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The Sweet Pepper War

In Peru two villages lost land when a Norwegian-registered agricultural company started cultivating sweet peppers.
Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.
In Peru two villages lost land when a Norwegian-registered agricultural company started cultivating sweet peppers.
By Erik Hagen
Photos: Matias Nordahl Carlsen
English translation published 5 May 2009.

Read also: Village battle

camposol_paprika_teresa_400.jpgTeresa Girón Rodriguez (photo to the right) points out across the huge green field where the agricultural company Camposol operates large-scale production of sweet peppers. Earlier the field was covered by tree clusters and bushes. From the big carob trees she would harvest fruits that she used to sell to earn money. Under the trees her animals used to graze.

But now Teresa says her property has been divided in two. The larger part is located inside Camposol’s sweet pepper plantation. A small part lies outside.

The part that Camposol does not utilise, but which Teresa could still have used, has been razed.

“This whole area was invaded by Camposol. They took it and left me without land. The animals died since they had nothing to eat, and now I have nothing left but air,” she sighs. Now she makes a living gathering branches, which she sells in the village.

Camposol is one of Peru’s largest agricultural companies, with plantations all over the Latin-American country. The company is a big exporter of asparagus, avocado, mango, sweet pepper and grapes. The Oslo Stock Exchange is the only place in the world where the company is registered. The owners of this agricultural giant operate a large fishing company, and that is how they were first registered in Norway. Soon after they had registered their fishing company, in May 2007, the owners also listed the vegetables on the Oslo Stock Exchange.

It was the year before, in July 2006, that Camposol took over the area that Teresa and her family had used for several decades. She had never heard anything about the company obtaining ownership of her area, and she has not received either compensation or payment.

The plants that were in her yard were burned, and the trees were cut down. Black dust from the ashes still covers the ground on the part of the property where Camposol has not yet started cultivation. Some bushes that had grown from the dust had been cut down the day before Norwatch came to visit. All that remained were fresh small stumps that bore markings from machetes.

The cut branches were to be seen 3 m away, placed up against the fence around the plantation. The company had put them up to reinforce the barbed-wire barricade.

At the company headquarters in Lima the management had their hands full with the financial crisis and possible market collapses in the West. But they were well aware of the land protests in northern Peru. It is not every day that police forces are called on to defend plantations against angry village wives.

“We had not had any problems at all with the villages up until a month ago,” Francesca Carnesella, Camposol’s information officer, said.

She related that they have tried, by means of the media, village leaders and the authorities, to ascertain what the inhabitants want, and that they have themselves gone to the village to find a solution.

“It is frustrating to have a conflict without quite knowing whom we are dealing with and why they are irritated or worried. This can be solved across a table. But we can’t find a way to be seated at a table to talk. They never turn up with one leader with whom we can negotiate to reach a solution,” Carnesella said, discouraged.

The information director said that such conflicts often are due to lack of information and denied outright that the villages have any kind of formal right to the area. “Some villagers consider themselves owners of properties because their grandparents and ancestors used them as grazing land. Suddenly the villagers discover that the land they use belongs to someone else,” Carnesella explained.

“Bought from the Wrong People”
Norwatch has visited the two neighbouring Peruvian villages that are in conflict with Camposol: Santa Rosa and San Vicente de Piedra Rodada. Both the inhabitants and their inherited rights seem to be completely without protection from outside interests.
The villages are located right next to a water canal in the usually hot and bone dry Alto Chira valley. The inhabitants work with farming and animal husbandry. Some of the villagers work at banana cooperatives in the area or carry out small-goods trade in the centre of the provincial capital of Sullana province, half an hour’s drive away.

They deny completely that they are not supposed to have formal rights to the area and claim that it is well documented that they have the right of use of the area.

They also say that it is not correct that this is a conflict that arose last autumn. Piles of newspaper cuttings show that the conflicts and violent clashes over the land area started already back in 2006, when the company cleared the grazing land and tree clusters in the area.

This part of Peru became especially attractive for investors after the construction of the canal. In record time the valley in the Sullana area was transformed from dry grazing land into a paradise for income-producing agricultural export.

By means of a handful of pumps Camposol leads the water from the canal and across the fields. Ironically, it is this life-giving water that has led the villages into all the conflicts. If the area had not suddenly become lucrative for the export industry, the villagers would still have been able to carry out their traditional animal husbandry on the land.

Norwatch has searched in the official ownership archives in Lima and Sullana and found that the land area has changed hands several times during the past decades. The land originally belonged to the regional agricultural authorities. In 1992 it was sold to an association of landless people who called themselves Asociación Campesinos Sin Tierra Nuevo San Vicente. The local farmers say that this association must have consisted of people from outside the village.

“We were born and we live here in the village. We are always out on the fields, but now we can not go there because everything is enclosed,” Corina Savedra Lupu (29) said, discouraged.

In October last year she and her mother, Maria Luisa (60), marched onto Camposol’s land together with hundreds of other villagers. The inhabitants were protesting against what they considered an attack that Camposol had kicked off with regard to the villages.  

“We entered the area to tell them that they had to let us have the property – which belongs to the two villages,” Maria Luisa says.
A large police force was employed to surround and throw out the intruders.

“They put us in jail a day and a night, until the lawyers got us out. We want Camposol to leave because our children need the earth,” Maria Luisa Lupu says. “We are tired of this conflict. We don’t want a dialogue; we want our land back,” she says.

FACTS: Camposol
-Registered one place in the world: the Oslo Stock Exchange.
-Leading plantation company in Peru, where they employ close to 10,000 in the busy season.
-Has properties across the whole country.
-Since 2006 the company has been in a property conflict with two villages in northern Peru.
-The conflict climaxed in October 2008, when two villages raided Camposol’s plantations. 
-See also separate story on trade union rights on Camposol plantations.