Government figures on land restitution have been branded “misleading” over apparent discrepancies between the target set by President Juan Manuel Santos and estimates released by the Ministry of Agriculture (MADR).
According to Radio Caracol, while Santos has declared the newly implemented Victims’ Law will restore 750,000 hectares to 220,000 families over the next four years, MADR projections only account for helping 160,000 families in the same period, therefore reducing the amount of land returned.
The Victims’ Law was signed by Santos last June, with the stated purpose of bringing respite to the estimated four million people affected by the internal conflict in Colombia, including two million people driven from their property by violence. The law officially came into force on January 1 this year.
According to opposition senator Jorge Enrique Robledo, the discrepancy is due to the government combining the figures of land to be reclaimed from illegal groups with vacant land which will be turned over to production.
But government officials insist that the goal of returning two million people to their homes remains in place and any apparent inconsistency is irrelevant.
Justice Minister Juan Carlos Esguerra told Radio Caracol, “We want first that the displaced return to their homes, second that they return to land they are lawfully entitled to, third that we provide titles where needed, and fourth that we provide the necessary security.”
The government also pointed out that last year’s target of 865,000 hectares was exceeded, with 892,000 hectares returned.
The news comes a day after Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo told El Tiempo that the government will be organizing a series of marches in ‘vulnerable areas,’ such as the Atlantic coastal region, where the groups responsible for illegally requisitioning land still hold considerable sway.
These include left-wing guerrilla groups such as the FARC and right-wing neo-paramilitary groups, many of which stem from the paramilitary groups in operation prior to demobilization in 2003.
Restrepo said, “Agricultural policy and land restitution have a few enemies in the country, but have many friends and supporters. These marches are intended to give mainstream voices a space to be heard and tell the national and international community that the vast majority of Colombians support the process.”
One of the major criticisms directed at the policy of land redistribution is the continued influence of groups expected to violently oppose it.
Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras last month said that anyone identified with killing civilians pursuing land reclamation are now “military targets of the armed forces.”