Biofuels Push Becomes Weapon in Colombia’s War on Narco-Traffickers
by Nathanial Gronewold (New York Times/Greenwire) …Government support for biodiesel has spurred a robust demand for palm oil that has put 50 percent more income into the pocket of farmer Misael Monsalve Moreno. He is almost finished replacing his family’s cramped wooden shack with a new brick house.
It is hard to believe, he said, that just five years ago he and many of his neighbors were growing coca — the main ingredient for cocaine — for Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC), a narco-trafficking rebel group that then controlled this part of the Catatumbo region.
…Improved security started the move away from coca, but it was the 2007 law requiring diesel retailers to mix in 10 percent biodiesel that provided the big push, biofuel industry insiders say.
…Reduced cocaine consumption in the United States, the military offensive against guerillas, spraying and manual eradication all played a role. But among all the crops that have been tried in substitution programs, palm seems to have the most staying power, experts say.
…”The palm oil is the main business, but also we have cattle and our own crops for our food.”
…Several times they(FARC guerillas) have destroyed construction equipment at a site where Murgas is trying to build Colombia’s largest oil extraction facility on land just outside Tibu. Murgas himself is under personal threat, and his business partner narrowly avoided execution in one chilling incident he described.
Fed up, Murgas is now paying $500,000 to build a military base across the street from where the extraction plant will be built.
…All parties involved in the fight against drug crops admit theirs is an uphill battle.
…The main thing Fedepalma wants to see, he said, is the 10 percent biodiesel blending standard increased to 15 and later 20 percent, as proposed by the previous administration.
Proper security, land title and cooperation on financing from Colombia’s banks will also be necessary, he said. READ MORE