By Ariel Ávila, SEMANA, September 3, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
For the current Iván Duque government, land restitution is not a priority; for the governing party, it’s something that ought not to exist.
In the most recent Forging Futures Foundation report on land restitution in Colombia, there are three statistics that really call attention to themselves. On the one hand, “27 companies in Antioquia or registered with the Medellín Chamber of Commerce have been sentenced to return land to victims of land theft, or validated copies of their documents have been ordered sent to the Attorney General’s Office for investigation, covering 115,000 hectares of land.” Among other companies, we see “Cementos Argos, S.A., Uniban de Augura, Banacol de Augura, Bananeras de Urabá de Augura”. This being the case, a large part of the Antioquia business community is going to be questioned and investigated.
The second statistic refers to the general assessment of land restitution; the report states that, of 6.5 million hectares of land stolen, only 377,970 hectares have been restored to their owners; that’s about 5.8%. That is the assessment after nearly a decade after the law was adopted. In fact, one piece of good news is that yesterday, in the Colombian Congress, the Victims Law was one step away from being extended for ten more years, something that victims’ organizations have been requesting. However, the assessment of the restitution program is complicated, even more by the bill introduced by Senator María Fernanda Cabal. It would benefit “good faith third parties”, that’s to say, civilians who are now in possession of the stolen land.
A third piece of information has to do with the victimizers, or the land thieves: according to the court decisions issued up to now, the percentages are as follows:
1% the government
6% unidentified armed groups
22% violent confrontations
That’s to say, according to the court decisions, the largest land thefts have been by the paramilitaries, with more than 50%, followed by the violent confrontations, which means abandonment, and 16% stolen by the guerrillas. It shouldn’t be forgotten that much of that land ended up in the hands of cattle ranchers, business owners, and civilians in general, called “good faith third parties” who say they had no idea the land was stolen or that it was stained with blood. The agenda of the bill proposed by María Fernanda Cabal is to benefit those third parties, that’s to say, legalize the theft and leave the uprooted campesinos helpless.
In a good number of the restitution proceedings there is no opponent, but where there are opponents, many times they are big businesses, which confirms that, in effect, in some regions of the country, we can trace a strategy of conversion of production of agricultural properties. You could even say that there are areas where land theft was used as a strategy by the armed actors for the reconfiguration of rural life.
For the current Iván Duque government, land restitution is not a priority; for the governing party, land restitution is something that ought not to exist, and that’s the reason for the bill proposed by María Fernanda Cabral. It would benefit her personally; don’t forget that her husband, José Félix Lafaurie, has been the President of Fedegan (Colombian Cattle Ranchers Federation), one of the trade associations most often challenged about land theft by violence in Colombia. Besides that, a number of people that financed Cabral’s campaign have agricultural interests and have been in the midst of the debate about land restitution. In short, the bill is a call for impunity and would only benefit those who stole land.
One final thing that has to be said about this subject is that it’s clear that in Colombia there will not be the dreamed-of agricultural reform that reality and the country are calling for; the rural business owners, now in power, won’t allow it. The only way to see that campesinos have land is to have restitution; there is no other alternative.