The land restitution process in Colombia is at risk if the justice system fails to properly punish those guilty of illegal appropriating it, said a Colombian congressman Friday.
In an interview with Caracol Radio, House Representative Ivan Cepeda said, “If what is desired is to really make amends to the victims, justice must punish and make an example of those implicated in the appropriation of lands.”
The lawmaker highlighted the case of Alberto Vasquez, a notary from San Jacinto in department of Bolivar. Vasquez was being investigated for facilitating the massive purchase of land in an irregular manner, but was later freed.
According to Cepeda, this judicial decision “demonstrates that there is a tremendous weakness in the institutions of the department on the Atlantic Coast, which continue to be prisoners of criminal structures.”
“The justice system should review the steps that allowed the notary to be freed. At the same time it is necessary that officials and other persons involved in this case are investigated quickly,” said the congressman.
Almost 7,000 requests for land restitution have been received over the five years since the process began. The Colombian government estimates that close to 350,000 families will have the right to demand land be restored to them.
The country’s Minister of Agriculture, Juan Carlos Restrepo Salazar, said a total of 6,956 applications have been received, with an average claim of 148 acres per petition.
According to Restrepo, lands claimed by people displaced by violence are located in Tibu, close to the Venezuelan border; Puerto Asis, Valle del Guamuez, and Puerto Guzman, both in the department of Putumayo in the southwest of the country; and Rioblanco, in the central Colombian department of Tolima.
The agriculture minister said that the Land Restitution Unit would have 20 regional seats covering 17 departments.