Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office will charge 19 palm oil businesses after they allegedly met with paramiliatries and arranged for residents in the western department of Choco to be violently displaced from their land, local media reported Tuesday.
The businesses had been pressuring residents in the Curvarado region in order to illegally appropriate their lands. “There are allegations against 19 palm oil businesses. We are currently evaluating whether there is merit in linking more people,” said the prosecutor general, Eduardo Montealegre.
Minister of Agriculture Juan Camilo Restrepo noted the government had identified 40 people—all not directly tied to the palm oil manufacturers–that had been pressuring the Afrocolombian and indigenous populations to leave their land.
According to Montealegre, the businesses in question have been identified and a formal indictment will be made in the coming days.
Curvado has historically been the scene of much forced displacement in Choco, home to Colombia’s largest Afrocolombian population. In 2010 the Constitutional Court ruled to protect the lives and land of those living in the region. The decision came after the Prosecutor General’s Office had investigated various businesses for allying with paramilitaries to force locals off their land and plant crops for palm oil production.
The Colombian government has pass legislation intending to return 8.6 million acres out of an estimated 14.8 million, usurped by paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug traffickers, to displaced residents from the region.
Several communities in the Curvarado region have reportedly received threats from numerous parties who oppose the land legislation, even noting the assassination last march of a cencus committee member charged with determining to whom land should be rewarded.