The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) rolled out plans Monday for a $2 million investment geared toward improving infrastructure and public facilities in Colombia’s Monte de Maria region.
According to IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno, the “Post-conflict Laboratories” initiative will build on the ongoing development projects in the area being spearheaded by the Semana Foundation, a social action group tied to the prominent news publication of the same name.
Moreno called the Semana Foundation’s pilot program in the El Salado community “a great success,” telling the Colombian media Monday that the IDB brought together over 100 public and private investors for the most recent expansion, which it hopes will encourage the Colombian government to direct more funds to the area and spur private investment.
110,000 Displaced People since 1995 in Montes de Maria
The Montes de Maria region, a vast series of hills and mountains that serves as one of the primary agricultural centers in the state of Bolivar and Colombia’s Caribbean coast, was the scene of some of the most gruesome paramilitary violence during Colombia’s 49-year armed conflict.
A 2010 study by Colombia’s Historical Memory group estimated that over 110,000 people had been displaced in the region since 1995. Fifty-four massacres have been reported during the past two decades, and so far some 43 mass graves have been found scattered throughout the mountains.
More than 3,000 people have been reported “missing” in the Montes de Maria region, and many of the corpses that have been uncovered so far display signs of extensive torture.
Starting with the demobilization of the AUC paramilitary group — the most active one in the region — in 2005, and continuing with the 2010 Victims and Land Restitution Law, which established a system of restitution and compensation to Colombia’s displacement victims, steps have been taken to pacify and provide a social fabric for the Montes de Maria region.
Colombia’s “Land Consolidation” strategy, ran in conjunction with United States tactical and financial support, has brought a strong military presence to the coastal mountains and funded substantial “nation building” efforts in a region historically isolated from the reach of both national and state governments.
“Colombia is Involved in an Armed Conflict, There is Nothing ‘Post’ about it”
Many outside observers and local community leaders, however, have insisted that much of the “rebuilding” has, in reality, served as a smokescreen for continuing human rights violations.
Colombian Congressman and opposition political leader Ivan Cepeda has been one of the most outspoken critics of the development efforts. In an interview with Colombia Reports, he said even the term “post-conflict zone,” one used frequently by the Colombian government, the IDB and the Semana Foundation when referring to the Montes de Maria region — is deliberately misleading.
“In this and other areas we have seen the gradual return of paramilitarism,” he said, referring specifically to armed right-wing organizations like Los Rastrojos, who control drug-smuggling routes to the coast in much of Bolivar. “People and groups who have tried to exercise their land rights [as laid out in the Victims Law] have been threatened and even killed by these agents. And still, people are being pressured into abandoning or selling their land to large companies or large landowners. In Colombia we are involved in an armed conflict, the same one we have had for many, many years. There is nothing ‘post’ about it.”
Cepeda has been particularly critical of Argos SA, one of the five biggest companies in Colombia, which he claims has used its status as an official carbon trader under the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism to circumvent the provisions outlined in the Victims Law and “legitimize lands stolen from [small-scale farmers] that are acquired with little transparency.”
Others have spoken out more generally against the underlying motivations for development, which they claim will benefit increasingly profitable and prominent monoculture palm oil plantations in the region — like the one run by Argos — without addressing issues such as land reform or agricultural policy.
The Goal of the IDB is to Spur Private Development
One IDB official working with the project told Colombia Reports he “could not comment on any operations or projects being administered by outside entities,” but said that “the purpose of the investments made on the part of the Bank are to promote sustainable, responsible growth in an area recovering from disaster, and later spread that design to other parts of Colombia and Latin America.”
Investments, he said, will be allocated for the construction of “schools, sports facilities, roads and other basic community structures.”
The official, who asked to remain anonymous because of bank policies, reiterated the need for government programs to complement outside investment, despite confirming that the ultimate goal of the IDB project is to spur private development, which he claimed is “more effective” than the “inefficient and counter-productive” system of government controls and oversight Cepeda and other critics have called for.
Montes de Maria
- Interview with Ivan Cepeda
- Interview with BID Official
- Fundacion Semana website
- “Consolidation,” restitution, and rising tensions in Montes de Maria, Colombia (Just the Facts)
- Colombia: ‘Carbon Credit’ scheme a cover for land grab (GreenLeft)
- Desarrollo rural y problema de tierras en Montes de Maria (Desarrollo Local Sostenible)
- BID entrega US$2millones para que Montes de Maria sean “laboratorios postconflictos” (WRadio)
- Keisuke Nakamura habló de los recursos para la reconstrucción de los Montes de María (WRadio)
- Luis Torres, lider comunitario, hablo sobre la reconstruccion de los Montes de Maria (WRadio)