Observatory for Restitution and Regulation of Agrarian Property Rights

By Lina María Ortega Van Arcken, EL ESPECTADOR, August 7, 2021

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

In recent days we have seen the forced displacement of thousands of people in Ituango. In that municipality, located in the Province of Antioquia, displacement has been a constant dynamic that has affected its population in varying ways.

In Ituango, made up of three districts (corregimientos): El Aro, Santa Rita, and La Granja, violence has been the main cause of the displacement. There was a historic presence of FARC guerrillas in the municipality, and at the end of the ‘90’s, the first generation of paramilitary groups moved in, and then later became fully established. The confrontations between the FARC and the paramilitaries were present from 1996 on, when the Castaño brothers carried on a war to the death with the 18th Front of the FARC for control of the settlements in the municipality. That left a high number of victims. The battles were frequent and the people were left in the midst not only of the crossfire, but also of stigmatization and retaliations if they associated with one gang or the other.

The first massive displacement happened in 1997 as a result of the massacre at El Aro. There in that district, the Self-Defense Forces burned everything in sight and committed multiple violations of human rights, which led to the displacement of 800 people. Prior to that massacre was the massacre at La Granja, which took place in 1996 when paramilitary groups, supported by both civilian and military authorities, killed five people. Both cases went to the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, and the Colombian government was sentenced to provide reparations to the victims. But the reparations were affected by the permanent violence and the lack of safe conditions for the inhabitants who wanted to return.

In September of the year 2000 there was another displacement: the paramilitaries burned down the houses of the residents of the canyon at San Pablo, in Riosucio; they killed eight campesinos, stole their belongings, threatened and harassed the people, forcing them to flee to protect their lives.

The paramilitary incursion and the battles with the FARC lasted until the paramilitary groups demobilized in the Justice and Peace process in 2005; however, it wasn’t until 2011 that the Victims’ Law was passed. That started true reparation, and the land restitution process was begun.

The municipality remained under FARC control until the signing of the final Peace Agreement. After the demobilization of the guerrillas, a Normalization Zone was established in the town (vereda) of Santa Lucía. It housed some former combatants who had decided to lay down their arms and reintegrate into society. In spite of that, the violence didn’t stop, because with the power vacuum left by the FARC, FARC dissidents and the Clan del Golfo continued fighting over the control of the territory, mainly because of its importance for their drug trafficking.

As a result, in July of 2017, 23 people of 14 families from the town of San Agustín de Leones were displaced. In addition to the FARC and the Rubén Darío Ávila Front of the Clan del Golfo in Ituango, the ELN-EPL and Los Caparros were also present. Later on, after being threatened by the illegal armed actors in March of 2020, 843 people were forcibly displaced. On that occasion, the Colombian Armed Forces accompanied them, and the victims were able to return to their homes a few days later.

The most recent news reports state that in the first days of August of this year (2021), the number of displaced people in Ituango rose to more than 4,000 after the alarming abandonment of whole towns. The displacements were not just massive, but the people and the families being displaced by the violence in the municipality had done it little by little. This might have resulted from under-reporting of the displacements, especially those that were at the intra-municipal or intra-village level.

Besides the presence of the armed actors, there were problems like the failure to carry out the Complete National Program for Substitution (PNIS). The construction of the Hidroituango megaproject also affected the municipality and had also generated some displacement of the population. For one thing, the Hidroituango energy project is the cause of some social-environmental conflicts. Its launching generated a dispute about natural resources; it did degrade the environment and caused the destruction of the social fabric and of the leaderships. It has promoted violence, as opponents of the megaproject have been threatened or killed, and in addition, the project has been connected to illegal seizures of land.

Also, in the midst of the victimization and the lack of opportunities,  plantings for illegal use have spread in the municipality. It’s located in the mountainous area that borders the Nudo de Paramillo, with its great natural richness, as well as strategic corridors for drug trafficking. In the Municipality of Ituango, there were those who agreed to implementation of PNIS; however, as in the rest of the country, the government has not done its part, and the Army has carried out forced eradications without furnishing the campesinos that grow coca with effective alternatives. That leaves them without any option but to be displaced to another location.

Finally, the case of Ituango is an example of the paradox in which this country finds itself. The reparation for the victims and winning the peace have been turned into a road that has no end, like Achilles and the turtle, as they are trying to reach both ends in the midst of a conflict that keeps going on with new conditions and new actors.

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