Friday, August 23, 2019
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Campesinos wait for land
Susan Abad
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New bill would allow for displaced farmers to recover their lands.

Two million campesinos who have been displaced as paramilitary groups took over their lands might be able to recover their lands – 2 million hectares worth – if Congress passes a new law presented by President Juan Manuel Santos´ government in September.

“This is about trying to right the enormous damage that has been suffered and pay back a debt that society and the state has with the victims of displacement,” Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo told Latinamerica Press.

He said if passed, the law could return a minimum of 2 million hectares to the campesinos over four years. But the victims and some politicians say they have lost much more than that.

Iván Cepeda, a lawmaker of the opposition Alternative Democratic Pole party, estimates that campesinos were forced off 5.5 million hectares of their land, leaving 385,000 families landless.

He added that land concentration in Colombia is so great that only 4 percent of landowners hold close to two-thirds of the highest quality lands.

Paperwork ahead
A national database system will be set up which will determine who were the owners of the lands up to 1991. According to the new bill, those currently on the land will need to prove that they are the owners, reversing the older system that placed the burden of proof on the victims.

Land returned to indigenous displacement victims will take longer, however, because the entire community must be consulted as is required by the International Labor Organization´s Convention 169 on indigenous peoples as well as national law.

Skeptics of the law say it is part of an unacceptably slow process that began with the declared demobilization of the largest paramilitary group five years ago.

“Many of the properties that had been taken by the paramilitaries … have not been returned,” Cepeda said in Congress.

Few results
According to the government-run National Reparation and Reconciliation Commission, founded in 2005 for victims of the armed groups, paramilitaries have only returned 21,000 hectares of the 1 million hectares that they are estimated to have seized, an insignificant advance, even including the more than 66,000 hectares that were given to displaced campesinos during the 2002-2010 government of ex-President Álvaro Uribe.

The bill is flawed, according to Patricia Buriticá, a member of the commission, because it does not provide victims with a second recourse if they are turned down.

“Also, there is a big problem with this bill in that it establishes that everything that cannot be recovered will be returned in cash, and we believe that the restitution should be done with the land itself, or on a similar piece of land, not with money,” she said.

Buriticá added that the bill is restrictive in that victims did lose their lands only at the hands of the paramilitaries, as the law recognizes, but also by leftist guerrilla groups, drug traffickers and new armed groups.

“These victims will be left out for demanding restitution,” she said, adding that it will do little good to return the campesinos to a situation in which they were living in poverty in rural areas, but that what needs to be done is to establish a series of policies that improves social, economic and political conditions, as well as rural infrastructure, so there is a real change.

Also, while the government claims the victims will be protected, security remains a top concern, since land will be taken away from those who had allegedly taken it away from the poor farmers. Some 45 campesino leaders have been killed in recent years for trying to reclaim their land.
—Latinamerica Press.


Former paramilitaries may be forced to return usurped lands to campesinos. (Photo: Susan Abad).
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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