“Land distribution is at the heart of Colombia’s problems,” claimed a leading scholar on Colombia earlier this month.
“Eliminating the high concentration of land in the hands of the few is an essential component of the peace talks,” argued Nazih Richani, author of “System of Violence: The Political Economy of War and Peace in Colombia”.
Richani claimed the, “war system has become entrenched in Colombia because the status quo is too convenient for too many groups.” In particular, he had, “no doubt” the coalition of neo-paramilitary groups and large landowners will attempt to sabotage the peace talks.
One of the most vocal critics of the 2012 peace process has been former president Alvaro Uribe. “What can you negotiate with the narco, with the kidnapper, with the extortionist… The only thing that you can negotiate with them is the submission to justice,” Uribe declared in late August, in reference to FARC.
When asked to comment on Uribe’s outspoken opposition to the peace talks and whether it was linked to land distribution, Richani was emphatic. “Uribe represents the oligarchical past of Colombia, he represents the large landowners and sections of the military, and has the mentality of the caudillo.”
Land ownership and agrarian reform are mentioned together as one of five points up for discussion between FARC rebels and the Santos administration.
Since the war with FARC began in 1964, Colombia’s distribution of land has undergone radical change. Over the past three decades in particular, an increasing share of Colombia’s land has been devoted to speculation and cattle-ranching, rather than agricultural production.
That is, there occurred a transformation in the rural economy whereby food production and other productive sectors had a diminishing role.
While Richani took the view that it is too early to predict the successes and failures of the peace talks, he believed, “Colombia has a historical chance to affect change.” Phase two of the negotiations begin next month in Oslo.