By Colombia 2020, EL ESPECTADOR, June 24, 2020


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The Superior Tribunal in the Montería Judicial District has determined that the 862 hectares that the Cabrales family acquired judicially in Córdoba, in the worst years of paramilitary control in the region, are really uncultivated land belonging to the Colombian government. The decision, one that affects the current Colombian Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Daniel Alberto Cabrales, and his family, has already been contested.

In a recent decision, the Superior Tribunal in the Montería Judicial District recognized that the 862 hectares that the Cabrales family acquired judicially in Córdoba are not their property, because they are really uncultivated property belonging to the government. The organizations Dejusticia and Verdad Abierta[1]  filed the complaint in February. The court’s decision has already been contested. It affects the current Colombian Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Daniel Alberto Cabrales Castillo (former Senator from the Democratic Center Party in the period 2014-2018) and his father, Manuel Prisciliano Cabrales Lacharme, and his sister and brother, María Patricia and Cristóbal José.

This means that the 13 parcels in the towns (veredas) of Alto Viento and El Ratón in the District (corregimiento) of San Felipe de Cadillo, in Tierralta (Córdoba Province), that were acquired by the Cabrales family in the years of paramilitary control of the region, and by means of a legal concept known as “extraordinary limitation period to acquire ownership by possession”, really belong to the Colombian government.

According to the Tribunal, these lands are lands that cannot be acquired by possession and are outside of the market. Because of that, it is not enough for people to establish the fact that they have occupied or exploited the land for years in order to have it be recognized as their property, unless an agriculture authority verifies that they are eligible under agrarian reform: i.e. a campesino without land or with insufficient land. In that case they can acquire ownership by possession.

But that would not be the case here, as the National Land Agency (ANT in Spanish), stated after learning about this investigation. For that reason, the ANT filed a civil rights action against Civil Branch 4 of the Montería Circuit, which on September 1, 2009 had certified ownership to the Cabrales. The civil rights action alleged that the court had violated the rights of the Colombian nation.

In this context, the Superior Tribunal of the Montería Judicial District concluded that the ANT position was correct. It’s a trial level decision that will be reviewed by the Civil Branch of the Supreme Court of Justice. The Tribunal concluded that “the parcels had not been registered and as a result there was no title of ownership. The judge did not go into specifics, believing, reasonably, that the property might consist of one or more uncultivated properties” according to the decision.

When this newspaper contacted him, the lawyer for the Cabrales family, William Quintero Villarreal, argued that he contested the decision for several reasons. One of them is procedural, as, for example, the lapse of time in the filing of the civil rights action. “Even though the statute does not establish a time limit, it does require a reasonable time. The decision that it seeks to overturn was made in 2009, so we’re talking about eleven years later. They allege that they only found out about the decision in a Verdad Abierta publication of February 20 of this year. We do not agree with that because Sr. Prisciliano Cabrales had filed an application for voluntary sale of the land with the National Land Agency in 2017. The agency made a legal examination of the proposal and determined that it could not be granted because there was an issue of whether or not the parcels were uncultivated land, and it therefore denied the application. With this history, from 2017 to 2020, three years have gone by, how can they say they just found out about it in the newspaper,” was his comment.

As to the complete argument, about whether his clients can prove from whom they bought each of the parcels, adding up to 860 hectares, Quintero pointed out, “the civil rights action asks that the judge that issued the decision in 2009 take the case back and study whether the land is uncultivated or not.” The Ambassador’s father had already contacted the court in Montería to demonstrate his good faith in purchasing the “improvements” to the land in 2003, and that campesinos occupied it, although they had no titles to the property. “The history is that this land was settled; there were settlers there. There were people who had been in possession of that land for 30, 35 years and they were exploiting it economically. When those men arrived in the area, in 2003,  they took and presented the offer to purchase the parcels and effectively, every person that was interested in the area sold to the Cabrales family,” Quintero said. But the context of violence in the region in those years will be unfavorable to that hypothesis.

In fact, according to an ongoing investigation by Dejusticia and a constitutional rights group from the National University, the majority of land titles for uncultivated land (there are 3,442 cases in Córdoba alone), with stretches of land more than 100 hectares, were concentrated in municipalities in Córdoba, such as Montelivano, Puerto Libertador, Ayapel, and Tierralta in the worst years of violence and paramilitary control.

“The majority of the cases, 57% of them, took place between 2008 and 2013, right in the middle of the rearming of the paramilitary groups. However, between 1999 and 2000, the delivery of land by civil judges increased by 409%. That means, the judges increased the delivery of land to private individuals from 273 hectares to 1,117 hectares. That period is important because what the Land Restitution Unit has shown up to now is that evictions peaked at that time. The paramilitary forces, in association with the political elites and the ranchers in that region had already coopted the public authority and the government entities in those municipalities,” states the document submitted by Dejusticia and the National University to the Superior Tribunal of the Judicial District of Montería.

According to the paramilitaries’ own testimony in Peace and Justice proceedings, Salvatore Mancuso, in the Granda Agreement signed in March 2000 in Tierralta, had even designated who the Mayors would be in that municipality in the next three terms: Sigifredo Senior (Liberal Party), Humberto Santos Negrete (Colombia Alive Movement), and Aníbal Ortíz Naranjo (Liberal Party).

It has also been proved in court that the same thing happened at the provincial level. The most talked-about case was the one of the former governor of Córdoba and Congressional Representative for the same region, Juan Manuel López Cabrales. He was a politician from the Liberal Party who signed the Pact of Ralito (a secret pact, signed in 2002 between paramilitary chieftains and more than fifty politicians from different regions, allied with this criminal power). He was later convicted by the Supreme Court of Justice for criminal conspiracy in the case known as “parapolitica”.[2]

“That gentleman is a distant relative of Manuel Prisciliano and of Daniel Cabrales

(Colombia’s Ambassador to the Dominican Republic),” a leader in the region said to this newspaper. The attorney, William Quintero Villarreal also confirmed that. “In those days, the registrations in Córdoba were a legal plunder, using the judges and submitting the documents to the Colombian Institute for Agrarian Reform (Incora in Spanish). In Tierralta, specifically, in the year when Manuel Prisciliano bought the land from the campesinos, the restitution decisions show that the paramilitaries, or a straw man, managed all of the activities, and that’s what Salvatore Mancuso admitted in his Peace and Justice testimony. The objective was to get hold of the land that the campesinos had received from Incora as part of the agricultural reform,” was the conclusion of the investigation by Dejusticia and the National University.

[1] Dejusticia (Justice) is a legal nonprofit organization and Verdad Abierta (Open Truth) is an information site.

[2] “Parapolitica” is a Spanish expression for the illegal alliances between politicians and paramilitaries.

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