Colombia: Community leader murdered for standing up to palm oil

Hernan Bedoya – photo courtesy of Frontera Invisible



Author: Taran Volckhausen

Colombian community leader Hernan Bedoya, who defended collective land rights for Afro-Colombian farmers as well as local biodiversity in the face of palm oil and industrial agriculture expansion, was shot dead allegedly by a neo-paramilitary group on Friday, Dec. 5.

Bedoya was owner of the “Mi Tierra” Biodiversity Zone, located in the collective Afro-Colombian territory of Pedeguita-Mancilla. The land rights activist stood up to palm oil, banana and ranching companies who are accused of engaging in illegal land grabbing and deforestation in his Afro-Colombian community’s collective territory in Riosucio, Chocó.

According to the Intercelestial Commission for Justice and Peace in Colombia (CIJP), a Colombian human rights group, Bedoya was heading home on horseback when two members of the neo-paramilitary Gaitánista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) intercepted him on a bridge and shot him 14 times, immediately killing him.

According to Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation (PARES), 137 social leaders have been killed across Colombia in 2017. Other observers have found lower numbers, but most track over 100 killed over the course of the year.

As one of more than an estimated 8 million people afflicted by five decades of armed conflict in Colombia, Bedoya had returned to his land with family in 2012 after being displaced by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group in 1996.

Following his return to the community, Bedoya fought alongside non-governmental organization to push back against powerful palm oil, banana and cattle interests. He wanted to ensure that the collective Afro-Colombian territory was protected from ongoing “invasions” that were cutting into his community agricultural lands and destroying protected areas set aside for their rich biodiversity.

Bedoya allegedly began receiving threats from illegal armed groups beginning in 2015. According to CIJP, the Colombian state, through the National Protection Unit (UNP), had given Bedoya a cell phone and a bullet-proof vest in an attempt to protect his life.

In June, CIJP denounced an industrial agricultural company for “destroying primary forests and resources for illegal industrial agriculture,” also claiming that their the group’s lawyer had singled out Bedoya’s biodiversity reserve as a target for parcelization and development.

“They are cutting the forests, destroying subsistence crops and causing displacement when they take over the family farms to plant plantain and palm oil projects,” said CIJP to local media.

On Thursday, 25 social leaders from Bajo Atrato and Urabá regions in Choco and Antioquia, who had received death threats or had relatives who were murdered, met in Bogotá to demand guarantees that they would be able to return to their territories. In order to protect their identities, the leaders wore masks to the press conference.

Social leaders from Bajo Atrato and Urabá wore masks to their meeting in Bogotá. Photo courtesy of Contagio Radio

The activists said they know of plans to kill several other land rights leaders in the region: Miguel Hoyos, Eustaquio Polo and María Ligia Chaverra, as well as two local communal leaders.

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