Thousands of displaced farmers in central Colombia can start the process of trying to return to their homes, with the opening of a new Land Restitution Unit in Tolima.
The region is one of 12 zones deemed top priority by the government as it begins the implementation of its historic Victims and Land Restitution Law, aiming to restore land to Colombia’s millions of displaced people and compensate victims of human rights abuses.
Tolima has been badly affected by the years of armed conflict in Colombia, with almost 23,000 people displaced by the FARC and paramilitaries.
“This figure does not reflect the magnitude of the problem in the department,” said Lucy Espitia, head of the unit. Despite the region’s huge number of displaced, this year’s goal for its land restitution unit is more modest, at 1,600 claims. The process is extremely difficult and lengthy, given that much rural land has no record of ownership. Aside from the problems proving that they are the rightful owners of land, applicants also have to demonstrate to the government that they are going to do something ‘useful’ with the land — for instance use it to cultivate one of a list of government-approved crops.
One case that is likely to grab attention is that of a farmer who claims he was asked to vacate his land by the late FARC leader “Alfonso Cano”, real name Guillermo Leon Saenz Vargas, as reported by newspaper El Espectador. Cano supposedly offered the man over $28,000 to give up his farm in 2011. Days later an emissary returned to the farm with only $3,400. Despite refusing to leave his home, the farmer was allegedly forced out without receiving payment before the death of Cano in November, 2011. The man remains displaced from his home, and hopes to return shortly.