Columbia: Afro-Columbians evicted for Oil Palm

Afro-Colombians evicted from their land in north-western Colombia and
along the Pacific coast, the loss of familiar surroundings of lush
jungle and rugged mountains can be devastating. Take Yajaira, a
slender 18-year-old, one of four children whose family was displaced
from a settlement in the Cacarica river basin just south of Colombia’s
border with Panama. She misses her place of origin deeply. “My home
was surrounded by banana and mango trees, and coconut palms,” she
recalls, fingering a bracelet she wears made of seeds and feathers
gathered in tropical forests. “We used to bathe and fish in a nearby

Currently, Yayaira spends part of the year in Bogota,
Colombia’s Andean capital, where blue-black clouds seem to hover
perpetually over the city. It often rains and it is cold, in sharp
contrast to the sultry heat of the north-west. Tens of thousands of
other displaced Afro-Colombians are also dispersed in Colombian
cities. Many live precariously in sprawling shantytowns, such as
Ciudad Bolivar, in the south of the capital. “A peasant without land
is like a being without life,” Yajaira says, clearly not convinced by
the urban existence. “We don’t know how to live in towns.” “We have
been discriminated against in three ways,” he says with steely
restraint. “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

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