How to steal land the size of a small country | Part V: the Medellin elite

Medellin‘s elite and friends of Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe were among the main beneficiaries of the dispossession of more than 3 million hectares of land, an area the size of Belgium.

According to Jairo Bayuelo, a middleman in the gigantic land heist, wealthy families and corporations from Medellin and the surrounding Antioquia province embarked on a land-buying binge in the Montes de Maria region after the military killed FARC commander “Martin Caballero” in the region in 2007.

The Democratic Security land heist

The rebel leader’s death was “part of the first phase of a new war plan to consolidate the Democratic Security plan, the banner of the government of Alvaro Uribe,” military sources told newspaper El Pais.

The military offensive and the paramilitary threats were a goldmine for Bayuelo’s “investor friend” Alvaro Echeverria, a close friend of Uribe and well connected with the rest of the “Paisa” elite.

It wasn’t until 2007 when Martin Caballero was killed that buyers who were not from El Carmen arrived from outside, Paisas more than anything.

Jairo Bayuelo

By 2007, Echeverria had become an expert in making a profit from the war; the rancher told investigators in 2014 that he made his first land acquisition in the Cordoba province in 2001 while AUC paramilitaries were in the middle of a killing spree.

According to Echeverria’s victims, Uribe’s buddy received the help of paramilitary group Bloque Mineros while on a dispossession binge in the Bajo Cauca region in 2002.

Bayuelo said in 2014 that by 2007 Echeverria had involved pretty much half the Medellin elite in the land dispossession racket he was planning in Montes de Maria.

Echeverria is close to Alvaro Uribe, they’re Antioquia’s upper class, they’re hustlers… He and his group of fellow members [of the Paisa elite] got together in a place called “La Frutera” I think, in Medellin. That is how he ended up bringing in other buyers such as Juan Jose Penagos, Manuel Medina, Jairo Avendaño, Elias Hincapie, Guillermo Gaviria, Alberto Uribe [and] Dario Builes.

Jairo Bayuelo

The Paisas asked Bayuelo to be their middleman because he and Echeverria were “friends. I have a lot of friends, a lot of well-known ones.”

Additionally, “they were not from here and needed someone from the village people were familiar with,” the middleman told El Espectador.

There were buyers all over the place. As I have some investor friends, they told me “I want to buy some land,” so I served as their intermediary. I never bought a farm for myself because I don’t have money for that. I earned a commission that was given to me by the buyer.

Jairo Bayuelo

Terrified locals easy prey for the Paisa vultures

In 2008, the military carried out the highest number of attacks in Montes de Maria in the history of the armed conflict, conflict monitor Nuevo Arco Iris reported at the end of that year.

Paramilitaries who had dissented from the demobilization process of their former organization AUC in 2006 additionally were terrorizing the locals, according to a land restitution court.

The extreme violence triggered mass displacement. Echeverria took his Paisa buddies on his latest land heist with the help of their middlemen.

At Bayuelo’s home, neighbors lined up, terrified to the point they would sell their land for anything.

Everyone wanted to sell. My youngest son would enter class at 6:30 in the morning and I would go out to take him to school and when I left, I had to ask permission, the entire porch of my house was full of people with a little bag with the deeds under their arm to sell me the property.

Jairo Bayuelo

Not all the Paisa predator investors turned to Bayuelo, a land restitution court found out.

The family of Antioquia governor Anibal Gaviria, for example, sent attorney Manuel Medina to the homes of terrorized locals to offer to buy their land.

In the particular case of the Sierra family, the reasons that led Mrs. Estela Sierra to sell the property are evident, not only from the horror of the preceding events that occurred, her father’s accident with anti-personnel mines and the forced disappearance of her brother, but the very environment, where the [Gaviria family attorney] claimed were tanks of the army that demonstrate the imminent threat in the region.

Land restitution judge

Colombia’s dysfunctional justice system

The Gaviria family businesses, Echeverria and Cementos Argos were ordered to return some of the land they had bought in the Montes de Maria heist.

Despite a dozen court orders, none of them were ever investigated by the prosecution.

Because victims rights organization Forjando Futuros had enough of the impunity, the NGO filed charges before the International Criminal Court in The Hague in December last year, not just against the Paisa vultures.

At the request of the NGO, the ICC is also looking into state-run oil company Ecopetrol and multinational miners like AngloGold Ashanti from South Africa and Continental Gold from Canada who also made a profit from the heist.

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