Colombians marched Tuesday to protest the lack of security for land theft victims and their leaders, reported local media.
Demonstrations took place in at least 20 cities throughout Colombia, protesting about the ongoing threats against those fighting to restore stolen land to its rightful owners.
Since the inauguration of the government of President Juan Manuel Santos in August 2010, more than 20 leaders of farmers trying to reclaim stolen land have been murdered, without a single arrest. Colombia has the largest number of internally displaced people in the world, followed the decades of conflict between between left-wing guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries and the Colombian state.
The Victims and Land Restitution Law, which came into force at the beginning of this year, aims to return land to the displaced, but critics, including the UN, say the law is ineffective when criminal groups seeking to maintain control of territory continue to threaten and murder those trying to reclaim it.
Congressman Ivan Cepeda told Colombia Reports from a march in the northern city of Monteria that “Colombia needs land reform and part of that is returning land to displaced victims,” he said. “Santos says he will do this but we don’t see results.”
Cepeda accused the government of favoring wealthy ranchers and international businesses over land victims and failing to protect land victims in areas heavily influenced by paramilitaries.
Cepeda said the problem of paramilitary intimidation of land victims remained because of, “a lack of effort by the government. [Paramilitary groups] who have kept victims’ land have military and economic power. The solution requires strong action by the government.”
Speaking to the safety of those seeking their stolen land Cepeda said, “The victims are in a very grave situation. Right now there are people protesting in Monteria with masks on. They don’t want their faces seen because of reprisals. […] Those who march today are very brave.”