who have refused to sell or surrender their land have been murdered. There are stories of paramilitaries cutting off the arms of illiterate peasants and using fingerprints from their severed hands to create fraudulent documents that transfer land ownership.

The Afro-Colombians, who live an ecologically sustainable lifestyle and descended from African slaves brought to Latin America, are especially threatened by EU demands for biofuels.

A December 21 report from the BBC noted: "Mr Caceido, in his early 30s, says he moved to Bogota in 2001 after being threatened by presumed paramilitaries in Tumaco, a Pacific coast region.

"'We have been discriminated against in three ways,' he [said]. 'We are displaced, we are black and we are poor.'

"It is Mr Caceido's view that underlying the displacement of countless Afro-Colombians is a clash in values between the communities' use of the land and an initiative of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to produce more palm oil for biodiesel.

"For Afro-Colombians, Mr Caceido says, land use is based on cultivating a few traditional crops for subsistence — such as corn, yucca and cocoa — or for hunting and fishing.

"But, according to human rights organisations working in the north-west Choco province, and in dense forests along the Pacific, paramilitary gangs are seizing Afro-Colombian land to facilitate biofuel conglomerates.

"The land is also being transformed, with elaborate network[s] of highways, drainage canals and palm oil plantation sites. Tropical forests are cut down, water sources diverted, to aid the development of agribusiness projects."

Tens of thousands of Afro-Colombians have been forced to live in shanty towns in Colombian cities such as Bogota, while their land is taken for plantations to produce "green" fuel for cars in Paris, London and Brussels.

In the 1940s, the civil war between the Conservative and Liberal Parties was used as a cover to expropriate 200,000 peasants from the land to make way for plantations.

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of the central episodes is based on a real-life massacre of striking banana workers in the 1920s. There has been a long history of violence against peasants in Colombia that continues to this day.

Palm oil-producing companies have made huge donations to the campaigns of Uribe, whose ruling party has been connected to acts of repression.

Despite being implicated in a palm oil scandal, Uribe's agriculture minister has resigned so he can run as Conservative Party presidential candidate. Companies involved in the biofuel business are likely to bankroll his election bid.

Britain is the biggest importer of palm oil in Europe. Palm oil is in a range of goods including margarine and a variety of processed foods: we cannot escape using it. Biofuels are going to lead to a huge expansion of palm oil imports into the EU from Colombia.

In October 2008 a gathering of indigenous and Afro-Colombian people opposed to land seizures for palm oil was violently attacked by government forces.

According to a report from the Colombian Solidarity Campaign, more than 1000 Colombian soldiers "used Galil and 765 rifles, shooting at the indigenous people … Some of the fired rounds have been highly irregular, charged with black gunpowder, puntillas, tacks, glass that break on impact. They have also been using clubs and machetes."

However, when EU negotiator Fernando Cardesa García, the ambassador of the delegation of the European Commission to Colombia and Ecuador, was challenged about human rights in an interview with on February 2, he stated "we don't believe the human rights issue is a problem for the [free trade agreement] negotiations, because it is not an element in the commercial agreement."

As a European election candidate, I pledge to oppose the EU's plans for increased palm oil imports, particularly from Colombia, where palm oil production is associated with human rights abuse and environmental destruction.

I would urge all European election candidates to pledge their opposition to palm oil production in Colombia.

[Dr Derek Wall is a Green Party of England and Wales candidate for the South East European Constituency in the July European elections. He is also a member of Green Left, the ecosocialist network. A longer version of this article first appeared at]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.