Prosecutor claims ‘displaced’ families plotted to defraud state

The Las Pavas farming community and international NGOs have been accused of staging a set-up to defraud the Colombian state, in one of the country’s most famous land restitution cases.

Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office says Las Pavas farmers lied about receiving threats from paramilitaries and may have misappropriated land that they returned to six months ago.

The Las Pavas community, which formed the Farmers Association of Buenos Aires (Asocab) to represent itself, won the right to return to a 3,200 acre estate in a Constitutional Court ruling earlier this year — in a case backed by NGOs including British-based Christian Aid and Colombia-based Magdalena Medio Peace and Development Programme.

They had been forcibly removed from the land by Colombian riot police in 2009 following an eviction order obtained by the Daabon palm oil company. Jesus Emilio Escobar, Pablo Escobar’s uncle, originally owned the land but had abandoned it, according to Asocab, then sold the land to Daabon in 2007.

Asocab say the community was threatened by paramilitaries over many years, before, during and after Daabon’s involvement. The Prosecutor General’s Cartagena officer, Myriam Martinez Palomino, says their claims have now been thrown into doubt by a man named Pedro Moreno Redondo, reportedly one of Asocab’s former leaders, who says he lied to authorities about the threats.

Palomino says Redondo has now stated that “neither the AUC, nor any other bloc or command,” had arrived at Las Pavas, and they had not caused “the displacement of anyone.”

Given that the forced removal was carried out by paramilitaries but by police, following a court order obtained by Daabon, it is unclear how these new allegations affect the farmers’ rights to the land.

The land was not restored to them on the basis they had been threatened or displaced by paramilitaries, but on the basis that the court order obtained by Daabon was illegitimate.

Palomino has also accused Asocab of fraudulent receiving compensation from the Presidential Program for Social Action (Accion Social).

Palomino said, “In this case we are wrong about the existence of forced displacement, reported by national and international NGOs for Asocab members. In this case, the opposite happened. In good faith the allegedly displaced families from Las Pavas received an abundance of humanitarian aid from Accion Social, without us establishing whether or not we were in the presence of the crime of forced displacement.(…)

“What the Prosecutor has uncovered is a set-up orchestrated against the Colombian state to discredit it internationally and financially benefit [in the process].”

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the Prosecutor General’s case was “very important and sounds alarms about the care the state must take to avoid — while we begin to implement the Victims’ and Land Restitution Law — vultures getting their way and preventing benefits from reaching those who should be receiving them.

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