By César Jerez, REVISTA RAYA, October 12, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Two opposite poles ended up signing the “Agreement for the Implementation of Peace in the Countryside”. The direct purchase of lands for the building of Integrated Rural Reform. On the one hand, there was the former guerrilla who was complaining about the paramilitaries’ large narco land holdings. He made that complaint in election campaigns, in Congress, and in the public plazas, urging that those wealthy narco landowners were victimizers and a liability for the development of this country.
On the other hand, the man who personifies the feudalism of the great cattle ranching haciendas, who does not precisely represent the large estates, but rather the landlords, who with capital from both good and evil sources, has used blood and fire to re-concentrate so much land and so much power, so as to be able to put more cattle than people on our geography, installing one cow per hectare in 38 million hectares of the 114 hectares that the country possesses.
The Agreement conceives of an idyllic scenario, a paradoxical and Macondo-like photograph, starring the two coasts of the Caribbean. As idyllic as it is to try to overcome the antagonism of the land between Santander and Bolívar; between conservative landowners and liberal campesinos; between communist guerrillas and traditional political clans associated with the drug traffickers; between great cattle-ranching haciendas, plantations, and Campesino Reserve Zones.
The Agreement represents a positive and comforting message for an economic and political sector associated with the emergence of the most recent version of paramilitarism in Colombia, as until this Agreement, that sector worried about the self-inoculated phantom of expropriation.
But what ought to be worrying them, and worrying us, is their own history. It was at the beginning of the ‘80’s when funds and associations of cattle ranchers of Magdalena Medio, along with party machines and Army Generals, promoted the creation of paramilitary gangs in that region.
That’s how in January of 1980, the Campesino Association of Cattle Ranchers and Farmers in Magdalena Medio (ACDEGAM) was issued its legal status. Political leaders such as Iván Roberto Duque, known afterwards as the political organizer of the AUC, “Ernesto Báez”; Pablo Emilio Guarín, a Deputy in the Liberal Party; Luis Rubio, Mayor of Puerto Boyacá at one time; and General Farouk Yanine Díaz, later known as the “pacifier of Magdalena Medio, gathered to join the Association. All of them, in the final analysis, are the founders of the Campesino Self-Defense Forces of Magdalena Medio. With the joint financing of Victor Carranza and Gonzálo Rodríguez Gacha, along with the Death to Kidnappers group (MAS), founded by the Medellín cartel, they furnished the first paramilitary instruction courses, led by the Israeli mercenary, Yair Klein.
The result of this anti-subversive combination is measured by massacres (the 19 merchants in Puerto Araujo, La Rochela, Segovia) and by the first genocidal murders of the Patriotic Union Party in the region. Later on, this model was brought to Urabá and was converted into the largest paramilitary structure in the country, protected by the agencies of the government: the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).
The relationship between the cattle ranchers and the paramilitaries was a tight one from this beginning; it was never broken, and makes up part of the history of political violence in Colombia. For example, it was learned more recently through testimony before a Peace and Justice Magistrate by the former Governor and Former Manager of the Córdoba Cattle Ranchers Fund, that there had been a meeting between José Félix Lafaurie, the President of Fedegán, and Salvatore Mancuso in Montería. During the meeting, Lafaurie requested that the paramilitary chieftain provide support to obtain the election of Mario Iguarán as Attorney General, in exchange for indulgent treatment of the members of the AUC. The ranchers’ leader, as compensation, asked that his wife, María Fernanda Cabal, be appointed to a high position in the Attorney General’s Office, and she did receive such an appointment.
In testimony from the United States, Mancuso characterized the alliance with Fedegán and the cattle ranchers’ funds as “a kind of a working, political, and military alliance that extended farther than Colombian society had ever imagined.” About the plundering of land, Mancuso related that “the Córdoba Cattle Ranchers’ Fund certainly appropriated land illegally in the Tulapas case between 1995 and 1997.” Later, on August 4, 2022, before the Truth Commission, Mancuso asserted that “using intimidation, we bought properties for 25,000 pesos in Urabá and Córdoba, and we sold 8,000 hectares to the Córdoba Cattle Ranchers’ Fund, and that’s how we created an economic bubble,” he said.
The former manager of the Córdoba Cattle Ranchers’ Fund corroborated that in his testimony before Peace and Justice: “cattle ranchers, stockholders, and directors of the Fund supported the proposal by the Castaño family to acquire properties in Urabá by using plunder.”
The cases described in Magdalena Medio and Córdoba illustrate the model of land plunder and the profitable alliance between the paramilitaries and the large cattle ranchers to plunder properties, carry out illegal businesses, and accumulate political power, using a model that can now be seen replicated all over the country.
Therefore, the Agreement can be seen as a consensus of opponents toward the implementation of the land Fund of the Peace Agreement with the FARC and as an indication of the achievement of peace in the countryside, but behind Fedegán, there is a history of violent land plunder, of unsuccessful restitution to the victims of the plunder, who to this day are called “false claimants” by the cattle ranching leaders.
In his testimony regarding the Agreement, Lafaurie insisted on “the Rule of Law”, the same thing they are demanding in the SAC (Colombian Agricultural Society) and Fedepalma (Federation of Palm Growers), where we find other plunders, adding up to at least 1 million hectares snatched from campesino families in the recent decades. Rule of law that in plain language amounts to the exercise of property rights over the victims of the plunder.
Lafaurie doesn’t like to recognize the campesinos; he says that beyond dignifying life in the country, a rural middle class must be constituted, one of agroindustry, of plantations and cattle ranching haciendas made sustainable with tax funds and proletarianized day laborers. He speaks of sustainable cattle ranching on 20 million hectares, when only 8 million hectares are suitable for cattle ranching.
Putting Lafaurie and his trade association of land plunderers in the center, legitimizing him as one to articulate and manage the execution of the Land Fund, even as a technical aide in his new expertise in sustainable cattle ranching with forest grazing, does not honor the victims or make reparations to them.
What we need is this: for the Land Fund and its distributions to function, and for that to happen, we first have to solve the structural problems. Guaranteeing the rights of the campesinos in protected areas, forest reserve areas, and the páramos; complying with the constitution of the Campesino Reserve Zones; financing their sustainable Development Plan and making use of the limit on extension of properties into its interior; executing completely the Integrated Rural Reform and its sectoral plans; carrying out completely the crop substitution agreements with the municipal PISDA’s; implementing a public policy of agency accompaniment of the campesino economy; setting up a national program of technical assistance; modernizing and furnishing capital for an agrarian bank; promoting a network of agricultural and campesino markets, anchored to the purchase and government distribution of foods as a starting point.
The agreement to carry out the Integrated Rural Reform must be for those who have no land (because they have never had land or because their land was stolen from them), for the campesinos and for the indigenous and Afro-Colombian people who had no rights but who have changed the country’s economy from the coffee, cacao, cane, and rice farms, planting their food with their own hands, without access to credit, without technical assistance, without price supports, without roads, and without marketing logistics. Without anything, up to now.