By Sebastián Forero Rueda, Colombia+20, EL ESPECTADOR, December 23, 2022

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

The governing board of the National Land Agency has approved the creation of the Sumapaz, Losada-Guayabero, and Güejar-Cafre zones, located in Cundinamarca and Meta Departments. The communities have been requesting them since 2011, and they had to file a civil rights action to obtain the necessary approval.

For 11 years, the petitions for the creation of three new zones reserved for campesinos in Cundinamarca and Meta were reposing on the shelves at the National Land Agency (ANT in Spanish). Nothing serious was done with them. Three presidential terms of stalling, impediments, and obstacles causing the petitioners to wait more than a decade to establish these campesino communities.

Until now. This Friday, the governing board of ANT decided to approve the creation of the three zones. Beginning on December 30, the zones reserved for campesinos (ZRC in Spanish) of Sumapaz (Cundinamarca), of Losada-Guayabero (La Macarena and Uribe in Meta), and of Güejar-Cafre (Puerto Rico in Meta) will exist formally in Colombia.

“It’s a dream come true. Justice is being done,” Hernando Bejarano, spokesman for the Sumapaz Agriculture Workers Union (Sintrapaz), sums it up on our incoming line. The Union promoted the creation of the ZRC in this zone in Locality #20 of Bogotá. Bejarano recounted how there were 11 years of unjustified stalling, and also why there is compliance with a court order issued to the ANT in January of 2021. The order required the agency to create these three zones, after the communities had to file a civil rights action to protect their rights.

The zones reserved for campesinos are geographic areas that are created to promote the campesino economy and where environmental, agro-ecological, and socio-economic, and regional. characteristics are considered. They are intended to allow the transcending of the land conflicts that affect these communities. Their principal objective is to create conditions of social justice in the areas where they are established. According to the Agriculture Ministry, the ZRC help to avoid the concentration of land ownership, they take advantage of unproductive lands, and facilitate rural development policy, among other things.

The proceedings on these three ZRC began in 2011. That year, the three campesino associations (Sintrapaz, Ascal-G, and Agrogüejar), acting independently, formally petitioned the then-Incoder (now ANT) to create the zones. In spite of the fact that during the legal steps, they had complied with all of the requisites, the decision to create the zones never arrived, while the years went by.

Ana Jimena Bautista, a land and campesino life researcher for Dejusticia, an organization that represented the campesino organizations in the civil rights suit against ANT, explains it this way. “We filed the lawsuit in 2020 because the three ZRC were in similar situations. They had already carried out the different steps required in the regulations for the establishment of a ZRC. That means the formulation of a Sustainable Development Plan and a public hearing, so there was nothing left except for the governing board to make the decision. What happened in the three cases was that, in fact, they were just suspended.”

For Bejarano, of Sintrapaz, “What was lacking here, definitely, was political will; the subject of the ZRC has been controversial; there have been a lot of interpretations and there have even been some ideological positions.” He’s referring to the fact that they remember that there were those who, like Álvaro Gómez Hurtado, baptized the zones “independent republics” in the decade of the ‘70’s. According to Bejarano, for example, the Duque administration “was never interested in the ZRC.” In fact, during the four years of his administration, not a single zone reserved for campesinos was approved.

For Elver Medina, the legal representative of the Losada Guayabero Campesino Association (Ascal G), the approval of that ZRC–located in the municipalities of La Macarena and Uribe—“is very important when you keep in mind that the ZRC guarantee the rights of the campesinos in a government in which the rights of the campesino communities have been totally excluded.”

Nevertheless, he says that in their territory it’s been working like a ZRC, “because they already have a whole historical process of organization, not only in subjects like community action boards, and for conservation, we have environmental agreements that we call regulations.” The difference now, he explains, is that the government has to push forward in carrying out the Sustainable Development Plan that the campesino community itself designed, and has to promote all of the initiatives that are embodied in the Plan.

Bejarano says the same thing, and he also explains that in Sumapaz the ZRC is already functioning. “What’s happening is that the official recognition allows us to have access to financing sources for the Sustainable Development Plan, to apply public policies that the national administration adopts, and attract funds, whether from the national budget or from international cooperation.” That really does represent a material change in their situation because up to now, “when you go and ask for something, they say, ‘But are you recognized or not?’ It’s a formality in the regulation. So this is going to allow advances in the improvement in the quality of life of the campesino population in the countryside.”

Just a few days ago, the governing board of ANT also approved the creation of the La Tuna ZRC, located in Santa Rosa (Cauca). This is the first ZRC approved by the Gustavo Petro administration.

“This has everything to do with the recognition of the right to campesino territorial principles, and the fact that that right has been denied in these areas for so many decades and has been so stigmatized, above all because we are talking about Sumapaz, and La Macarena,” reflects Ana Jimena Bautista.

And besides that significance, for her, the potential of this concept is in the sustainable development plans that go along with it. “They are a tool for plans that are constructed from the bottom up, where the communities are saying ‘we need to have the government do this, that, and that’. It’s a great opportunity in terms of constructing planning processes that are put together by the social organizations themselves.”

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