Colombia court orders top companies to return land stolen from displaced victims

A Colombian court has ordered 19 companies, including the country’s largest bank, to return lands that were stolen in Colombia’s armed conflict and ended up in the hands of private businesses, reported news website Las 2 Orillas Thursday.

During the conflict, an approximated 15% of Colombia’s national territory was stolen after the forced displacement of some 7 million Colombians, a practice called “para-economics” that has implicated more than 10,000 companies.

Para-economics explained

In many cases, small farmers were either forced to abandon their land by death squads or were displaced by combat, after which their properties ended up in the hands of large landowners and ranchers, but also huge companies and multinationals.

Colombia’s obstacles for peace: returning the 15% of national territory that was stolen in the war

Among those companies sentenced to return the stolen land are Colombia’s largest bank Bancolombia, multinational gold mining company AngloGold Ashanti, the country’s largest cement company Cementos Argos and a number of banana and palm oil companies, long accused of ties to paramilitary death squads.

Implicated companies

  • Argos (cement)
  • AngloGold Ashanti (gold mining)
  • Bancolombia (banking)
  • CL Banana (banana cultivation)
  • Sociedad Las Palmas (palm oil  cultivation)
  • Palmas de Bajira (palm oil  cultivation)
  • Todo Tiempo (agriculture)
  • Sociedad Aropcuaria Carmen de Bolivar & Agropecuaria Genesis (agriculture)
  • A. Palacios SAS (agriculture)
  • Sociedad Montecarmelo (agriculture)
  • Sociedad Agropecuaria W2 (agriculture)
  • Agroservicios San Simon (agriculture)
  • Joge Herrera and Sons (agriculture)
  • Tocoloa (agriculture)
  • Urballanos Cia (construction)

The sentence of Land Tribunal affects about 53,821 hectares of approximately 8 million hectares of land that were illegally acquired by companies and individuals, some of whom are also in legal trouble for financing the paramilitary death squads that subsequently spurred the displacement.

Among the companies in major legal trouble over financing the death squads are multinational companies as big as Coca-Cola and Chiquita Brands.

Coca-Cola facing terrorism support charges in Colombia

Both victim organizations and former paramilitary commanders have confirmed that the country’s mass dispossession of land became one of paramilitary organization AUC’s main objectives particularly in agricultural and gold-rich regions like Uraba, the region where aforementioned companies illegally acquired land stolen from displaced farmers.

In some of these cases, economic rather than public safety motives were allegedly behind joint military and paramilitary like the 1997 “Pacification of Uraba” that was ordered by then-governor Alvaro Uribe, who would later become president and is now the primary opponent of peace with the FARC.

Uribe formally presents proposals to revive Colombia peace deal

The former president faces war crime allegations over the “Pacification of Uraba” that has already led to the incarceration of the general who carried out the operation.

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