By Valentina Parada Lugo, EL ESPECTADOR, December 24, 2023

(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Gerardo Vega, Director of the National Land Agency (ANT), was sure that the two complaints alleging malfeasance in office by omission had focused on the former directors of ANT. Up to now, none of them had been formally linked to the investigation.

Although Gerardo Vega, Director of the National Land Agency (ANT), had been criticized for the fact that he had claimed the formalization of more than 1.4 million hectares, when he was asked about it, he held fast to the number.

Although for the Agriculture Ministry, the amount of formalization is just a little more than 320,000 hectares. Vega insists that, in a number of cases, the previous administration has closed them without completing them. “That’s like an individual inheriting something but has never been notified. Or like a person for whom the EPS has ordered a surgery, but it’s never performed,” he commented.

The first case related to the criminal complaint, which EL ESPECTADOR has seen, is the land restitution decision favoring Sr. Félix Alfonso Rincón in the Municipality of Puerto Gaitán (Meta Department). According to the document, even though the decision is dated January 12, 2017, ordering Incoder (now ANT) to award 86 hectares to the claimant, the decision was only finally complied with on August 4, 2023. That was in spite of the fact that the decision gave the agency only 45 days to commence the restitution process, “but six years went by,” Vega declared.

The Attorney General’s Office has received another 78 cases just like that one to add to the record it’s building for alleged malfeasance by omission. In the complaint there are others related to Directors of agencies like Assistant Director for Access to Land Through Litigation and Relief, Access to Land in Focalized Zones, and their legal offices during the last six years.

The current Director explained, “What we’ve been trying to do is to map the cases where there has been unjustified delay, and also to close the cases by formalizing the parcels of land.”

Although their hypotheses about the possible delays in concluding the cases are just speculation, he mentioned that the agency has official information to the effect that former President Iván Duque “liked to have big events for delivering titles, but if there was no big event, they didn’t do the formalization and the people didn’t obtain access to ownership of the land.”

But beyond the technical and statistical discussion that he had with the Minister Jhenifer Mojica about the figures and the results in August of this year, he said that his predecessors had gone forward with several of formalization procedures, but “they failed to take the final step, which was to turn over the title to the family so they could make use of it, right now, the property!” He’s referring to 73 land restitution decisions and more than 500,000 hectares where titling cases were commenced between 2016 and the first half of 2022, but that, according to ANT resolutions, they were only finally carried out in the first half of 2023.

The complaints deal with those events. The first one was filed July 31 of this year and the second on September 25; for both of them, the Attorney General’s Office has already asked Vega for more information and is keeping copies of the records. This newspaper was able to confirm that the two former ANT Directors (Myriam Carolina Martínez Cárdenas, 2018-2022, and Miguel Samper Strouss, 2016-2018) have been notified that they are connected to the case.

In all the cases, ANT’s legal representatives argued that alerts were created because “in spite of an order that was to be complied with, the record shows a considerable time, sometimes more than two or three years, was the period in which there was no resolution of adjudication that would demonstrate complete compliance with the order,” reads one of the documents.

There are several cases where they are even investigating the possible responsibility of former officials of the Colombian Institute for Rural Development (Incoder), which functioned until 2016, for cases that were left in their final phases, but where nearly a decade passed before the land was made available to the families. In Mampuján (Montes de María, Bolívar Department), for example, there were land restitution cases all over the region. And one of the most iconic is the case of the victims of the Las Brisas massacre in the year 2000.

In that case, one of the claimants is Sra. Etelinda García Rodríguez, because the paramilitaries murdered her husband and two of her children. The case reached Justice and Peace and the truth-seeking process led to confronting Edward Cobos, known during the war as “Diego Vecino”; in fact, the restitution decision in her favor is dated June 26, 2014, and the responsibility of the ANT in the case was suspended for nearly a decade and barely commenced the stage of a final resolution until last June 28, nine years after the court order.

Another of the cases cited is that of the Pérez Barrios family, in Carmen de Bolívar. According to the ANT, even though a favorable decision had been issued by Branch 3 of the Civil Court Circuit in 2016, and ratified in 2020, there is no sign of a document indicating that she and her relatives had been notified. That was in spite of the fact that the court order indicated that the case was to go forward withing ten business days.

The document in the hands of the prosecutors stated that compliance with the resolution took place only last September 22. “There is no information as to the date of notification of the decision, but two memoranda showed that the legal office had been asked to adjust the decision, because it did not specify the area that corresponds to each of the beneficiaries because there were inconsistencies in the document numbers.” For these cases, which are described in detail in a 57-page document, the current management of the National Land Agency asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate to determine whether there is conduct of omission by the former officials and the former Directors of the agency that is punishable in some of these cases. In a document, which this newspaper has seen, there is evidence that the case is active, and was assigned to the sectional prosecutors’ office #70 in Bogotá last August 8. The Inspector General’s Office, for its part, has no open files on this.

Miguel Samper, former Director of ANT, confirmed to this newspaper that he has not been notified of any connection. “I don’t think that this has been for any actions of mine, because if Dr. Vega wants me to explain anything about my management, he only has to pick up the phone and ask me about it,” he said. About the criminal process that’s going on, Samper said that the current Director did not show willful or criminal intent to commit a crime by the former Director. That means offering proof that shows they failed to do their jobs with a particular intention.

What we know is that in the National Land Agency storage rooms there are tons of documents and titles that have not been turned over to the beneficiaries. According to Gerardo Vega, In the last 15 months, they have signed 10,997 titles that were in the system during previous administrations. “We found those titles, we, with our budget, with our work, and we delivered them. “It’s as if they built just half of a bridge, but they didn’t finish it.” While the administrative procedures continue, the prosecutors will continue the investigation of the former Directors.

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