Thousands of Indigenous Farmers Chased Off Their Land to Make Room for Biofuel Companies

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Guatemala is one of the fastest-growing hubs for biofuel production, the Guardian reports, and the skyrocketing interest in its fertile land has been severely disruptive for indigenous farmers. Evidently, just recently, armed security forces forcibly cleared out thousands of indigenous people from the land they'd historically farmed for food—so European biofuel companies could move in and grow crops for ethanol.

John Vidal has the story:

Ethnic Maya Q'eqchi communities of smallholder farmers said they were being violently evicted by state security forces from land they had farmed for generations. Helicopters with armed men leaning out were flying overhead, private security guards and paramilitary forces were attacking people, and houses and crops were being burned. The farmers could not speak Spanish and needed help dealing with the police, as well as legal advice on how to stop giant biofuel companies taking their land.

When Macz and Pascual, human rights workers from the Guatemala Campesino Unity Committee (CUC), arrived after a six-hour drive from the capital, Guatemala City, two of the communities had been brutally evicted. Over the next four days, 10 more villages were cleared. By the end of March 2011, around 800 families – about 3,200 people from 14 communities – had been forced off land they believed they had a right to live and work on. Within months, hundreds of hectares of the lush valley in the province of Alta Verapaz were being planted with sugar cane that would be turned into ethanol for European cars

That's not exactly the sort of scene that greens imagined when they lauded the EU for passing a motion requiring 10% of transport fuels come from biofuel.

Disturbing news like this is certain to enflame food vs fuel debates, and rightfully so. But it's not the exclusive province of biofuel production, either; Big Ag does the same exact thing when it moves into developing nations to grow crops en mass.

So it shouldn't necessarily be grounds to prompt across-the-board denunciations of biofuels. More like across-the-board denunciations of international corporate malfeasance. As long as the gears of globalized capitalism are churning along, we're going to keep seeing grave injustices like this—brazen exploitation of helpless populations who happen to live in resource-rich areas is kind of the name of the game. There's certainly a smart way to grow biofuels without creating banana republics.

But it should prompt us to demand more transparency from the corporations who qualify for carbon credits with such far-flung operations. There's a less-disruptive way to do this, too—I recently surveyed the entire supply chain of a biofuel operation in Mozambique that was turning to local farmers and offering to buy their yield. Still disruptive, sure—there's suddenly a market for a cash crop where there wasn't before—but it's a hundred times preferable to what went down in Guatemala, and the company is actually working to make sure the locals are benefitting instead of getting steamrolled.

Tags: Biofuels