NGO Forjando Futuros, which monitors land restitution, found that using terror to accumulate land, a strategy invented by local landowners in the 1980s, eventually became the region’s business culture.
According to the NGO’s database, courts have so far issued more than 21,000 land restitution orders in Antioquia, almost three times as much as in the Cesar province.
Banana plantation owners, particularly the family of suspended Governor Anibal Gaviria, as well as mining companies and companies with agro-industrial projects promoted by President Alvaro Uribe between 2002 and 2010, made terror part of their business plan.
Land speculators became interested in 2007 when Uribe was trying to lobby the construction of the Pan-American Highway between Colombia and Panama.
After former President Juan Manuel Santos had taken over from his far-right predecessor, investigators found that land thieves had stolen or flipped more than 3 million hectares of land, an area the size of Belgium.
Because Colombia’s government never made an effort of formalizing land property, land theft has been a recurring phenomenon throughout history.
Drug traffickers of the Medellin Cartel and large land owners from eastern Antioquia stepped up the practice, often using the purchase and selling of land to launder drug money.
The military’s 17th Brigade helped paramilitary organization AUC in 1997 to carry out the first major land heist of the armed conflict.
“Operation Genesis” gave the paramilitaries control over 25,000 hectares in Uraba, a region in the northwest of Colombia, which was divided between paramilitary commanders or sold to regional businesses.
After Uribe, one of the ranchers from eastern Antioquia, became president in 2002, his promotion of agro-industrial projects spurred even more land dispossession, often through military and paramilitary violence.