The Colombian Institute for Rural Development (INCODER) has returned property titles to 37 farming families in the Montes de Maria region in northern Colombia.
The title deeds were presented to families from the town of Ovejas, in the department of Sucre, as part of the “Project of Identification of the True Rights of Rural Land and Territory” — overseen by the Land Restitution Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The Colombian government is beginning the process of determining the rights to the property and tenancy of land in Montes de Maria, 100,000 acres of which was stolen by illegal armed groups, private companies, landowners.
Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo Salazar said this is a pilot project to shed light on the history of land deeds and real estate transactions which took place in Montes de Maria between 1991 and 2011.
It aims to clarify exactly who the the Victims and Land Restitution Law should apply to, when it comes into force on January 1 next year.
The law decrees that anyone who had land taken away by force or threat, or was forced to sell their property despite it being on protected land and not being for sale, could get it back once their case has been reviewed.
“The government will act carefully and calmly, without affecting legal stability. In order to do this we need very good information about the legality about the deeds,” said Restrepo Salazar.
Initially the identification process will take place in the municipalities of El Carmen de Bolivar, San Jacinto, Ovejas, and San Onofre.
An alliance of Montes de Maria’s four municipal governments will conduct the identification process in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Land Restitution Unit.
The minister has warned about unscrupulous lawyers who seek to take advantage of displaced people. He reiterated that the process of land reclamation is free and does not require legal representatives.
Restrepo Salazar warned that malicious opportunists would punished with jail time of between eight and 12 years. “This law is for true victims, not for false victims,” said the minister.
According to a government report published October, the land theft took place with the complicity of the Colombian governmental institutions, including officials from INCODER.