By Isabel Coello
Monday August 9, 2010 at 10:34 AM
(Translated by Emily Schmitz, a CSN Volunteer Translator)
Jorge Rojas interview, director of the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displaced People (CODHES). CODHES has stated that farmers who are expelled from their lands find it almost impossible to recuperate them again. Colombia continues to have the second highest displaced population in the world due to armed conflict, surpassed only by Sudan. There are 3.4 million people in Colombia who have had to abandon their homes due to conflict. The director of the NGO has focused his attention on displaced populations and has drawn a disturbing and growing relationship linking displacement to a new form of paramilitary activities, where vital zones are cleared for strategic exploitation, such as seen in the production of palm oil.
What do you think of the democratic security policy?
According to government figures, there were 2.4 million people displaced during Uribe’s years in office. We ask where democratic security was for these people. There is security for large land owners, industries, banks and foreign investors. However the same cannot be said for those who have had to abandon their homes due to guerillas, paramilitary groups or the actions of law enforcement.
Has displacement in Colombia worsened or improved in the era of Uribe?
According to the government’s Social Action figures, there are 3,400,000 displaced persons in Colombia, 2,400,000 of which occurred under Uribe’s government. This is to say that the majority of displacement which has been officially recognized was produced under Uribe. If we were to replace official figures with those of CODHES and the church, we see that there have been 4.9 million displaced in the last 25 years (1985-2009) which spanned through six different governments. More than half the number of displaced peoples was produced under Uribe. Here it can be noted that the Uribe government has seen the greatest number of displacement in the recent history of Colombia. This can be seen in both official and our own figures.
Where is displacement produced?
We are preoccupied by the large macro-economic link which connects displacement to an economy boosted by minerals and energy resources. These companies are benefiting in the midst of conflict. I am not saying that they are involved in the displacement of peoples or even in violence, but they must know that they are operating in conflict zones, in the middle of violence, of displacement and aggressions against the civilian population.
Does this include Spanish companies?
There are many companies of various nationalities. I do not have a direct assertion against any one Spanish company, but there is a concern about how human rights are affected when these companies invest in the country.
How does the displaced population live?
There is a 60% poverty rate and a rate of 90% indigence seen in displaced populations.
Many leaders fighting for restitution of land have been assassinated. What does this situation indicate?
That these new paramilitary groups have an intention to consolidate the dispossession, to secure the land and impose rural development supporting the intensive production of palm oil farms and other products to produce agro-combustibles. Restitution is a right. It proceeds when a person abandons land due to violence (while retaining ownership) and it is then taken by someone else. This land must be returned. But this is very dangerous; more than 35 leaders that have attempted this have been assassinated.
What must a displaced person do so that their land is returned?
The burden lies on the victim. There is an entire bureaucratic network which makes it very difficult. And there is a containment wall of armed illegal groups making it very difficult to impose restitution demands. The Attorney General is searching for 23 companies and large land owners in Choco that, in the nineties, attempted to take farmer’s land through all types of ruses, assassinations and forced displacement. The Constitutional Court has halted the negotiations of land through a noteworthy action which we salute.
And the adjudication of idle lands that the State has legally given farmers; how much land has been actually given?
Mafia does not permit that the State adjudicates quality land to poor farmers. The State has attempted it. One example involves a group of farmers who received property titles from the hand of the Republic and were told: Go, and enjoy it. One of them men who wanted to go was killed. Later, the entire community was displaced. The Government has seized two million hectares (taken from the mafia) but could only deliver 48,000 to 70,000 to farmers. Ridiculous. This shows the inability of the State to democratize land in a country with the highest inequality in the world. 68% of the best lands are held by .4% of land owners. This is the reason for conflict. Behind the institutionalization lies an embedded mafia which stops any advancement in restitution or adjudication of lands. New paramilitary groups prevent this from occurring.
Do these groups emerge in opposition to guerrilla?
The paramilitary experience of the nineties is presented as a grand strategy in guerrilla combat. But there were few fights between paramilitary and guerrillas and many massacres against the civilian population. The paramilitaries followed the School of the Americas model which in a sense removes the water from the fish: disjointing, creating terror, assassinations, massacres and the displacement of thousands of civilians under the accusation that they make up the social base of the guerrilla. This has not changed. In effect, the massacres of the nineties were conducted in order to control political institutions and allowed for the emergence of these new paramilitary groups which control and secure dispossession and dominance over goods and lands.