Four Afro-descendant farmers, defenders of the environment, will have to pay 151,000 dollars to the company Energy Palma, which exploits African palm in the province of Esmeraldas.

Judge Fernando Saldarriaga of the Multicompetent Unit of the San Lorenzo canton, ruled in favour of the company in a lawsuit where the peasants were accused of causing losses in the palm harvest.

Specifically, the company denounced that its harvest could not be transported as a result of a march that the commune of Barranquilla de San Javier de Cachaví carried out in 2019. This commune rejected the presence of the company, claiming that they illegally invaded 251 hectares of their collective territory. They also rejected the contamination of water and the deforestation of forests in the Chocó Andino region by the company, as a result of the exploitation of African palm.

The peasants assured that the protest was peaceful and did not cause any damage to the plantation. In response to the action, the company obtained precautionary measures in the Multicompetent Court of San Lorenzo, the same court that is now sanctioning the defenders. The march was dispersed with the help of the police and the company was able to continue its activities.

The company initially sued seven peasants, including community leaders, who were criminally charged. It also demanded 320,000 dollars in compensation. In a communiqué issued by Acción Ecológica, it is mentioned that during the trial it was demonstrated that the company had alternative routes for the harvest. In the end, the court set the compensation at 151,000 dollars and four people were sued.

Acción Ecológica describes this sanction as intimidating, so that the villagers will not demonstrate again, nor reclaim their territory. But it also assures that it has effects against other communities in the province of Esmeraldas affected by the palm oil companies.

Energy Palma S.A. is part of the Corporación La Favorita, a conglomerate of companies with investments in food, supermarkets, real estate, among others. This company is also accused by other communities in Esmeraldas, such as 5 de junio, of using various legal arguments to “usurp community land”, according to the human rights organisation FIAN Ecuador.