Oil palm causes "environmental disaster" in Guatemala, group says

Jun 13, 2015 12:00 AM

A river in Guatemala has become the scene of an "environmental disaster" due to the runoff from oil palm plantations, the Latin American Network against Tree Monoculture, or Recoma, said Friday.

The environmental damage was reported by local communities in May and gained public attention this week when thousands of dead fish appeared in the La Pasion River, located in Peten province, which borders Mexico and Belize.

In a statement co-signed by 18 Latin American environmental groups, Recoma decried "the terrible ecological, social and environmental disaster affecting species and the ecosystem in the region, and also fishermen, villages and communities that use and benefit from the La Pasion River in Guatemala and Mexico."

Area residents say the Repsa oil palm company is responsible for polluting the river with chemical compounds.

"Negative impacts of the oil palm agroindustry on ecosystems are numerous: the intensive use of toxic products dumped into water sources and the contamination caused by oxidation lagoons," Recoma said.

Recoma called on the Guatemalan government and Attorney General's Office to conclude their investigations and determine responsibilities to ensure that the environmental depredation does not go unpunished.

"We demand a determination of penal responsibilities and the appropriate penalties," Recoma said. "The full weight of the law must fall on this ecocide."

The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources has concluded that the La Pasion River is polluted with malathion, an agricultural pesticide.

The pollution, which extends for more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) of the river's course, represents Guatemala's "most serious environmental problem," the ministry said.

Authorities have prohibited the consumption of fish or water from La Pasion.

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