Santos Lifts Restrictions on Rural Landholdings

Jorge Enrique Robledo, Bogota, February 18, 2011

Source:  MOIR – Tribuna Roja [Independent Revolutionary Workers’ Movement – Red Tribune]

(Translated by Susan Tritten a, CSN Volunteer Translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, a CSN Volunteer Editor.)

With three economic items in the [National] Development Plan (45, 46 and 47), [President] Juan Manuel Santos and Juan Camilo Restrepo [Minister of Agriculture] are attempting to legalize the idea of concentrating rural lands into ever larger holdings, a move that not even [former Pesident] Alvaro Uribe and Andres Felipe Arias [Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development under Uribe] attempted.

In the dispute over Carimagua it became public knowledge that Uribe and Arias would prefer to hand over 17,000 hectares of the State-owned hacienda to a large investor rather than to a half thousand campesino families, as first planned. They wanted these campesinos, twice stripped of their land, to become peons or share-croppers of the lucky monopolist.  They complained because Law 160 of 1994 did not permit them to use public lands to form large private landed estates “of 40-45,000 hectares,” but they did not dare to propose to Congress a change in the Family Agricultural Unit (UAF).

Law 160 permits laborers and small land holders access to land within the limits of the UAF, defined as the small area that permits one campesino family to live and generate savings.  It also prohibits granting uncultivated State-owned lands to rural landowners and determines that land grants from uncultivated State lands may not be added to other landholdings to form larger properties or corporations, a condition which, for 15 years, has applied also to lands which were originally official agrarian reform grants. 

The [National] Development Plan essentially modifies Law 160/94 to promote the greatest land concentration in the history of the country.  In violation of the Constitution, it dismantles the UAF limitations and permits allotting uncultivated State-owned lands in any area, to any person, landowner or banker, Colombian national or foreigner. It also authorizes that landholdings originating in grants of uncultivated lands or through the agrarian reform may be joined to other lands to form enormous holdings, all according to the goal of Article 63 of the program of Santos’ administration to promote “large agricultural businesses” and of the commitment by Restrepo at the Banking Association to develop [rural] Colombia on the model of the large Brazilian plantation.  As Uribe and Arias also stated in Carimagua, in this project, “preference will be given” to “associations” of peasants with “large producers.”  Wherever this occurs, it will be like letting the fox into the hen house.  And we know that there are at least seven million hectares in Altillanura (Orinoquia) [a high planes area of central, eastern Colombia, on the Orinoco River, in the states of Meta, Vichada, and Casanare], in addition to the rest of the country.  A great big bag of goodies!     

While under current laws, the concentration of rural property is somewhat controlled, Colombia is still one of the countries in the world where land is most concentrated in the fewest hands and more than 30 percent of the rural population lives in misery. What will it be if Santos and big investment capital get their way?  And worse yet, they list the policy as an economic item in the Development Plan and do not propose it as a law that must pass openly through the legislative process. This is in order not to be obligated to explain why they are deepening the bias against the campesino in agriculture, why they prefer monopolists to small- and medium-landholders and how Colombian national lands end up in the hands of foreigners.  Also, doesn’t this wave of land concentration present an enormous risk of stimulating the violence that continues to dominate rural Colombia? 

Although it may not be perceived this way, the Law of Victims and Restitution, like the orientation of the World Bank to transfer estates to “more efficient” producers, are part of the plan to crown the monopoly the king of agriculture.  First, they use restitution to mask their intent to greatly increase rural land concentration. And second, because, in the way it is stated, the Law of Victims leaves key aspects of the project in Santos’ hands — including the possibility of deceiving the country. Also in the law there is nothing to prevent the displaced from losing their restored lands again and ending up attached to the “large agrarian operations” that the Santo-Uribism, or Uribo-Santism, leadership expects to impose. 

This should be a broad national debate and not a back-room deal orchestrated by the same old politicians and plutocrats, who prosper while the country sinks lower and lower.  If the goal they are seeking is reprehensible, it is no less so than Santos’ co-conspirators who, within and outside the government, impede public discussion on an issue of vital importance for the progress of the country and the well-being of the people, more and more the victims of the neoliberal and plutocratic point-of-view on economic and social actions.

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