Representatives of rural communities have called for the formation of a “great, popular social movement” to demand rural reform in Colombia following the four-day Congress on Land, Territory and Sovereignty.
Over 15,000 people attended the congress in Cali, representing indigenous, Afro-Colombian, farmer and worker organizations and social movements from across the country.
The declaration issued by congress organisers late Tuesday laid out their vision for rural reform.
In the document, they called for the formation of the social movement to demand agrarian reform, autonomy for rural communities, an end to the influence of armed groups and protection for the environment.
Polo Democratico senator Ivan Cepeda, who attended the conference, told Colombia Reports, “the purpose of these congresses is to form a powerful force that groups together all the small farmers, the indigenous, the Afro-descendants so they can confront what the government is doing.”
Cepeda added the movement would follow, “peaceful paths but also paths of civil disobedience and active resistance, that are not violent but is a radical resistance.”
The congress debated issues such as poverty and land distribution, highlighting that 1.15% of Colombia’s population owns 52% of the country’s land while in some rural areas poverty levels are as high as 80% to 90%.
It also addressed the intrusion of the conflict into rural areas, which, they said, “profoundly alters the harmony of the communities and nature.”
The declaration stated, “the right to peace can only be achieved if we do it ourselves with resistance to war, the demand that armed actors respect human rights … and direct action to demilitarize our communities.”
Participants also debated development in rural areas and the impact of infrastructure projects, agro-business and extractive industries.
According to the congress declaration, “although victims of development and displacement, our communities have become defenders of the sovereignty that the state – which should guarantee it – has left in the hands of ‘investor confidence’.”
After three days of talks, the congress culminated in a march on Tuesday in the municipality of Cajamarca to protest against South African mining company Anglo Gold Ashanti, who they accuse of destroying the environment and damaging communities.
The congress followed last week’s publication of the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) report into the need for rural reform.
Senator Cepeda said, “the important thing is that there is an agrarian reform, for this you have to welcome the UN’s report, but for us this has to be a reform from below.”
After the publication of the UNDP report, the government announced it was considering its proposal to tax unproductive or underutilized lands of big landowners.
Cepeda criticized the plan, saying, “the government has a plan that … doesn’t have anything to do with a reform but with handing over large properties to multinationals.”
Cepeda called on the government to respect different cultures and ways of living and producing and to enter into “respectful and participatory” dialogue with rural communities.
He said, “[the state] has to guarantee life, integrity and dignity for these communities.”