European lawmakers sent a letter to Colombia’s congress in which they rejected plans to complicate war victims’ efforts to reclaim land the size of Belgium that was dispossessed during the armed conflict.
Congress is currently debating a proposal from President Ivan Duque’s party to hinder victims’ efforts to reclaim more than 3 million hectares of land — an area the size of Belgium — they say was stolen or dispossessed during the country’s armed conflict.
Sell me your land or I will buy it off your widow.
The proposal to amend the 2011 Victims and Land Restitution Law can count on the support of the president who on campaign promised to protect “private property of landowners and corporations” they bought “in good faith” from land thieves and fencers.
How to steal land the size of a small country and get away with it | Part I
“Uribistas” vs war victims
According to a group of 12 European lawmakers, the proposal of far-right Senator Maria Fernanda Cabal (Democratic Center), would “deny the legitimate right of victims, and instead give priority to agro-industrial projects and foreign investments in extractive sectors, on lands that have been dispossessed in the context of the Colombian armed conflict.”
Cabal and Duque want to change the law so that those who refuse to return dispossessed land property no longer have to prove they acted in “good faith.”
Instead, the burden of proof will lie with the victims, who would have difficulty proving they did not sell their land voluntarily, but were coerced through violence.
The paramilitary project
Paramilitary groups that were financed by businessmen and politicians displaced millions of Colombians between 1995 and 2010, clearing approximately 15% of the country’s total land mass.
At least one third of these lands were subsequently sold for a fraction of their real value and in some cases without approval of the original owners or occupants.
How much land was really stolen is unclear because many displaced farmers are too afraid to reclaim their old lands; dozens who tried have been assassinated.
We have seen how more than 50 social organizations and victims of the armed conflict have raised their concerns in a statement dated 23 October, 2018, in which they reject the content of the bill because it denies the cry of conflict victims over land restitution, which includes the need to expedite stalled restitution processes, and to extend the validity of the law that is set to expire without having guaranteed the rights of a significant number of victims.
Members of European Parliament
We hope that you will choose to withdraw this project as requested by victims’ organizations because it is about the issue that affects their survival in more than one point of view: the access to land that they have been deprived of by the armed conflict.
Members of European Parliament
The president’s political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe, and their party have opposed Colombia’s peace process and the previously agreed victims law.
Duque even went as far as to appoint the former representative of palm oil companies, one of the sectors that benefited most from the mass displacement, as head of the Land Restitution Unit, the agency in charge of returning land to displaced farmers.
How to steal land the size of a small country and get away with it | Part II
The group of Members of European Parliament reminded Colombia’s Congress that the “peace agreement reached in Colombia” is “registered as an international treaty before the United Nations,” implying that a failure to comply with the 2016 peace deal with demobilized FARC guerrillas and war victims could lead to international sanctions.