Guatemala: Maya Q’eqchi’ Community Evicted by Agroindustry in El Estor

Cover image: Maya Q’eqchi’ families from the community of Buena Vista, on the north side of Lake Izabal. Photo: Juan Bautista/ Prensa Comunitaria

On the morning of Wednesday, May 22, hundreds of policemen from the National Civilian Police (PNC) of Guatemala evicted the Maya Q’eqchi’ community of Buena Vista Tzinté, located on the north side of Lake Izabal, in Guatemala.

After their previous location was declared uninhabitable by the National Coordinator for the Reduction of Disasters (CONRED) due to landslides in the Sierra Santa Cruz, since 2015, the families of Buena Vista have occupied the lands that their grandparents claimed ancestrally, and where until just a few days ago they planted food for self-sustenance.

In total, 29 families were expelled from seven caballerias (an extension of agricultural land of between 6 to 43 hectares) pertaining to the micro region “El Bongo.” This property is claimed by the agroindustrialist Luis Fernando Arriaza Migoya, owner of oil palm monoculture crops that supply the company Naturaceites, also denounced for using violence to expand its operations in the region of the Polichic Valley.

According to a report from Prensa Comunitaria, the conflict over the lands originated in 1980, when Arriaza Migoya “appropriated 7 caballerias of Bongo.” Between 2019 and 2021, the campesino families were subjected to eviction attempts by the agroindustrialists that maintain monoculture oil palm crops on those lands.

Families spent the night in the open without shelter. Photo: Prensa Comunitaria

Since 2016, the Chamber of Agriculture has accused the campesinos of invasion and land usurpation from the Tzinté Estate. Through the coffee businessman Nils Pablo Leporowski Fernández, the agroindustrial association pressured the Guatemalan judiciary to evict the families, claiming, through a complaint before the Human Rights Attorney, that the campesinos were destroying the forest.

Now, children and adults are suffering without housing after being displaced by an order emitted by judge Sandra Nineth Ayala Tello, of the Peace Court of El Estor, in response to claims of alleged environmental crimes.

A communique signed by the Comité de Unidad Campesina (CUC) asserts that this sentence is still not final, as it is currently being appealed. “Despite this, the Peace Court has proceeded with the eviction,” denounces the organization accompanied by social organizations at the international level.

The organization points out that the Tzinté Estate supplies fresh fruit bunches to the Pataxte processor, on the south side of Lake Izabal, owned by Naturaceites. In turn Naturaceites sells its palm oil to Ferrero, the third largest chocolate confectionary company in the world.

“It is clear that the eviction is being pushed by an irregular judicial order. The Tzinté Estate, where the families live, is part of a group of properties under judicial investigation for different irregularities; an investigation that still has not advanced. These actions are being pushed by occult powers that have coopted corrupt judges and courts who endorse these illegal orders,” states CUC.

Worse still, according to testimonies gathered by the journalist Carlos Ernesto Choc, in addition to the eviction, six people have arrest warrants out for them, three of them women, which has kept the campesinos in a state of alert.

State of Alert

In 2019, there was an eviction attempt against the community of Plan Grande, and Abelino Chub Caal was criminalized in the process. The historian Harald Waxenenecker presented a study to assist in the defense of Chub Caal, who was persecuted by the investment companies Cobra S.A. and Bananera de Izabal S.A., owned by Miguel Ángel Arriaza Migoya.

In his study, the historian details the family-business ties of the Arriazas, and how they obtained the estate property titles where they now produce oil palm. The document, “Relaciones sociales de poder y aprociación de recursos naturales y de la tierra en El Estor, Izabal” details the benefits granted to businessmen and military figures during and after the internal armed conflict (1960-1996), which allowed the Arriaza family to take possession of grand extensions of land.

This isn’t limited to the community of Plan Grande—and the case of Chub Caal—nor of only Buena Vista. Inhabitants of the Maya Q’eqchi’ community of Chapin Abajo, on the south side of Lake Izabal, claim that their lands were also dispossessed during the years of war. Currently they maintain processes of recuperation of their ancestral lands.

In an interview with Avispa Midia, Pedro Cuc Pan, ancestral authority of Chapin Abajo, shared the information they have received in recent days, from sources they’d like to maintain anonymous for security reasons. The Buena Vista eviction is likely to be just a prelude to new agrindusry aggressions, in complicity with the Guatemalan judiciary.

Photos: Carlos Ernesto Chuc

Photo: Festivales Solidarios

Since Friday May 17, ancestral authorities of communities around Lake Izabal have denounced the eviction threats. Worse still, they assured that the company Naturaceites seeks to capture or assassinate community leaders.

Cuc Pan details that, according to the information received, agroindutry’s plan is to detain him together with other Q’eqchi’ authorities, Pedro Choc Ico and Mariano Choc Bol. According to Cuc Pan, if they don’t capture the ancestral authorities, the company Naturaceites is willing to contract hitmen to assassinate them.

The Indigenous Q’eqchi’ authority sustains that these threats are occurring in a context of other sources of intimidation. Since January 2024, they’ve heard detonations coming from the nearby Navy yard. Cuc Pan explains that the detonations are being carried out with high caliber weaponry.

“They can capture or assassinate a couple of us, it doesn’t matter. We have men, women, youth, and children who are claiming their historical rights,” emphasizes the authority, explaining that the lands are Indigenous lands, “not what a document says, but what history says.”

On Thursday morning, May 23, ancestral authorities of Iximulew—with participation of Mayas, Xingas, and Garífunas—spoke out against what they described as the “illegal eviction” of 29 families of Buena Vista Tzinté.

Through a communique, the Ancestral Maya Q’eqchi’ Council of Estor condemned the human rights violations committed by the public prosecutor and the judge Ayala Tello. They also declared the attorney general, Consuelo Porras, non grata.

“We raise our voices as ancestral Maya Q’eqchi’ authorities in our territories. We demand respect for our rights, especially from the public prosecutor’s office. They are working at the service of corruption, organized crime, large landowners, and extractive companies. Coopted judges are criminalizing the brothers and sisters who defend mother earth and their territories,” they sustain in the document, demanding an end to the evictions and criminalization.

World Bank Pursues Land Grabs for “Energy Transition”

Cover image: Indigenous communities of Xapuri, in the Brazilian Amazon, have denounced land dispossession schemes pushed by international financial entities. Photo: GRAIN

The World Bank announced during a recent conference related to land, which took place May 13-17 in Washington, that they would increase investments in strategies and management to guarantee land tenure throughout the world. They announced in the next five years that investments would increase from $5 billion dollars to $10 billion dollars.

According to the official discourse of the financial body, the objective of the bank is to help developing countries achieve secure land tenure for all men and women.

The discussion at the conference however revolved more specifically around the necessity to guarantee land tenure throughout the world for projects that aim to mitigate climate change and promote the “energy transition.”

“We are working in 28 countries on the issue of land, and we want to duplicate that number,” days Juergen Voegele, Vice President of the World Bank. The financial body has invested $38.6 billion dollars during 2023 in initiatives related to the climate in “developing countries.” The World Bank is thus the principal international financial entity funding projects related to the “energy transition” within the guidelines of the Paris Accords.

During the conference, in the middle of discourses filled with philanthropic speeches preaching the need to protect Indigenous lands, the pragmatism of the market leapt forth. “As of today, we haven’t found the sufficient land needed for investments in renewable energy. And it is not simply that we have to get rural areas to address issues related to the environment, but that we need room for investment,” says the ex-Director of Environment and Social Policy of the World Bank, Andrew Steer, today President and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund, which has financed conservation projects carried out by international organizations like the WWF and Conservation International.

They not only need the lands. They need the lands to be titled as well. Why?

The discussion during the conference laid out a response to the question. In summary, poor land governance, unclear laws, and insecure land titles limit the security of the investment and access to climate project financing. Investments from the World Bank, for example, demand that the lands be titled.

According to data from the World Bank, only 30% of the population of the world have properly registered titles to their land.

“We saw that incomplete and outdated land registries cause delays and obstacles to development, with the corresponding social effects of displacement,” he said. With resources destined to land regularization by the World Bank, “we hope that it contributes to the foundation necessary allowing us to achieve the climate objectives on a world scale,” sustains the Vice President of Infrastructure the World Bank, Guangzhe Chen.

In the context of the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the maximum authority of international negotiation on climate change, land regularization is also a necessity. So much so that at COP 26 in Glasgow, the countries agreed to direct $1.7 billion dollars to land regularization, recalls Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State of the United Kingdom, one of the promoters of the conference.

Regularization to Monopolize

If for the World bank guaranteeing land tenure has meant business security for large investors, for small scale producers and organizations, Indigenous peoples, workers, and grassroots communities, it has meant land grabbing and the displacement of millions of people in the countries of the Global South.

This critique was made by 94 organizations from throughout the world just days before the beginning of the conference. The bank has promoted “the financialization of land, forests, and fisheries, transforming the traditional and customary rights of the land into private titles suitable for the market,” point out the organizations in a statement.

The organizations demand that the World Bank stay away from the lands of the communities. “The World Bank not only invests directly in land projects, but it also has a long history of promoting natural resource management via market logic…while facilitating the privatization of natural resources and their concentration in the hands of self-interested elites and corporations,” they sustain.

The World Bank’s policies of “agrarian reform assisted by the market,” with its model of “willing buyer, willing seller” promoted in different developing countries, “increased the inequality of access to land, creating the conditions for the concentration of land, in place of its redistribution.”

More recently, the financial body has become a promoter of carbon markets and other measures of market-based climate change mitigation. It is an important actor in the creation of world carbon markets through the numerous carbon trusts and financing mechanisms.

“These measures use the communities’ territories as carbon sinks for large polluters, permitting at the same time new greenhouse gas emissions and the destruction of ecosystems,” they argue.

The organizations call on states to guarantee the World Bank refrain from influencing world, regional, and national policies related to land tenure and territories, as well as climate change and the protection of biodiversity.

Furthermore, they demand that the World Bank redirect its funding related to land and climate change toward “green solutions applied by the people and the communities in their own territories.”

Construction of Mexico’s Largest Solar Project in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec Conceals Impacts

Campesino observes the lands where the construction of a solar farm is being proposed.

Alberto Hernández Toledo is an 82-year-old Indigenous Zapotec from the community of San Pedro Comitancillo, located in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. He is a campesino who learned from his parents how to care for and work the land, the same as his children, who today are teachers.

Some months ago, the campesino Hernández Toledo received a visit to his home from unknown people offering “wonderful things, wealth, and easy money,” as he describes. They were looking for the Indigenous Zapotec because he is an ejido member of the community and he has lands that he inherited from his parents and grandparents.

The people who visited him identified themselves as representatives of the company, Helax Istmo, a subsidiary of the Danish company, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP).

They proposed to the campesino that he lease his ejido lands for the production of what they consider to be “green energy.” The Danish company plans to construct a solar farm, the largest in Mexico, in an area covering 3,070 hectares of Comitancillo, 40% of the territory of the community, equivalent to more than 750 times the size of the central plaza of Mexico City. As if that were not enough, it will be installed only 400 meters from the urban center of the community. “They tried, but they didn’t convince me,” says the Zapotec.

Source: GeoComunes, based on Google Earth and information presented by Helax Istmo on the location of the solar farm.

The project’s polygon coincides with the grand majority of the fertile lands of the community. “It is there where we plant organic sesame that we export,” comments Luis Vázquez,” another ejido member that the company sought out to individually convince him to rent his lands. “These lands are really flat, and that is what they need for the installation of the solar panels,” he said.

The solar farm is not an isolated project. It is part of a complex of energy production and infrastructure—wind farms, gas and water pipelines, fuel storage facilities, and terminals in the port of Salina Cruz—all run by Helax Istmo.

The objective of the complex is to produce what has been considered the fuel of the future, green energy, in the region of the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the section where Comitancillo is located.

Helax Istmo plans to construct a large green hydrogen plant in one of the ten “development parks” planned along the industrial corridor of the Isthmus, specifically in the community near Comitancillo, Ixtepec.

The idea is that the energy produced by the solar farm in Comitancillo—as well as the energy from five new wind parks on the lands of Ixtepec and Ixtaltepec—will power the green hydrogen production plant in Ixtepec, which needs excessive amounts of energy and water.

The Danish company, in presence of the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, on December 22, 2023, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Mexican Navy and the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec—a public agency of the federal government created in 2019 to carry out the “project for the development of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec”—to install the plant. The green hydrogen is planned to serve to generate “green maritime fuel.”

In a communique, the company said that the project will contribute “to the objective of sustainable development in Mexico, as well as the decarbonization of shipping on the world scale,” projected for the thousands of vessels that arrive to the ports of Salina Cruz and Coatzacoalcos, which the Interoceanic Corridor connects together.

Philip Cristiani, a partner of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, details that “when it is fully operational, Helax will be in an ideal position to attend to the growing demand of ecological fuel for shipping, contributing in a significant way to the decarbonization of the global shipping industry.”

“When they came to my house, they tried to tell me about the nice things that the solar farm would bring to us. But how are we to imagine nice things in a territory of more than 3,000 hectares taken over by solar panels that are like a giant mirror that reflects the sun’s rays? The heat is no longer like it used to be. We cannot live with so much heat. We are going to be even more unprotected, without trees, and without land to plant. I don’t agree,” insists the campesino Hernández Toledo.

How is “green hydrogen” produced?

The electric energy derived from the solar farm and the wind parks will power the process of electrolysis which takes place at the hydrogen plant, using electrical current to separate the hydrogen from the oxygen in water. That is to say, the molecule H2O (water) is divided into O2 (oxygen) and H2 (hydrogen). It is called “green hydrogen” because the electricity used in the process is obtained from “renewable sources” and, with the hydrogen obtained from these sources, energy can be produced without emitting carbon dioxide that contaminates the atmosphere as occurs with fossil fuels.

Immoral and Illegal

Helax Istmo has increased its presence in the territory of Comitancillo since the end of 2023, trying to talk with and convince local authorities, ejido members, and leaders of the community.

According to neighbors and ejido members interviewed for this article, the company is politically manipulating the issue by promoting the solar farm as a project pushed by the president of the republic.

“They are taking advantage of the popularity or the acceptance of AMLO in the communities. So, at first, they proposed it as a project of the government, to afterwards say that it is a private project,” Guillermo Hernández Antonio explains, son of an ejido member, teacher, and farmer of sesame, squash, and corn on the lands that coincide with the polygon of the project.

Community representatives explain that in spite of the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the federal government and the company for the construction of the hydrogen plant, as of the publication of this report, in the ejido commission of Comitancillo, not one document has been signed with the company for the construction of the solar farm. The company has yet to receive approval from Comitancillo’s ejido assembly, the maximum authority.

At the Secretariat of Energy (SENER), according to the solicitude for information (folio # 330026124000211), with a response from April 8, 2024, there is no environmental impact report that approves the project, something required for any company to develop an energy project.

Members of GeoComunes warn that as long as this permit hasn’t been approved, according to Article 86 of the Electric Industry Law, “the company doesn’t have authorization to begin to negotiate with owners of the land. If they go ahead with the project, they would be committing a crime,” they point out. 

According to the regulation, those interested in obtaining permission or authorization to develop projects in the electricity industry, including those related to the provision of the workforce of Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution, must present to the Secretariat of Energy, the social impact report referring to article 120 of the law, 90 days before their intention to start the negotiations with the property owners where the project in question is intended to be located.

For Hernández Antonio, the home visits are also immoral. “They do not have the authorization to carry them out.” They say that “they are carrying out a survey of information to gauge support for the project, but in the end it is meant to convince individual ejido members, to prepare the terrain for a possible governmental consultation,” sustains Hernández Antonio, who is also the coordinator of the Autonomous Communal University of Oaxaca (UACO) in Comitancillo.

In the same request for access to information, the location, technical, and methodological information of the projects—hydrogen plant, wind parks, and the solar farm—was requested, as well as information presented by the company to the governing body. All of these requests were denied. Among the arguments presented by SENER is that “the disclosure of information damages the commercial advantages that the companies have over their competitors…” In addition, the information is classified so as to be reserved for a period of two years.

Prior Information?

Representatives of Helax Istmo also attended an ejido assembly at the end of January 2024, to give general information about the project. “They told us of the benefits of the solar farm,” says the ejido member Luis Vázquez. On this same occasion, representatives of the company proposed an Indigenous consultation for the entire population. 

The ejido assembly arrived to the conclusion that it was not the moment to make such a decision, deciding to analyze the possibility of a consultation in a reunion where representatives of the company were not present.

The reunion took place in mid-February. According to the ejido member Luis Vázquez, an extraordinary assembly was held that dealt exclusively with the approval of the consultation. “After hours of debate and under pressure from other ejido members, without a deeper analysis of the project and its impacts,” the consultation was approved with 32 votes in favor and 14 against.

Of these 32, more than a third are ejido members that “never come to the assembles and who suddenly appeared; so, we realized that they have been brought in by the Helax company,” says Hernández Antonio to the Avispa team.

In the National Agrarian Registry, 503 ejido members are recognized in Comitancillo, with approximately 110 who have passed away. At least 50% plus one of the ejido members must approve the consultation. “We weren’t even 50% of the ejido members in the assembly. There were very few of us ejido members present,” comments Luis Vázquez.

For Hernández Antonio, from the moment in which the company began the individual visits with ejido members, the consultation ceased to be free, previous, informed, and culturally appropriate, as is planted in international law.

“There is a lot of misinformation of what the project will really mean in our territory. And those who have some information, it’s information that has been distorted by the company. We demand that the government informs, but that it informs properly, that they give complete and honest information about the project. We are sure that they will not do that,” he sustained. “Thus, we’ve begun a process of informing the population ourselves about what a project like this might mean for the community,” explains Hernández Antonio.

According to an informative document presented by Helax Istmo to local authorities, to which Avispa Midia has access, the process of consultation planted by the company will take place in May. The document also states that, before the consultation, between the months of January and February, collective pre-agreements on access to the land will be carried out. “What is happening is that they are in a hurry with the elections coming up (June 2024). They want to guarantee the project before the change of government,” adds Luis Vázquez.

Regardless, “we know that they are obligated to carry out the consultation and they are going to do it. We have seen in other places how these consultations are carried out in the interests of the companies; but independent of the results, if the assembly of ejido members doesn’t give permission to construct the project, they are not going to do it,” sustains the ejido member Luis Vázquez.

The lands where they seek to install the solar farm.

There is No Water, But There is Money 

Representatives of Helax Istmo told the ejido member Luis Vázquez that, although water is scarce, with the project they will have money, signifying that the ejido member will no longer depend on planting his lands.

The proposal presented to the ejido members, which consists of an informative document to local authorities, shows that the project is planned in three phases. The first phase is of development, where they will clear and prepare the land for four years. During this time, they will pay $540 pesos per hectare per year. With the observation that “the payments during this phase will be subject to the fact that ejido members must carry out the regularization and registration of their parcels of land,” says the document.

In the following phases of construction and operation, which will last 33 years, they propose $23,000 pesos per hectare per year.

“What do you do with money? The paper isn’t going to save us from the unbearable heat, or the lack of water and food,” says community member Elia Cruz Cruz. “Here there is less and less water and we’ve already been alerted to the fact that, with the solar farms like this one, the water will decrease even more.”

Furthermore, “we who are not ejido members also have to be taken into consideration,” she claims. “I went to the ejido assembly when they approved the consultation to say to them that they have to consider us and think about the community as a whole because the impacts will affect everyone,” the housewife explains.

Elia, a 71-year-old campesina, isn’t an ejido member, but owns land where she planted crops with her husband. After her husband died, she has farmed the land by herself. Everyday at 6:30 in the morning, she’s already working the land. On her lands she maintains around 2,750 fruit and timber trees, acquired through the Sembrando Vida program. 

She also plants corn, beans, squash, and sesame. She has 854 nopal plants which are an important weekly income. “For the crops, I carry water around 180 meters from the water source to the land. Sometimes with a gas pump, but when it isn’t working, I have to carry the water in a wheelbarrow,” she explains. “It is a lot of work. Why don’t they carry out a smaller project that helps us maintain the lands green, to recuperate the water?”

Elvia points out that information hasn’t been provided about the real impacts of the project, and water is one of the things that she is most worried about. “If there isn’t water for the ejido members, then much less for us, the neighbors and small landholders. How could they want to do a consultation that supposedly will be in May if the majority of the community isn’t even aware of it? They can’t sell the life of the community. We are going to be alert to what is on the horizon,” says the campesina.

Lands where they seek to install the solar farm.

Desert

“Nothing survives around the solar panels, not even grass. The animals flee,” says Julio Ramírez Ortiz of the municipality of Calpulalpan in the state of Tlaxcala, where a solar farm project was implemented in 2019 by the French company Engie.

The experience of Ramírez Ortiz, also an ejido member, was shared in an informative forum which took place in Comitancillo, explaining what happened in his community. “We let the company enter our community, and we didn’t know of the impacts.” For this reason, they decided to organize in the October 16 Collective, meant to defend the territory of the community after the arrival of the company.

In Calpulalpan there were nearly 5,000 solar panels installed on 600 hectares. In Comitancillo, the space planned for the project is four times greater, 3,000 hectares of land, just 400 meters from the urban center.

Aerial photo of Comitancillo. In the backdrop is where they want to install the solar farm. 

“The surface of solar megaprojects in Mexico vary between 200 and 1,500 hectares. The largest that exists in Mexico is 2,400 hectares, in Villanueva (Coahuila). The community closest to the park is 10km away,” highlights members of GeoComunes.

Solar park in Villanueva, Coahuila

In fact, they argue, there aren’t any studies regarding the impact of a solar farm of the dimension that they are proposing in Comitancillo. “We know the impacts caused by smaller solar farms. Some studies point out, for example, the increase in temperatures between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius, along with dust and noise pollution.”

What is true, they inform, is that inside the polygon of the solar farm they will remove everything from the land, the trees, crops, and animals, community trails will disappear or be privatized. “The land will be made bare and on top of it they will install panels. No vegetation will be left,” they sustain.

Don Alberto Hernández Toledo possesses two hectares of forest in the polygon sought by Helax Istmo. “I can’t describe how fertile this land is. I have protected a large piece of land with trees, large trees (guirizhiña, guieniza, bii’, dxima, gulabere). Birds, iguanas, and all different types of species take refuge there. I am very proud of this. I protect it, even from my own people. I don’t like that they go there looking for iguanas.”

Representatives of Helax Istmo said to Hernández Toledo that if he rents his lands they will protect the two hectares of land that he has preserved.

In spite of the promise, in an informative document about the project presented to local authorities, the company specifies that in order to condition the area, “the leaser will allow Helax to carry out whatever action necessary to obtain the permits and licenses for the project, including changing the use of the soil before the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT).”

“We are not naïve,” the ejido member says to Avispa Midia. “Once we accept that they enter with their project, they are going to do away with everything.”

The polygon where they seek to construct the solar farm, according to ejido members interviewed for this report, is cultivated with resources from the Sembrando Vida program. “Many of the producers in this program will be affected by this project. It doesn’t make sense that now they are working to reforest the area when tomorrow they will be deforesting the area for the establishment of the solar farm,” sustains Hernández Antonio.

“To condition the area” also means doing away with the spaces of identity and memory of the community. Exactly in the polygon where they seek to build the project are six sacred sites of Comitancillo—Guamuchal, Mezquital, El Cárcamo, Laguna Hueto, Xirú, La Noria. “These are places where our history is contained, where the myths of our people are found,” he emphasizes.

In addition, they fear the disappearance of the culinary customs of the community, such as totopos, memelas, corn tamales, and beans, since there will no longer be land to plant the zapalote chico corn.

“I’m not thinking about myself. I’ve already lived. I’ve already seen many things. I think about those that come after me, my grandchildren, my greatgrandchildren, my great great grandchildren. If we let the company into the community, what will those who come after us get to know? They won’t know how to plant the land, they won’t know the iguanas, lizards, butterflies, birds, or trees. I learned from my parents how to care for these lands. That is why we defend them for those that come after us,” says Hernández Toledo. “We’ve already saved this territory once, when they tried to install a wind turbine blade factory in our common use lands, and we are going to continue doing so,” he says.

This is How We Combat the Climate Crisis?

The green hydrogen project will be financed by two funds of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners—Growth Markets Fund II and CI Energy Transition Fund. Specifically, this second fund, CI Energy Transition Fund, is focused on projects of renewable energy in different parts of the world—Western Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia

It is advertised as a “sustainable investment” as it falls under Article 9 of the Sustainable Finance Disclosures Regulation (SFDR), a framework established by the European Union to “create” world governance in the financial sector in materials related to sustainability and energy transition, whose objectives are linked to the Paris Accords.

The company, founded in 2012, has positioned itself as the leading fund manager focused on renewable energy. It has raised around $26 billion euros from more than 150 international investors for its projects and has the ambition to raise $100 billion euros by 2030. 

* For security reasons, the name is fictitious.

* Photos provided by the community of Comitancillo and Campo A.C.

Colombia: Escalating Violence in Cauca Threatens Indigenous Nasa

Cover image: March of the Nasa people with the Indigenous Guard at the front

The department of Cauca, in southwest Colombia, is living through a humanitarian emergency due to the violent attacks on Indigenous peoples which have escalated in the region in the first months of 2024.  

International human rights organizations have condemned the situation, calling on the Colombian state to act and guarantee the well-being of the people. The organizations argue that the attacks are violating the autonomy and collective rights of the Nasa people.

According to a statement, the communities remain on high alert, calling attention to the murder of community leader Carmelina Yule Paví, which took place in March and was denounced by the Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca (ACIN). The Indigenous populations accuse armed groups, like the “Frente Dagoberto Ramos del Estado Mayor Central,” a group of dissidents of the now-extinct Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), of being responsible for the murder.

The organization Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas Internacional (IPRI), detailed that the emergency situation is part of the context of armed violence that continues affecting Indigenous peoples following the signing of the peace accords in November 2016.

According to the report elaborated by the Observatorio de Derechos Humanos de la Organización Indígena de Colombia (ONIC), during 2023, more than 58,000 men and women belonging to the different Indigenous groups of Colombia were victims of harassment, confinement, and forced displacement. The report highlights that the greatest perpetrators of violence toward Indigenous peoples of Colombia were the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) with 42,700 victims; the public forces (Army, Navy, Air Force and National Police) with 6,551 victims, and dissidents of the FARC with 3,448 victims.

The actions of different armed groups in the department of Cauca have generated a humanitarian crisis, international organizations warn.

For its part, the Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz (Indepaz) estimates that at least 37 Indigenous leaders were victims of violence in Colombia in 2023.

IPRI emphasizes in their report from 2022, Violencia, impunidad y criminalización contra pueblos indígenas de Colombia, that the actions of armed groups within Indigenous territories are characterized by “the assassination of Indigenous guards and authorities, the forced recruitment of Indigenous children and adolescents, and the forced confinement and displacement of Indigenous peoples from their territories.”

The human rights organization sustains that 90% of the cases remain in impunity, which opens the door for further attacks against Indigenous peoples. “The Indigenous peoples in Cauca—elders, children, and the territory itself—are not actors in the conflict, but victims of it. As such, they deserve special protection,” IPRI points out.

Escalation

The escalation of violence in April reached alarming levels with events like the kidnapping of Nasa community members of the Resgaurdo Indígena de San Andrés de Pisimbalá, according to a statement from the Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (CRIC).

In the face of the kidnapping of the community member Luis Ángel Liz, and the minor Estiven Quinto, the community of Pisimbalá mobilized. Through the Indigenous guard and members of the community, they were able to rescue the kidnapped. In their denunciation the CRIC emphasized that in the face of these events, “they will not allow any more disharmony in their territories.”

Cauca has converted into a territory in dispute between different armed groups. Photo: Fernando Vergara

The CRIC pointed out that the Dagoberto Ramos armed group is responsible for physical and psychological damage to community members. They urge the international community to speak out to stop the systematic violence against the people of Cauca.

In a letter of solidarity from Mexico, social organizations sustain that between January 1 and March 31, 2024, 26 assassinations have been registered in the region. In the letter, they also mention the murder of eight ancestral authorities which has taken place in the last two years.

In addition, they express concern regarding the forced recruitment by armed actors of children and adolescents younger than 18 years of age, the majority in the north of Cauca. “In 2022, there were at least 250 cases, in 2023 at least 153 cases, and in 2024, there has been 27 minors forcefully recruited,” they detailed.

The international organizations expressed their support for the decision taken by the Plan de Vida Proyecto Nasa (Toribio, Cauca), who were joined by the Cxhab Wala Kiwe-Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca (ACIN) to control their territory. In so doing, they intend to administer justice themselves for those responsible for these grave violations, and “to decontaminate the territory of all publicity alluding to the armed organizations with the ultimate objective of defending life.”

Ceasefire Suspension

These violent actions take place in a context of an increase in clashes between armed groups and security forces in different zones of Cauca after a decree was signed in March by the Minister of Defense, Iván Velásquez, suspending the Bilateral, National, and Temporary Ceasefire (CFBTNT). This ceasefire had established a truce between the Colombian government and dissidents of the FARC in the departments of Nariño, Cauca, and the Valley of Cauca.

Already in September 2023, dissidents of the FARC assaulted the municipality of Jambaló, in the north of the department, where they robbed a bank and clashed with public security forces. Recently, on April 17 of this year, another group of dissidents of the FARC, known as “Carlos Patño,” attacked the police station of Jambaló where they assassinated a soldier. Just last Sunday, May 12, the Frente Dagoberto Ramos freed two prosecutors, a civilian, and a soldier who they had held detained since April 20.

Liberation of prosecutors and civilians by the group of dissidents of the FARC, Frente Dagoberto Ramos.

Furthermore, in early April, an ambush was reported in the middle of the Pan-American highway, resulting in the death of a police officer with seven others wounded. Days later, on April 12, a car bomb was detonated near the police station in the Municipality of Miranda. The explosion left four people injured, as well as destruction to several houses nearby, causing displacement for the fear of new confrontations.

In Honduras campesinos recuperate land from oil palm industry

Cover image: Children and youth, kids of campesinos, rest after playing soccer in the recuperated lands of the El Chile cooperative. Photo: Santiago Navarro F

Alongside the dirt road sit small wooden structures. Covered with nylon, they have roofs made of sheet metal and palm leaves. They call these shelters Champitas, occupied by hundreds of campesino families to defend the recuperation of these lands from the hands of the oil palm industry, in the valley of Bajo Aguán, municipality of Tocoa. In the 1970’s these lands were designated to the agrarian reform and during the 1990’s land grabbed by Corporación Dinant.

The resistance has been daily for sixteen months now, but the struggle for these lands has a much longer history. Wendy Castro, a young 26-year-old woman and single mother who showed us the land recuperation carried out by the cooperative El Chile, explains the reasons for their presence: “We are children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren of former members, who were negatively affected by the dispossession of the lands from the agrarian reform,” she explains about the legitimacy of their actions.

She refers to the dispossession caused by the oil palm agroindustrialists, who during the last three decades have taken away, via fraud and violence, the lands of the Department of Colón, assigned by the state of Honduras to the agrarian reform for campesino production.

Among the memories of her childhood, Wendy still remembers the stories of her parents and grandparents when they resisted the dispossession. Above all, she remembers the tragic consequences for her family and thousands of campesinos of the region who saw their dreams of farming their own land taken away.

In April of 1994, the lands assigned to the El Chile cooperative were taken via an illegal sale. As stated in complaints presented by the Agrarian Platform of Aguán before the Honduran Public Prosecutor’s Office, this transaction was carried out by people without legitimate representation of the campesinos, to transfer the territory into the hands of the company Agropecuaria Camaro, which in turn transferred the titles to Exportadora del Atlántico, belonging to the Honduran Corporación Dinant. 

A member of the platform and also of the El Chile cooperative, Wendy says that the threat to the former owners, including her grandfather, was so great that, as happened to him, many died of desperation in the face of land grabbing by landowners from the families Facussé, Canales, and Morales.

“The lands are yours,” she recalls her father saying, who took on the responsibility of transmitting the history of these lands. Today these lands have been converted from oil palm production for exportation, to lands for food crops and the sustenance of 246 families in a disputed area covering 486 hectares.

The Agrarian Platform of Aguán is made up of 25 cooperatives seeking to recuperate their lands in the valley. In addition, there are associate campesino companies, which total 43 organizations, that seek through different forms of struggle to recuperate the lands that were taken from them.

According to Raúl Ramírez, who is part of the campesino company, La Lempira, and also a member of the platform, there are more than 46,000 hectares of land that they seek to recuperate from the oil palm agroindustrialists.

Lands for Oil Palm

Honduras has consolidated itself as an important country among the largest producers of oil palm in Latin America, only behind Colombia and Guatemala.

Recuperation of lands in the El Chile estate. In spite of the recuperation by campesino families, the processing plant, property of Corporación Dinant, continues its activities. Photo: Aldo Santiago

The Secretary of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG) points out that as of 2023 in Honduras, there existed 197,000 hectares with oil palm monoculture, of which between the years 2022 and 2023 reached a production of 600,000 metric tons per year. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this surface area represents more than 18% of the total available farming land in the Central American country.

Organization

A group of young people guard the access gates to the former oil palm plantation. “Viveros,” reads a sign in front of the metal gates, a vestige of the use that Corporación Dinant—the largest producer of palm oil in Honduras, which has 13,300 hectares of plantations—destined to the space.

Foto: Santiago Navarro F

There, at the entrance to the El Chile cooperative, we spoke with Iris Lizeth Aguilar, who is part of the leadership, and who detailed the collective use of the land. The agreement between the families recuperating the land, she says, is that each associate is assigned a small piece of land to plant food, with which the same family can have multiple spaces for their crops, principally for self-sustenance.

From inside the recuperated land, African palm monoculture can be seen completely encircling the campesino lands. The Department of Colón alone accounts for a quarter of the total existing crops in Honduras. Without being overwhelmed by the palm, the campesinos have cleared some areas to replant them with corn crops. Furthermore, they’ve constructed greenhouses where they produce tomatoes, chili, and greens. There are also areas with crops of yucca, fruit trees, and bananas.

Department of Colón inundated by oil palm monoculture. Source: United States Department of Agriculture

“This is my house. It is a future for my children,” says Aguilar detailing the reasons for their struggle. She explains that recovering the lands is an enormous responsibility to the new generations. Also, to the women, she emphasizes. “Women represent a large part of the people recuperating lands, including single mothers, so it is urgent to give them access to a place to live and land to cultivate.”

María Margarita Rodríguez jokes with her compañeros while getting off the motorcycle with which she reached our group. After a brief greeting, she shares with us that the principal motivation to participate in the recuperation is her children and that the women have a prominent role in the labor of the cooperatives. Above all, she thinks that their participation in the leadership is important to counteract macho practices and promote mutual aid between campesinos.

But its not all celebration. Lizeth looks sideways at the Champitas and shares with us the necessities that the cooperative still has: a health center, a school, along with basic infrastructure like drinkable water. Still with the limitations, Rodríguez emphasizes the care for the children, stressing that they, unlike other children in the region, do not work in El Chile. “We protect the children, they cannot work. The young people are given permission to study because they are the future of the cooperative,” she says.

The women also share the workings of the assembly, the decision-making body that brings together all of the associates of the cooperative. “We try to make the best decisions for the benefit of all,” details Aguilar adding that currently there are 16 campesino organizations in processes of land recuperation. Although, as she explains, “there is a need for more.” According to Wendy Castro, the recuperated surface of land carried out by these cooperatives reaches nearly 12,000 hectares.

The current occupation is not the first attempt from campesinos to manage these lands. Aguilar says that it was three decades ago when the El Chile cooperative was dispossessed from campesino hands. And since 2009, in the context of the mobilizations against the coup, they have sought the recuperation of the land, organized in the Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguán (MUCA).

“We have all the documentation for all the territory belonging to the El Chile cooperative,” sustained the leader regarding the land registration with the National Agrarian Institute. “If we didn’t have the documentation, we wouldn’t be here. There would have already been an eviction, but we are fighting for something that is ours,” she points out in reference to the legitimate possession evidenced with the property title. This title, dated March 1991, refers to the property of the Campesino Cooperative El Chile.

Fulfillment of the Agreement at a Slow Pace

The campesinos continue the struggle initiated by their relatives demanding via another front the fulfillment of the agreement signed with the national government in February 2022.

Above all, they are interested in the conformation and operation of the Comisión Tripartita (CT) whose work will be to investigate the techniques and methods of dispossession being used in the last 30 years by the agroindustrialists. “The government has shown a willingness in word, but in practice there is nothing,” explains Wendy Castro. After more than two years, the CT still isn’t operating because it lacks budget approval from the Honduras state.

In spite of the stagnation in the work of the CT, the campesino families have pressured the government and advanced in some steps related to the agreement. For example, the remediation of the lands in order to verify the legality of the buy-sell documents that, according to the platform, were obtained by means of falsification, intimidation, and violence. Thus, personal from National Agrarian Institute and the Property Institute worked this past April on the lands of 12 campesino recuperations.

The remediation, explains Raúl Ramírez, seeks to have the Honduran agrarian institutions recognize the property titles and at the same time hand over documentation that certifies the assignation of the campesino lands to the cooperatives and associative companies that certify the land as their legitimate property.

In this context, Wendy Castro assures that the remediation helps the cooperatives’ struggle, above all because there exists a strategy of destabilization of the Corporación Dinant to inhibit the intentions of recuperation, handing over small plots of land to criminal and paramilitary groups.

“Some of the cooperatives were having difficulties with land owners and criminal groups that Corporación Dinant had given them in an area they can exploit in exchange for them intimidating us,” she explains. “The same day as the remediation, there was a Corporación Dinant car, with an SEC security guard, taking photos of people who were carrying out the remediation,” explains the member of the platform. Armed guards contracted by the agroindustrialists have been responsible for numerous massacres.

According to a complaint filed with the public prosecutor’s office in January 2023 by the Agrarian Platform of Aguán, there is coordination between Dinant, the security guards, and the criminal group known as “Los Cachos.”

The platform points out that the criminal group is in charge of persecuting and assassinating campesino leaders. Lead by Juan Carlos Lizama, they’ve operated in the zone since March 2022, “beneath the direction and coordination of the Dinant group and its security companies in the zone,” they state in the criminal complaint. They emphasize that, since April of 2022, they’ve occupied 10 hectares in El Chile.

“This possession by the Dinant group has been possible only with the presence of armed groups like Los Cachos, who have carried out acts of violence to prevent the revindication of the rights of the El Chile cooperative,” details the denunciation. They also share that the Dinant group has set up checkpoints to monitor the passage between cooperatives Tranvío, Camarones, El Chile, among others, using drones during different hours of the day.  

Contamination, One More Danger

On a bicycle, a campesino carries his daughter and tools to work the land. Together they ride along the road which runs from the corn crops, and passes by the greenhouse, very close to the beginning of the monoculture plantations. If you look up, you are overwhelmed by the monotony of the oil palm crops. And what cannot be seen, can be perceived via other senses, like the smell of smoke that comes from less than two kilometers away at the operation of a palm oil extraction plant, owned by Exportadora del Atlantico.

Recuperation of lands in the El Chile estate. In spite of the recuperation by campesino families, the processing plant, property of Corporación Dinant, continues its activities. Photo: Aldo Santiago

According to criminal complaints filed by the platform, Exportadora del Atlantico is responsible for the illegal acquisition of 81 properties constituting a total of 20,749 hectares. Therefore, one of the principal demands of the families in the recuperation of El Chile is the closure of this factory. Not only because, they claim, the company usurps 32 hectares of this cooperative where it is located, but because its operation and the waste that it produces contaminates the water and soil causing illnesses in the population.

Wendy Castro explains that since the land recuperation, they’ve demanded Dinant close the plant, but the campesinos have not received a response. “It will not go away because there is a lot of money at stake…the extraction plant continues to contaminate the environment, destroying the flora and fauna,” she claims.

On the World Scale

According to data from the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the US Department of Agriculture, as of 2023, Honduras is the ninth largest producer of palm oil globally. 

In terms of markets, records from the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) indicate that the principal destinations and values of the exportations of the palm oil from Honduras are: Italy with $155,000,000 dollars, the Netherlands with $111,000,000, El Salvador with $51,100,000, Germany with $43,000,000, and Nicaragua with $25,000,000. The OEC highlights that between 2021 and 2022, there was a sharp increase in demand from Italy, Germany, and El Salvador.

They also denounce that waste and contamination are part of a strategy used to harass campesino families. For example, Castro remembers that in May of last year, Dinant workers wanted to fence a hectare of campesino lands to construct more wells to deposit contaminated water.

For his part, Olvison Antonio Romero Mejía, General Secretary of the Cooperative, denounces that at night a greater number of boilers are active at the extraction plant, which increases the dispersion of smoke as well as chemical residue, specifically affecting children and elders.

“The children have skin issues and have also developed respiratory problems,” he explains angrily. He adds that during the rainy season, the company discharges more waste, which ends up flooding parts of the recovered campesino lands.

Certifications, Image Washing

Like many of the transnational palm oil companies, Corporación Dinant is a member of the RSPO, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an initiative that seeks to develop standards for the expansion of the monocrop through “certified sustainable palm oil,” (CSPO).

However, its recent adherence to the select group of NGO’s and transnationals that dominate the global palm oil market and that are part of the RSPO, comes after three attempts in the last decade to gain membership. A statement from the RSPO Board of Directors, dated June 2022, briefly addresses the issue and underlines, without going into detail, that the main argument for the denial of membership was “questionable past problems.”

The RSPO itself foresees in the document that the serious accusations against companies like Dinant, will provoke larger questions around the RSPO’s reputation. In that sense, it established that, if violations of its rules occur after accepting it as a member, “there are mechanisms to sanction or expel them.”

Membership is only a first step in the certification process, which will permit Dinant to expand the sale of its products to more markets. In its reports from 2023 and 2024 to the RSPO, Exportadora del Atlantico lists its two active processing plants that are seeking the sustainability certification. The first is located in the Lean Valley. The other is the plant located in the vicinity of the El Chile recuperation.

Wendy Castro says that the palm oil produced by Dinant is stained with blood. “It is a message that we send to the people across the globe who consume this oil: look at what Corporación Dinant is doing with our families in Aguán, so that you can consume this oil in your homes, with the blood of our compañeros who have died struggling for our lands,” she says about the violent actions of the company against the campesinos.

Photo: Santiago Navarro F

Furthermore, in their annual progress report for the RSPO from 2022, Corporación Dinant states that they plan to obtain RSPO certification for its plantations and extractors in 2024. “As campesinos we tell the RSPO that if they certify Corporación Dinant, RSPO itself will be denounced because of the dispossession, all of the lands that they have belong to campesinos, to families in need here in Bajo Aguán,” says Castro.

Wendy Castro assures that the recuperated campesino lands do not seek the accumulation of capital nor are they “a luxury,” but they represent the possibility of hundreds of families in extreme poverty to be able to work the fields to survive.

Despite the severe draught that has plagued the region for more than a year, Castro predicts the arrival of a rainy season that will assist the campesino efforts to see the corn, beans, yucca, and others food plants sprout, making possible their daily struggle. 

She also asserts that, in spite of the violence, they will continue raising their voices and denouncing Corporación Dinant for criminal activities. “If they kill me, there are a lot of people in the struggle, and they will continue struggling for the lands,” she shares.

This doesn’t intimidate her. She says that the struggle will continue. “They kill one, but five more are born. We are not afraid of them, we have been through enough and we know that the land is ours,” she concludes.

Police and National Guard Repress Protest Against Landfill in Cholula

Cover image: Residents of the Choluteca region of the Mexican state of Puebla protest on Monday, April 22, demanding the presentation of the Environmental Impact Report for the landfill. The authorities have refused to dialogue with the residents of the area affected by the irregular landfill. Photo: Radio Comunitaria Cholollan

Residents of the Cholula region of Puebla have been on constant alert and living through tense moments following a joint operation carried out by the state police and the national guard seeking to evict the blockade held down against the landfill located in San Pedro Cholula. The objective of the police and national guard operation was to remove the blockade and allow trash trucks from municipalities to enter the area to dump their waste.

The police escalated with aggressions against the population in resistance. “Shots were fired at protestors. It’s not clear whether they were from police or someone else,” said one of the witnesses who for security reasons preferred to remain anonymous.

This landfill, where a blockade has been set up since March 21, was formally closed by the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) on April 9, after evidence was presented by the Unión de Pueblos y Fraccionamientos contra el Basurero y en Defensa del Agua, showing the presence of waste leachates in well water used for human consumption.

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However, shortly before the police operation on Tuesday, April 30, the Secretary of Government (SEGOB) of the State of Puebla, released a communique alleging that there was no “legal impediment” to the operation of the landfill in Cholula. The communique states that the reason for the closure has been “attended to and remedied,” and therefore, this implied, the lifting of the closure order from the agency, permitting the continuance of the operations in a regular manner.”

Inhabitants of these communities awaited a more violent attack from state forces. However, as of publication, the police didn’t return. Nonetheless, the situation remains tense with reports of various detentions and house searches, as well as people physically threatened in different communities.

Meanwhile, the environmentalists refuse to back down. They will not lift the blockade until the landfill is closed indefinitely. Furthermore, solidarity toward the activists hasn’t stopped, and neither has condemnation of the repression.