Projet Accompagnement Solidarité Colombie

The Colombian Plan Pacifico: Sustaining the Unsustainable

1 Octobre 2000

Note from the PASC : in 1995, CIDA approved $241,861 in training and technical assistance funds for the Colombian government's Pacific Plan. The money was to go to Radarsat International Inc. (Ottawa) which until December 1, 1998, had received $171,248.

The Pacific Coast region of Colombia is rich in natural resources. It is also the poorest and least economically developed area of the country. Over the last decade, the region has been the target of ambitious state plans-- known collectively as the Plan Pacifico--to tap its resources more systematically and to use it as a platform for increased trade with the outside world.

But, for the majority Black and Indigenous peoples who have inhabited the region since Spanish colonialism, the increasing pace of "discovery" threatens their communities and environment with "ethnocide" and "ecocide." Indiscriminate logging and mining have already caused widespread damage in the area, and the encroachment of colonizers has fuelled sharp conflict over control of land. The Black and Indigenous peoples have formed scores of community organizations to defend their land, environment and way of life.

The Pacific Coast region of Colombia is located in the states of Choco, Valle de Cauca, Cauca, Nari¤o and Antioquia. The majority of its 900,000 people--up to 90% Black with the rest divided equally between Indigenous peoples and mestizos--live from traditional agriculture, hunting, fishing, forestry and mining activities, and have an estimated per capita income of $500 (among the lowest in Latin America.) Official figures state that nearly 61% of the population lives in extreme poverty, exacerbated by inadequate housing, unsanitary conditions, poor health care and education, and state neglect. The infant mortality rate, over 150/1,000 in some areas, is one of the highest in the world. Life expectancy is as low as 55.

The area is sealed off from the dominant states by the west range of the Andes. 80% of its territory is tropical rainforest, marshes, man-grove swamps and rivers. This isolation, combined with the institutional weakness of the Colombian government, discouraged development strategy towards the area. The tendency was to penetrate the region merely to secure necessary roads to the sea.

Colonizers and logging and mining companies were free to penetrate the area, causing considerable damage to the social cohesion of communities, traditional ways of life, and the environment. This steady process of encroachment has fuelled sharp conflict over the control of land. The Indigenous communities, given their long history of organizing for land rights, have been in a strong position to resist these pressures. Drawn mainly from the Embera and Waunaan peoples, many Indigenous communities enjoy collective property rights on 61 special reservations known as resguardos covering 16% of the Pacific's territory. On the other hand, their confinement has left their territories prey to outside pressures and incursions, as colonizers take advantage of the fact that the surrounding Black communities have never held "legal" titles to the land they've possessed for centuries.

To complicate matters further, some members of the Black communities have over time been co-opted into local state and government structures. Others joined logging companies as subcontractors. Black collaboration in the very activities damaging local communities has often added tension to the racial strains inherited historically from the Spanish colonial caste system. The economic and political elites have often played the racial card to foster Black-Indigenous divisions in an effort to further their economic and political ambitions.

Opening The "Money-Box"

After years of systematic indifference from the Colombian state, the Pacific Coast has recently become the subject of ambitious development plans with the support and encouragement of international bodies, planners and politicians. On close examination, the overall thrust of the plan is to pry fully open what one former president called the country's "money box", introducing a model of economic development which is culturally alien to the people who live there. Concealed behind references to the need to fight poverty and protect the environment is an attempt to exploit the area more systematically, overcoming the inadequacies and problems associated with the chaotic and uncoordinated resource extraction of the past.

The Colombian Pacific is indeed the site of vast mineral and natural resources, both existing and potential. Mining has attracted outsiders since the Spanish Conquest and at present the area is the country's main producer of platinum and the second producer of gold. Despite the predominant use of unsophisticated technologies, declared gold production reached almost nine metric tons in 1991.

The area, 6.2% of Colombia, also contains considerable deposits of bauxite, manganese, tin, zinc, nickel, tungsten, copper and chromium. as well as possible reserves of oil. And with 5.4 million hectares of forest, the Pacific accounts for around 60% of Colombia's wood and paper pulp production. Regional fish production, although representing 45% of the national total, is believed by state bodies to be as little as 1/7th of its estimated potential.

Ecologically, the Colombian Pacific is widely recognized as one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. It has one of the highest concentrations of plant and animal species, many of them unique life forms. Biotechnology, if developed in the region, might rival mining and forestry activities, with substantial rewards for those involved.

With a complex of vast river basins, the region has also been seen by planners as offering huge potential for the generation of hydroelectricity. The San Juan is the most water-abundant of the Pacific Ocean's tributaries in South America.

The Emergence of the Plan Pacifico

Ever since President Alfonso Lopez Michelsen (l974-78) expressed his vision of turning Colombia into the "Japan of South America," successive leaders have dreamed of developing the Colombian Pacific into a platform for dynamic trade with East and South East Asia and the Pacific Rim. Development of the Pacific would match existing access to the Caribbean and Atlantic and enable Colombia to take full advantage of its potential for trade, given its strategic location at the crossroads of North, Central and South America.

In 1982 President Belisario Betancur announced the drawing up of a development plan. With the financial support of UNICEF, a report was prepared over the next year by the Cali-based Autonomous Regional Development Corporation of Valle de Cauca (CVC) on behalf of the National Planning Department (DNP) in Bogota.

The report, entitled Integral Development Plan for the Pacific Coast (Pladeicop), did not conceal its motives. Its introduction candidly read: "This extensive region contains immense forest, fishing, river-and sea- based mineral resources which the country requires immediately. At the same time, it represents an area of fundamental national geopolitical interest." The aim was to remove the "structural bottlenecks hindering regional development and holding back rapid growth."

Part of this urgency, as elsewhere, may have been due to the pressure to boost foreign exchange earnings to cope with the burden of foreign debt. Colombia steered its way through the debt crisis more successfully than other Latin American countries to the 1980s, but huge current account deficits in 1981-85 and faltering economic performance built up pressure to restructure its economy.

Approved by the government in 1984, this first Plan Pacifico envisaged initial expenditure of almost $308 million between 1983 and 1988. Ambitious infrastructure projects included the building of roads, hydroelectric and energy plants, telecommunications networks, as well as plans to boost forestry, fishing, agriculture and mining.

At the same time the Pladeicop report was published, other national bodies were producing equally ambitious plans. Significantly, it was a project related to defence and security--the Bahia Malaga naval base 50 km north of Buenaventura--which was the first to get off the ground.

The construction of the base, which began operation by the end of the decade after delays which reportedly more than tripled its original estimated $22 million cost, indicated a clear determination by the Colombian state to safeguard the Plan Pacifico against the possible ramifications of social discontent with its economic aims. Three guerrilla fronts operate in the area. Navy boats jealously patrol the San Juan river, keeping a threatening eye on the communities which live there.

Barco's development juggernaut

It was under President Barco Virgilio Barco (1986-90), an English- speaking US-trained civil engineer, that the dramatic scope of the envisaged development juggernaut was revealed. In 1987, on the eve of a presidential visit to Asia, Barco unveiled a vast array of ambitious mega- projects involving $4.5 billion in investments. The announcement was followed during the rest of his term by a wide range of ambitious complementary schemes.

The futuristic centerpiece of Barco's plans was the construction of the Puente Terrestre Inter-oceanico (PTI), a land bridge between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans near Panama, comprising a railway, road, canal and oil pipeline. Crossing the Baudo mountain range and the Darien swamplands, the PTI was to connect two planned superports, one in Cupica on the Pacific Coast and the other on the Caribbean on the western side of the Gulf of Uraba. The PTI would be completed with the construction of a 10 km viaduct across the Gulf of Uraba to link up with Turbo on the eastern side. Free trade and industrial zones would be established near the new ports and PTI terminals.

Barco, until 1993 Colombia's ambassador to the UK, saw the building of the PTI's canal component as the means by which Colombia would rival the Panama Canal, whose future as a key link in world trade is in question unless it is upgraded to cope with larger vessels and more traffic.

PTI was complemented by major road-building plans throughout Choco to increase connections with centers of economic production in Colombia-- in particular Antioquia and the coffee producing areas to the south in Caldas, Risaralda, Quindio and Tolima. Revived was the idea of connecting the Darien Gap--the 54 km missing link in the Panamerican Highway.

Barco explained to his vision of the strategic importance of the Plan: ". . . to stimulate and expand the economies of the north, the center, the east and the west of the country, allowing them to exploit their potential and resources to the maximum." The aim was to "offer a modern, dynamic and new dimension of the Pacific to the whole of Colombia, especially the areas that are already developed, in particular to Bogota, the country's capital and financial and economic center, to Anti-oquia industrial zones, to the main coffee regions, to the fertile agricultural areas of the valleys of the Cauca and Magdalena rivers, to the banana areas of the northern coast, and to the plains of the Orinoco and the Amazon".

Elite rivalry to control the plan

Many of the initiatives reflected the pretensions of the elites of neighboring Antioquia. President Betancur, who originally launched Plan Pacifico, was from the state himself. Nevertheless, their traditional rivals in Valle de Cauca were in a stronger position to propose their own projects, since the agency in charge of carrying forward the Plan Pacifico, the CVC, was based in Cali. CVC's location made it the strongest regional development corporation in the Pacific area. Antioquia was one step further removed from the Pacific region, while Quibdo, where the Codechoco (Autonomous Regional Development Corporation of Choco) is based, was administratively weak.

Valle de Cauca elites focused on turning Buena-ventura, strengthened by a naval base at Bahia Malaga, into a "development pole." The port's infrastructure would be upgraded to handle more and larger vessels. New docks with modern container and storage facilities would be installed. A new industrial, commercial and fishing complex would be built. Plans emerged for a second industrial port on the Agua Dulce estuary. The area's dynamic port facilities would be complemented by special industrial zones in Bahia Malaga. The Buenaventura and Malaga bays would be connected by a canal.

Other CVC plans included building hydroelectric plants in the Calima river basin to provide energy for the plans and the increasing needs of Cali's industrial zones and other areas of the country.

To the horror of those living there, one of the projects, Calima IV, involved diverting the waters of the River Cauca towards the Calima river basin. The diversion point would be Cali's industrial satellite town, Yumbo, leading to fears that industrial waste and chemical pollutants for which the area is notorious would contaminate the Calima and San Juan rivers. Local people suspected a deliberate effort by planners to avoid environmental damage to the agriculturally rich areas of the Cauca valley further north. In Choco, local people expressed concern that plans for similar schemes on the Murri and Borroborro rivers would disrupt the delicate ecological balance of the area.

"Development" Impact

Plan Pacifico provoked widespread alarm in the Black and Indigenous communities in the region. Nationally and internationally the plans had generated expectations of major development in the area, and of opportunities to exploit resources. Logging, mining and other concerns bombarded the state with requests for land titles or operating concessions, bribing local officials, or buying land from poor residents unaware of the value of what they were selling.

Local people feared that Plan Pacifico's mega-projects, and the anticipation of extensive development, would speed the pace of colonization, increasing the damage already being caused to the region's environment and social fabric.

As early as 1984, 20.8% of the Pacific Coast's nearly 7.3 million hectares of forest had been destroyed by indiscriminate logging to satisfy domestic demand for wood and paper production. Mahogany reserves were being exhausted; substantial forest areas had been decimated to make way for the agro-industrial production of African palm; and, particularly in the south, the installation of industrial shrimp production facilities had led to a serious drop in mangrove coverage. In Uraba, only small reserves of forest were left following expansing banana and star fruit production.

Uncontrolled gold mining, whether as a result of panning or the use of dredgers, diggers and motorpumps, has had an equally disastrous impact, producing massive sedimentation in rivers and contaminating them with the remains of mercury used to produce gold amalgam.

Logging, mining and the excessive use of motorized equipment have eroded river banks, causing the river beds to drop sharply, threatening fish stocks and the ability of communities to travel or transport goods. Traditional agriculture based on the subsistence rotation of crops is under pressure from outsiders for the introduction of mono-crops, despite the low mineral content and poor drainage of the Pacific's fragile soils. Colombia's drug trade has also begun to penetrate the area, with drug money used to buy up land and property.

Possibly more damaging still, is that the penetration of alien forms of economic production, and the cultural values accompanying them, have begun to erode traditional social and economic structures based on collective organization, mutual support, environmentally sustainable methods and a harmonious relationship with nature. In the absence of positive intervention by the state, many members of the Black and Indigenous communities have been forced by poverty to participate in the very activities damaging their communities. Others have migrated to large regional urban centres or left the Pacific region altogether.

Response of the people

Threatened by even larger-scale environmental damage, and by the loss of their lands, Blacks and Indians began to mobilize their respective communities in the 1980s, overcoming past mistrust and forging a new Black-Indigenous alliance.

Black efforts to organize resistance received the growing support of OREWA, the regional organization of Embera and Waunaan Indians based in Quibdo, which realized that the Indians' strong traditions of organization in defense of their land would be worthless if the neighborhing Black communities did not successfully mobilize in defense of theirs. Orewa, uniting 204 communities on the Pacific Coast, is a member of the National Organization of Colombian Indians created in 1982.

Various river-based Black peasant associations have emerged-- including the Peasants' Association of the Atrato River, formed in 1987, the Peasants' Association of the San Juan River, formed in 1990, and the Peasants' Association of the Patia River--as well as urban Black popular organizations like the Quibdo-based Organization of Popular Neighborhoods of the Choco. Initiatives aimed at the broader representation and coordination of Black people's demands were the Cimarron Movement, formed in 1982, and the Coordinating Committee of Black Communities of Colombia which operates from Buenaventura.

 

Reform and the struggle for rights and land

In the late l980s, as part of their campaign to defend their land and win recognition for their rights, the Black and Indigenous communities fed into the broader process of national mobilization for constitutional reform, aimed at opening up and democratizing Colombia's political system, dominated for decades by the Liberal and Conservative parties. Indigenous communities not only won seats in the Constituent Assembly and the new Congress elected in 1990-91, but also made significant constitutional gains with the introduction of the new charter. Territorial rights of Indians were inscribed into the new constitution. Indigenous communities would have the right to govern their land according to their own laws, customs and political traditions. The new constitution recognized Colombia to be a pluriethnic and multi-cultural nation.

But in another case of "divide and rule", equivalent rights were not automatically granted to Blacks. Transitory Article 55 conditioned the collective land rights of the "Black communities which have been occupying vacant lands in the rural riverbank areas of the Pacific Basin" to the future recommendations of a special parliamentary commission. The reference to "vacant lands" denied Black historical links with to land and demonstrated state bias towards the territorial ambitions of outsiders with no connection with the land at all. Colonists sought to secure land titles before the special law came into force.

Black leaders also pointed out that Transitory Article 55 was ambiguously worded in terms of the area to which the prospective law on Black land rights would be applied. Would it apply to the whole of the Pacific region as a homogeneous geographical, ecological and cultural unit, or would it restrict Blacks to as little land as possible next to the riverbanks, thus leaving the surrounding areas of rainforest open to control by powerful outside interests? A strict interpretation of the article would exclude urban settlements and the communities of the Atlantic-bound Atrato River from the right to land, despite their sharing the same history, culture, environment and social organization as their brothers.

Transitory Article 55 placed Black land rights on the political agenda. With the communities' cultural survival at stake, the article was a powerful catalyst in the resurgence of Black political awareness and sense of identity.

 

Gaviria's Plan Pacifico

By the time of President Gaviria's constitutional reforms, Black and Indigenous opposition had become one of several stumbling blocks to the implementation of Barco's grandiose plans. Despite the toll exacted by continued de facto colonization and economic activity in the area, the Plan Pacifico as officially conceived had come to little. While the PTI and other megaprojects remained abstract plans, by the end of 1990 barely 12% of the investment originally envisaged in the CVC/Pladeicop report had been spent. The government didn't provide the institutional support needed to carry the Plan out. Bureaucratic delays and confusion and rivalry between Antioquia and Valle de Cauca, had hindered implementation from the outset. As a result, despite considerable interest, substantial foreign investment had not been secured.

During his first 18 months in office, Gaviria--a young technocrat who had served as finance and interior minister under Barco--set about producing a new formula. Published by the DNP on behalf of the presidency in 1992, the new plan, titled Pacific Plan: A New Strategy of Sustainable Development ,for the Colombian Pacific Coast had a remarkably different tone from its predecessors. Barco's megaprojects disappeared from view; the overt emphasis on the rapid exploitation of the Pacific gave way to generous references to the need for "sustainable development" and the conservation of resources; the damaging effects of colonization and inappropriate economic production methods are occasionally acknowledged in a general abstract fashion; and instead of highlighting the economic opportunities for those wishing to take advantage of the Pacific's potential, social programs apparently moved to the fore. Institutional changes were also announced to ensure greater control and coherence of decision-making.

A careful examination of the new plan s revealing, however. Social projects, for example, receive notable prominence in the report and precede the low-key description of plans to strengthen economic infrastructure and production. Yet energy, transport, telecommunications, mining and forestry projects account for the largest share of the Plan's total budget of almost $321 million for 1992-94.

Set against the Colombian state's background of neglect and disregard for the rights of the peoples of the Pacific Coast, a considerable degree of scepticism towards the new Plan Pacifico is in order. With its social and environmental tone, the approach of the new text is as much a political tool to allay previous regional, national and international fears as a comprehensive economic plan.

 

Driving roads through land rights

In total disregard of the views of the local communities, once again the building of "corridor" port roads--one of the largest items of the Plan's budget--has continued to be a priority. In the new plan, a road would link Tumaco, the Pacific's second major port in Nari¤o (where an industrial fishing complex is being built), to Pasto inland. This would offer possible road links with Cali (via Popayan) and Bogota (via Florencia) further north. To be studied was a new road between Buga, Lobo-guerrero, Buenaventura and Cali, intended to ease pressure on the existing road (also being upgraded), which damaged the Dagua river basin.

Revealingly, the 1992 Plan Pacifico also provides for the completion of the much criticized and opposed Pereina-Nuqui road, clearly indicating that the eventual creation of an alternative superport on the Pacific is not an abandoned piped ream of the Barco days but a project which the state intends to carry through at all cost. According to a US consultancy study quoted in the plan, Buenaventura will soon be unable to handle expected cargo increases. Installations at Tumaco are too small to accommodate large vessels and to deal with the overload. The Plan Pacifico claims that, as well as an extension of Buenaventura's facilities by 2000, a new port will be required on the Pacific. Tribuga bay near Nuqui has now been identified as the most likely site.

By allowing progress in the construction of the Pereira-Nuqui road, the state is riding rough-shod over the environment and Black and Indigenous land rights in the area, despite the provisions of Transitory Article 55 and the constitutional protection of Indigenous resguardos. Attracted by the new road, migrants from Antioquia and Risaralda have begun removing Blacks from their land, using their political connections or knowledge of laws protecting colonists' rights to gain land titles. At the time of writing, the stretch of the road being built, between the Pato River and the Baudo river and mountain range, was 500 meters off penetrating the Caimanero de Jampapa resguardo of the Emberas.

Protesters halted construction work by blocking the road, forcing the government to agree to an environmental impact study required under Colombian law. But the communities are worried that the study will lack independence and give the go-ahead anyway.

 

Return of the megaprojects?

Progress with the Pereira-Nuqui road has contributed to a climate in which other spectres of the Barco years have made tentative reappearances, outside the official plans contained in the new Plan Pacifico. Indeed, what the new plan leaves out could be just as important as what it includes.

"If the Berlin Wall felt, why can't the DariEn Gap?", Foreign Minister Noemi Sanin de Rubio asked a forum sponsored by the daily El Espectador in late 1992. At the first such forums, held by the foreign ministry and the government of Valle de Cauca in Bahia Malaga in 1992, several speakers, including the Pacific naval commander, revived the idea of the PTI canal, crossing the Atrato and Truando rivers. The project would take 10 years to complete, costing up to $13 billion, depending on the options chosen. The forum was attended by ambassadors from 12 Pacific countries.

President Gaviria raised the DariEn Gap idea during a meeting with President Guillermo Endara in Panama, discussing whether the United States could be asked to fulfill an old promise to finance two-thirds of the project's cost. According to press reports, the project was blocked in 1975 after US court action by Friends of the Earth, but the US Department of Agriculture has subsequently lifted its objections to the project.

Local and regional bodies are involved in putting forward their own plans to complement the official Plan Pacifico. Along with the Corpes de Occidente, Choco's local government has put forward a series of tourism projects, including the installation of five-star hotels and shopping centers. Taking advantage of the area's natural beauty and richness, the projects would involve eco-tourism, water and fishing sports.

Similar projects have been put forward for the coast in Valle de Cauca, where in 1992 the local governor, Carlos Holguin Sardi, set up three project management teams to work on external trade, local Pacific projects, and macroprojects and infrastructure. Run by managers drawn from commerce, banking, industry and the academic world, the management teams are charged with the creation of a "climate for investment", although they cannot execute projects themselves. The idea is to bypass the bureaucratic obstacles that have hindered earlier plans for the Pacific, promoting, infrastructure projects to act as a catalyst for economic activity and the attraction of investment.

Valle de Cauca still sees Buenaventura as the Pacific Coast's main "development pole". Anticipating the government's planned privatization of the state port company Colpuertos, one gerencia set up a body which it hopes the government will approve as a mixed private-public company when the state sells part of its share in the port facilities. An industrial, commercial and fishing complex is planned on the Aguacate estuary and Buenaventura's road, airport, telephone and drains facilities are to be improved. Electricity and telephone services are to be extended to areas deemed suitable for the expansion of tourism such as La Bocana on Bahia Buenaventura and Juanchaco and Ladrilleros on the mouth of Bahia Malaga. The national Plan Pacifico has also budgeted for the Yumbo-Buenaventura railway line to be improved.

While continuing to cater for Buenaventura's handling of coffee, planners in Valle de Cauca are looking to Colom-bia's need to diversify exports. They wish to exploit the Valle de Cauca's potential for citrus fruit and leather exports.

 

Free market pressures

The context of these ambitious initiatives is the important changes which have taken place in Colombian economic policy. As elsewhere, Colombia came under pressure to deepen its integration into the world economy. Alongside political reform, has been so-called economic opening, aimed at reducing state intervention, privatization, opening up the economy to international competition and offering greater incentives for the private sector and foreign capital. Exports are seen as key.

The external orientation of the economy is also being encouraged by the moves towards free trade throughout Latin America. As a result of its own free-trade agreement with Venezuela and Mexico, Colombia's trade with Venezuela has undergone considerable growth and Colombia hopes to gain access to NAFTA. Development of the Pacific would also boost Colombia's links with Chile, seen as a regional free-market success story and as a likely future member of an expanded NAFTA.

Access to, and development of, the Pacific's port facilities in the long term could add another dimension to Colombia's current plans to double oil production and become Latin America's second largest oil exporter by 1998 as a result of new Cusiana oil field in Casanare 100 miles east of Bogota in which British Petroleum has a stake.

 

"Sustainable development" and funds

Many of the ambitious ideas outside the pages of the new official Plan Pacifico text may come to little. But, as one DNP official explained, the advantage of presenting a relatively modest official plan is that it would stand a greater chance of receiving international financial support. Of the Plan's $32l million budget, the Gaviria government was confident it could secure some $158 million in foreign support, mainly loans.

In order to win foreign funding, the government made "sustainable development" part of its official discourse, taking on board the need to deal with the sensitivity of international organizations to criticisms of environmentally damaging projects. Over the last two years, the Colombian government has been negotiating loans worth $86 million and $54 million respectively with the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. But the environmental soundness of the projects and the uses to which the funds will be put is open to question.

Much of the World Bank money will go toward the so-called Forestry Action Plan for Colombia (PAFC), launched with the support of the Dutch government, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the IDB, the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program, as part of the international Tropical Forestry Action Plan advocated by these multilateral bodies. PAFC's emphasis is to boost commercial forestry, particularly in the Choco and the rest of the Pacific, rather than on sorely needed conservation measures to protect existing forests and species under threat.

Communities in the Calima river basins have alleged that industrial forestry carried out by Carton de Colombia, the Cali-based subsidiary of the Ireland-based conglomerate, Jefferson Smurfit, has caused considerable environmental damage in the area. Smurfit is a dominant actor in the Colombian paper and board market, accounting for up to 44% of local production. Colombia is the most profitable of Smurfit's Latin American concerns and offers a launching pad for exports in the region. Carton de Colombia's chief executive in 1991-92 was Gustavo Gomez, also chairman of FAO's advisory committee on pulp and paper.

Some $5 million IDB environmental funds will go to identifying and assessing the "political-administrative problems of ownership" of the Black communities. Another $9.9 million is allocated to the recovery and "sustainable" management of mangroves and forests in the lower San Juan and Calima river basins. And $5 million is to be spent on efforts to develop "environmentally-friendly" mining methods.

UNDP is expected to provide a global environmental facility loan of up to $9 million. Along with a $1 million IDB loan, this will fund a scientific research program to draw up a flora and fauna inventory in the Pacific region and to investigate economic alternatives based on the "sustainable use of biological resources". This project has the support of pro- conservation reformists in the state who advocate biotechnology as an environment-friendly economic alternative to extractive activities.

But on the scale of the Plan Pacifico as a whole, the GEF project is a small one. The question of genetic property rights--and community control of the resources--is left unanswered. The author has seen two versions of draft Colombian application for GEF funds. One was firmly based on exclusion of the communities from participation in research; the other advocated their involvement as the people with knowledge of their own environment.

 

Environmental protection?

Most of the environmental funds for the Plan Pacifico applied for by the state will be spent by the autonomous regional development corporations. The problem of enforcing protective measures remains. While the central government sets broad policy guidelines, the current decentralization means it would be up to them to apply environmental policies according to local conditions.

This mismatch between local and national policies was illustrated in late 1992 when Black organizations joined OREWA to protest the decision of Codechoco to grant the Maderas del DariEn and Pizano logging companies a 200,000 hectare concession in the lower Atrato, threatening the Embera Indian communities. Permission was granted, despite the companies' apparent record of devastation in the area and the intervention of a central government minister.

In the government vision of "sustainable development", the contradiction between traditional economic activity and the pressure for growth, on the one hand, and protection of the environment, on the other, has been left unresolved. The balance of power is very much in favor of those placing emphasis on the rapid exploitation of resources.

 

Land rights and reforms

It seems likely the government will restrict collective land titles to the land and forest next to the riverbanks where Black communities have traditionally fished and carried out subsistence agriculture--leaving the surrounding areas of rain forest open to control by powerful outside interests. The state will also have rights to all subsoils.

When pressed with the suggestion that collective land rights would hinder development plans, local officials quickly hinted that such rights would be minimal. Holger Pe¤a Cordoba, deputy head of Pladeicop at CVC said: "I don't think collective land titling will be an obstacle to investment. We're not talking about providing titles for all land in the Pacific, but the land next to the rivers where people have traditionally lived and carried out subsistence agriculture." Head of Valle de Cauca's gerencia for Pacific Coast projects, Oscar Isaza Benjumea added: "Everyone wants land. Blacks, Indians, colonizers, all of them. The Indians, I ask myself, what do they want more reserves for? They don't even use what they've got. What do they produce in their reserves? Their own things."

While the Black communities demanded full participation in decisions affecting their very survival, the Gaviria administration appears to have seen their involvement as a necessary cosmetic exercise in consultation.`For the government, the settlement of the issue of Black land rights is a prerequisite for the establishment of a property regime to facilitate economic development. The aim is to concede as little as possible, but sufficient to minimize social unrest and political conflict which have so often resulted from land disputes in Colombia.

In 1993 President Gaviria signed Law 70 giving legal force to the collective Black land rights promised in Transitory Article 55. Given the obstacles and forces stacked against them, this in itself was no small victory for the Black representatives who lobbied the president and Congress members hard for approval of the legislative text agreed before the July 4 deadline. As expected, however, the new law will be a double- edged sword for Blacks.

 

The challenge of an alternative

Leaders of the Black and Indigenous communities refute government allegations that they are against development. Carlos Rosero, a member of the special commission on Transitory Article 55. said: "What we want is development that we control, which benefits local people and respects the environment. Blacks are one of the poorest groups in Colombia and have always been neglected and discriminated against by the state. We are campaigning for proper economic and political support to build tip our own economy and markets."

Blacks have joined Indigenous leaders in advocating "ethno- development", an alternative form of development which respects the culture and traditional organization of the communities. As in the past much of what they will achieve will depend on the pressure that the communities themselves can muster. Pitted against the forces of state- sponsored development it is a very unequal battle.

Despite the eventual shortcomings of Law 70, one important gain to have emerged from the battle over Transitory Article 55 is that it has sparked considerable public interest in the Pacific Coast and put the issue of Colombia's Blacks onto the public agenda. Continuation of this debate can only boost the prospects for a Black social movement. Scores of community organizations have emerged and efforts are being made to coordinate campaigns between all river communities in the region, despite the problems of geographical communication.

The Black and Indigenous peoples are in a race against time to save their land, environment and culture from the steadily increasing pace of further "discovery" by the outside world. Unless they receive support to succeed in their campaign, their communities face decline as they are forced off their ancestral lands, threatening disaster for one of the world's most environmentally rich areas. Yet the ethnocide and ecocide has passed largely unnoticed outside Colombia. The outside world must help prevent this social and environmental disaster from happening.

Roads & Extension of the Panamerican Highway (accompanying a map in the report)

The plan would extend the northern branch of the Highway from Lomas Los Aislados to join Palo de Letras on the Panamanian border. The area, inhabited by Cuna Indians, is recognized as one of the Pacific region's richest in flora and fauna, and disturbance of the waters and marshes there would have a serious impact on its ecosystem.

Another road, from Cupica across the Atrato river basin to Buchado and on to Urrao, would offer another link-up between Medellin and the Pacific Coast. According to a 1990 report, plans also exist for the new road to Urrao to extend beyond Medellin into a major highway to Cucuta in Norte de Santander on the Venezuelan border.

More feasible were plans to provide another "corridor" road for the coffee producing areas. Work began on a road from Pereira, the capital of Risaralda, to Nuqui on the coast, via Tado (from where a branch would be built to link up with the Medellin-Quibdo road).

Long term, it was also envisaged that the Pereira-Nuqui road might extend up the coast through the Utria National Park to Bahia Solano and on to Cupica with its superport facilities and PTI terminal. The road would form part of a planned southern route of the Panamerican Highway. Pressure for roads to cross the DariEn area to gain quicker access to the Pacific had also come from banana companies and producers concentrated in the gulf of Uraba area.

Construction of the Pereira-Nuqui road would also provide a road link with Bogota further south east, and with La Dorada. A road between Medellin and La Dorada had already been built. The Pereira-Nuqui route to Bogota would strengthen the prospects of eventual road access to the oil fields in the eastern plains.

 

Condensation of a 1993 report by Jon Barnes, issued by the Catholic Institute for International Relations, Unit 3, Canonbury Yard, 190a New North Road, London N1 7BJ.
Condensed & printed in 1995 by Colombia Human Rights Committee of Chicago, (773) 489-6279.

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Colombia Human Rights Committee of Chicago

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