The downside of oil palm in Colombia

Colombiastimulates and subsidizes oil palm plantations, but I discovered on a visit last month with a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation that the plantations displace campesinos and destroy the environment, owing to corporate greed and ineffective government oversight.

Letters from Readers

November 9, 2009

We met 123 families — about 500 people, including scores of children — who had been working an abandoned estate called Las Pavas in Southern Bolivar province for many years. First forced off the land by paramilitary death threats in 2006, they were in the process of legalizing ownership, to which they are entitled under Colombian law for farming idle land, but the responsible government agency, INCODER, did not follow through as required. Despite the litigation, the government let subsidiaries of Daabon Organics buy the land from the former owner in 2007.

The campesinos reoccupied the land in January of this year, but police in riot gear evicted them by court order in July. Now deprived of their livelihood, the campesinos live in a nearby town, dependent on support from nonprofit organizations for survival. Their legal claim to Las Pavas is pending in Colombia’s Constitutional Court.

In Las Pavas we saw how Daabon’s subsidiary had obliterated every vestige of the farmers’ homes and destroyed hundreds of trees, filling in ditches and wetlands to make room for oil palm. Beyond Las Pavas there was more advanced environmental devastation, with loss of habitat for fish and animals that the residents had hunted for food. An entire lake — supposedly government protected for public use — had been drained to make room for palms.

An internationally marketed cosmetics producer, The Body Shop, buys Daabon’s palm oil. Ironically, both companies are publicly committed to socially responsible and sustainable production. They must be held accountable.

George Meek


Project Labor Agreements are the key

Re: “White House prevents competition in construction,” Nov. 5

In his November 5 Op-Ed, Jerry Gorski talks a lot about “choice” and “competition” when it comes to the construction industry. The question is: At what cost?

For federal, state and local agencies looking to invest taxpayer dollars in today’s construction market, they — just like corporations in the private sector — essentially have two distinct business models from which to choose.

The first is a business model that is epitomized by the use of Project Labor Agreements. It is a business model that offers livable wages and benefits, jobsite efficiencies, and opportunities for local residents to receive quality career training.

This lies in stark contrast to the business model advocated by Mr. Gorski that is predicated upon assembling the lowest-cost, oftentimes most exploitable, workforce possible.

Should anyone in the Washington area want to examine why this nation has such a problem with illegal immigrants, look no further than a Miller and Long construction site.

The best argument for PLAs is that they are being increasingly utilized in the private sector, where profit motive is the driving force.And the reason is simple: THEY WORK!

Tom Owens

Director of Marketing & Communications

Building & Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO


Deeds’ defeat shows rejection of his attack on McDonnell’s thesis

With Creigh Deeds’ bid for governor now history, I’d like to comment one of his harshest criticisms against Bob McDonnell — his infamous 1989 “thesis paper.”

In using McDonnell’s thesis against him, liberal Democrats ignored an important factor yet again: most voters either secretly agreed with McDonnell’s opinions in his thesis, or at least sympathized with them.

By “sympathized” I mean in desire — it’s not that people agreed with McDonnell, it’s that they WANTED to agree with him. Today’s parents can seemingly accept the established wisdom that it’s “weird,” “primitive” and down-right demeaning for each to have full-time careers, however at the end of the day, a certain feeling persists: maybe itactuallywouldbe betterfor someone to stay home with the kids. … Perhaps it’s just a pestering question, a weird gnawing parents get as they send their children off to be warehoused 50 hours a week by paid strangers. But it’s that feeling which allowed many to let McDonnell’s 20-year old statements slide.

So again, just like a piece of tainted meat, an established liberal tenet which initially tastes oh-so-sweet ends up causing some unsettling consequences as it digests collectively. Like it or not, the antithesis of McDonnell’s statements end up making many parents feel neglectful and egocentric.

Whether both parents work is not a choice for most today.But the desire is still there for a two-parent income to be needless, and for children to spend their days with mom or dad, not a “guardian.” And despite the extent of his reasoning, Bob McDonnell nevertheless tapped into a deep psychological longing for most mothers and fathers.

Wilson Taxiarhou

GraduateSchool of Political Management, George Washington University