A disinformation campaign claiming that small farmers will lose their land as a result of efforts to return stolen land to their rightful owners is causing unrest in northern Colombia.
More than 100 farmers in and around the northern Magdalena Medio region rallied on Wednesday after receiving pamphlets they could lose their land as a consequence of ongoing efforts to return stolen land to displaced conflict victims.
Colombian authorities are currently in the process of seizing land that was obtained through mass displacement caused by paramilitary violence in the 1990s and early this century.
Currently, leftist FARC rebels and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos are in the final stages of negotiating a peace deal that includes a redistribution of land to favor conflict victims and reduce poverty in the countryside.
However, pamphlets spread by anti-restitution groups claiming small farmers’ land would be given to the FARC rather than their victims, spurred heated protests opposing land restitution.
“What’s happening is creating panic. To combat this situation we are meeting with local farmers and the actual property owners, to debunk these myths,” Fabio Camargo, the director general of the Land Restitution Unit said.
The government has tried to counter the misinformation campaign by adding that so far 70 cases have been successfully returned to their original owners, which includes all of the cases in Santander, although this is only 30% of the total cases.
Recently, anti restitution activists and even armed anti-restitution groups are trying to stop farmers re-claiming their lands.
Meanwhile the government has set meetings with local farmers and land owners to try to deprogram them of the idea that they are going to lose their lands to demobilized FARC guerrillas.
With a history of forced land displacement, forced selling, illegal ownership and complex legal issues dating back almost a century, this is likely to remain an extremely difficult task for the government.