Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Colombians Fight Against Land-glab

SOYMB recently blogged on the struggle by Columbian workers to combat deterioriating conditions. A struggle to reclaim land stolen by land-grab  also continues unabated.

The struggle for land has been a cause and consequence of five decades of conflict in Colombia, where 52% of rural property lies in the hands of just 1.15% of landowners, according to the United Nations Development Programme. A lukewarm attempt at land reform in the 1980s led to a violent backlash and the rise of paramilitary forces, who drove hundreds of thousands of peasants from their homes.  Around 23,000 sq miles of land have been stolen or abandoned since 1991. Much of it has ended up in the hands of national and international agribusiness or mining concerns, former and current combatants, or farmers with close relations to the armed groups responsible for the clearances. Those who  are trying to reclaim that land face violent reprisals. More than 43,500 claims have been filed for 11,000 sq miles since the programme began in mid-2011. The government has given itself 10 years to ensure the return of all the stolen and abandoned land, but many claimants are anxious about the slow pace of the process. "So I'm supposed to walk around with a bulletproof vest for 10 years while my land is returned?" asked one claimant, who requested anonymity.

"In Colombia, trying to get your land back often means assuming risk and living in fear," said José Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch director for the Americas. A new report from the organisation documents 21 murders since 2008 in which researchers found "compelling evidence" that the attacks were motivated by land claims. Dozens of other cases suspected of being related to land claims are under investigation, and hundreds of people have received credible death threats.

Earlier this year a flyer called on land claimants in Cesar province to give up the "subversive practice" of reclaiming land. "It doesn't matter if you are protected now: the moment you let your guard slip, we will fight you," read the threat, signed by the Urabeños, another neo-paramilitary group.

According to Human Rights Watch, only serious investigations into threats and murders and the conviction of attackers will stop the intimidation. "Meaningful protection will require holding the attackers accountable and breaking the grip paramilitary mafias still have in areas where displaced families are trying to return," said Vivanco.

Also large national and multinational companies have been circumventing the few policies aimed at protecting small farmers by buying up large areas of farmland originally earmarked for land reform. A recent Oxfam investigation found the US food giant Cargill had set up shell companies to buy up as much as 30 times the legal limit for one company.

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