Wednesday, July 24, 2013

When is a corporate megafarm not a corporate megafarm?

When it's divided into many smaller plots - even tho they're all owned by the same big coporation.

That, at least, seems to be the message from U.S. agricultural giant Cargill corporation and Colombian sugar producer Riopaila Castilla SA.

A peasant farmer benefited by government land
redistribution plows a field. But did the land end up in
corporate hands? (Photo: El Espectador)
A 1994 law was intended to guarantee land for small campesino farmers. Many of those small farmers historically have lost their land to outlawed guerrilla and paramilitary groups - which have sometimes cooperated with corporations to steal those lands from peasants.

But the two big companies managed to amass huge spreads, anyway. In order to not violate the letter of the law, they purchased plots of land one by one from small farmers in Vichada and Meta departments and accumulated farms covering some 300 square miles. And, oddly, the companies bought the Colombian land thru other companies based in Spain and Luxembourg. Ironically, by working thru foreign-based corporations, the purchasers get the benefits of international investment promotion treaties. And, the purchases are also protected by international treaties - making them much harder to reverse.

The situation has been denounced by leftist senators including Wilson Arias of the Polo Democratico Party.
A farmer herds cattle in a photo from a Colombian
government website about land redistribution.
But did the farmer keep his land? (Photo; Incoder)

The scandal just brought down its first big name with the resignation this week of Carlos Urrutia, Colombia's ambassador in Washington. A friend of Pres. Santos, Urrutia had been a partner in the Brigard & Urrutia law firm, which helped the companies buy the land. A third big company which used the same scheme to buy lands was Grupo Aval, which also owns El Tiempo newspaper.

The law firm and companies involved insist the arrangements are legal - which they very well may be. And, according to news reports, the big agricultural companies probably won't be obliged to return the land to small farmers.

Perhaps the most troubling part of the affaire is its possible implications for the FARC-government peace negotations going on in Havana, Cuba. The FARC were born as a group of landless peasants and land redistribution has been one of their core values. If the guerrillas conclude that the government is insincere about land redistributing land, could that poison the talks?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: