June 27, 2023
Critical discussion aims to address communities’ concerns to recover ancestral lands and the environmental damage caused by the Irish paper giant
Bogotá, Colombia — The Colombian Ministry of Interior and the High Commissioner for Peace of the Presidency of the Republic is set to convene a groundbreaking meeting with the communities that form the TEVIC (Territorio de Vida Interétnico e Intercultural) on 28-29 June in Bogotá. High level government agencies will be in attendance, including The Presidential Council for Human Rights, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Finance.
The meeting between the government and TEVIC leaders has two objectives. The first is to approve a comprehensive agrarian reform and rural development plan for the Cajibio territory. The second is to address the deep and violent conflict with the Irish paper multinational Smurfit Kappa over land tenure and the damage caused to the land by the companies' monoculture of pine and eucalyptus trees on Indigenous ancestral lands on Indigenous ancestral lands.
Since the end of last year, a space for dialogue and possible negotiation has been proposed, facilitated by the Institute of Intercultural Studies of the Javeriana University (IEI-PUJ). In the
framework of this dialogue process, once the first exploratory stage has been completed, a second stage of tripartite dialogue (communities-government-companies) will begin, which will allow the structural problems to be tackled in depth, and at the same time, to articulate the different actions for solutions in the territory.
Alys Samson Estapé, campaigner at Ekō says: “It is very positive news that the Colombian government, the first progressive one in history, which has made it one of its priorities to tackle land recovery and reparation is now leading this unprecedented meeting seeking to protect the communities struggles. This meeting is a significant step towards addressing the land conflict and promoting sustainable development in the Cauca, Colombia. However, we remain vigilant to ensure that the rights of the communities are upheld and that the dialogue leads to concrete solutions. Ekō will continue to support the communities' struggle for justice and environmental preservation."
Throughout the arduous struggle, the communities have received steadfast support from corporate watchdog Ekō, which has actively championed their cause for the past two years. Ekō has accepted the communities' invitation to serve as international observers during these crucial talks, ensuring the safeguarding of life and human rights for the communities.
During Smurfit Kappa's Annual General Meeting on April 29, the company's CEO, Tony Smurfit, made a surprising announcement regarding the talks that had started between the communities and the company. The announcement violated the fundamental clause of confidentiality that formed the basis of these private discussions. The communities had initiated private talks with the company with the commitment that they would not be shared publicly, especially for their safety. Although representatives of all the communities that are fighting to recover the lands that are now the private property of the company, Misak, Nasa and campesinos, participated in these private talks, when the company announced it, it solely mentioned the Misak people, possibly seeking to create tensions amongst the communities.
"We were shocked to learn that Smurfit Kappa decided to disclose the meetings that had taken place on a confidential basis. The company was obviously seeking to clean up its image and be open to negotiate, but knew full well that breaking the confidentiality agreement could mean an immediate end to any negotiations," said Alys Samson, Ekō campaigner.
Approximately 30 activists from Ekō, Latin America Solidarity Centre, Environment Paper Network and Extinction Rebellion Ireland, accompanied by MP Richard Boyd Berret, demonstrated outside the AGM, demanding that the company return the land to its rightful owners and stop damaging the ecosystems with its monoculture of pine and eucalyptus for cardboard production. A statement signed by 40 international organisations emphasizing the communities' demands was distributed to the shareholders. Immense public pressure is increasing from around the world with a petition signed by 154,236 Ekō members calling on Smurfit Kappa to give the lands back to the Indigenous Misak, Nasa and Afro-descented and campesinos communities.
TEVIC initiated the process of recovering their ancestral lands in July 2021, which are currently the private property of Smurfit Kappa. Cauca is one of the most dangerous areas in the world for human rights defenders and the communities have been facing a lot of violence in their land recovery process.
Colombia is one of the countries with the highest rate of inequality of land formalisation and regulation issues in Latin America. To date, Smurfit Kappa is one of the largest landowners of fertile land in Cauca.
The TEVIC is made up of communities of the Misak people, articulated with the Association of Indigenous Authorities of Southwestern Colombia (AISO); communities of the Nasa people, articulated with the Colombian Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC); and campesino groups associated with the National Agrarian Coordinator (CNA). The TEVIC is oriented towards the construction of a Life Project that integrates and articulates the three visions and cosmovisions of the Indigenous and campesino peoples, with access to land and the construction of a Life Plan as a fundamental pillar
Ekō, Observatorio Multinacionales de América Latina and Latin America Solidarity Centre report: Smurfit Kappa in Colombia: socio-environmental impacts and human rights violations