World Rainforest Movement

Colombia: Irish-Dutch pulp company accused of serious social and environmental crimes

The Peoples’ Permanent Tribunal – Colombian Chapter met on 26 and 27 February 2007 in Lower Atrato to bring to trial transnational companies focusing on the issue of biodiversity and exploitation of natural resources in Colombia. The participating communities and social organizations – including environmental organizations – accused Smurfit Kapa Carton de Colombia “of violating human, environmental, social and cultural rights. More specifically: the destruction of tropical rainforests, Andean forests and other ecosystems and destroying the communities’ social weave, traditional and cultural means of production, eliminating and contaminating water resources; influencing government policy-making in the country and putting pressure on State officials to favour the multinational’s interests; concealing information regarding the company and manipulating mass media both on a regional and national level; using false postulates and untrue information and advertising to justify its activities and conceal the impacts generated; accusing and criminalizing with inaccurate arguments those denouncing the company’s improper conduct.”

During the more than fifty years that they have been on Colombian territory, the company has destroyed a considerable part of the tropical rainforest area in Lower Calima in the Department of Valle del Cauca (the biogeographical Choco region) and the Andean forest, high stubble and other ecosystems in the coffee-hub departments. It has introduced plantations in the territory of indigenous communities living in the Departments of Cauca and Caldas and has planted trees on land previously used for farming which boosted the economies of the populations living in the Departments of Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Risaralda, Quindío, Tolima and Antioquia.

As proof of the accusations made against Smurfit Kapa Cartón de Colombia, a book written by Joe Broderick “El Imperio de cartón – Impacto de una multinacional papelera en Colombia” (The Cardboard Empire – The Impact of a Pulp and Paper Multinational in Colombia) was submitted by the plaintiffs. This book sets out the results of investigation financed by the Bio-Pacific (Ministry of the Environment) UNDP project, GEF/92/G31. The author underscores the fact that when he was living in Dublin in 1993, he learnt that 70% of Smurfit’s profits are obtained in Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia.

The damages caused by clear-cutting in the transitional zones between very humid tropical rainforests and tropical rainforests in the Pacific region of low hills to the south of the San Juan River and the River Calina, in the biogeographical Choco region are fully documented and the impacts on Afro-descendent communities and on ethnic Embera and Waunama indigenous communities are stressed.

In areas of forestry exploitation the Afro-descendent and indigenous communities have suffered cultural changes because of the presence of logging companies associated with Smurfit Kapa. A homogenizing and hegemonic lifestyle has been imposed on them, generating a loss of knowledge and values, creating insecurity, involving the loss of territory for traditional communities settled in the region. With clear-cutting the Waunama community witnessed the disappearance of many trees whose timber was of traditional importance for building canoes, trunks and other utensils as well as other plant species appreciated for their value as food, medicine or for ritual purposes. With extractive logging activities and habitat destruction, much of the wildlife has disappeared and many fish are no longer to be found in the rivers.

In 1978, Smurfit Kapa Carton de Colombia purchased land from the large landowners and planted pine trees in smallholdings located in the municipalities of Buenos Aires (Cauca) which the Paez communities had been claiming since the sixties as their ancestral territory. The indigenous people endeavoured to recover their territory by occupying this land and other plots; the communities wanted to avoid more land being purchased and to stop the encroachment of Smurfit in the Cauca, as they thought the company was disrespectful towards nature and the local flora. They had seen what had happened in Balsa (Cauca) where a one thousand hectare smallholding was planted with eucalyptus trees, preceded by the destruction of native trees and the indigenous people were evicted by the National Army and some leaders were sued and imprisoned. There were also some cases of indigenous leaders being murdered, such as the murder in 1985 of the indigenous leader Luciono Labio and his wife.

In 1989, the Paez and Smurfit Carton de Colombia signed the so-called Jamundi agreement, engaging themselves to maintain the status quo until reaching a definitive agreement regarding the establishment of an indigenous reserve for the Paez Paila community. The indigenous community continued planting foodstuffs in the smallholdings under dispute and the company deployed its enormous power and well-known influence over the regional and national authorities and evicted the community. In this context the Paez denounced the connivance existing between Smurfit and some Departmental and municipal officials in the Cauca where they had participated in evicting the people from their recovered smallholdings without the relevant legal procedure.

Smurfit Carton de Colombia apparently suspended its activities in the Paila region in 1990, but in 1991 it set up the Agroforestal el Naya S.A. company, thereby avoiding the danger of their pine trees falling into the hands of the indigenous people (either by expropriation or appropriation) and also ensured its continuity in the area and the right to continue timber exploitation without the expense and responsibility involved in landholding and labour requirements for timber extraction. Thus, Smurfit is apparently out, but it receives the timber and everything is handled by its Agroforestal partners.

The murders of indigenous leaders continued during 1992. Miguel Labio Quiguanas was arrested by National Army soldiers while travelling on a bus with other indigenous people; later his body was found, dressed in uniform.

Penetration of coniferous plantations in the west of the Department of Cauca by Smurfit Carton de Colombia, has occurred in parallel with the systematic denial of collective rights linked to legal appropriation of territories and has encouraged – on driving the mass of peasants, indigenous and Afro-descendent people towards the distant region of Naya to grow coca – events as painful in the history of the country and the world as the horrendous Naya massacre undertaken by paramilitary troops in April 2001 which, according to the community, left some 100 dead (or 70 dead, according to the Attorney General of the Nation).

At the beginning of the nineties, Smurfit Carton de Colombia launched an aggressive strategy, purchasing land to install pine plantations in high areas where water sources spring from, and relict primary Upper Andean forest is to be found. The communities of Alsacia, Agua Blanca and la Esperanza and the Paula Indigenous Reserve, which were more energetic in their demands for land recovery and deeds, were craftily misled by Carton de Colombia and divided. In view of this situation, many families from the area decided to occupy land in the Naya region, located on the Pacific slope, where initially they established farming systems. However, because of the excessive distance and absolute abandon by the State, they have been obliged to change to the plantation of illegal crops.

In April 2001, one of the most violent massacres in Colombian history took place, where a still unknown number of peasants, indigenous and Afro-descendent people were torn apart, sawn up, thrown down cliffs by para-military groups.

Today pines are still being planted, dominating the landscape and substituting the primary forest. The communities of the Upper Naya have not received the deeds for their territory and the locality of Timba suffers from a notorious water shortage. The Upper Naya communities consider that among the major projects threatening the integrity of the territory and the life of the communities is Carton de Colombia’s demolishing progress under cover of its mask as Agroforestal Naya S.A., and now with para-military presence in the region.

Summary based on article produced by Herney Patiño, Grupos Ecológicos del Risaralda, e-mail: The complete article is available -in Spanish- at

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