Colombian soldiers accompany a group of journalists in San José of Guaviare, Colombia. (PHOTO BY BRUNO FEDERICO)
The first item on the agenda of the talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, which is taking place in Havana (Cuba), is agriculture. This is because the problem of access to land – still unsolved – is the main cause of the armed conflict in Colombia, says Sergio Coronado, coordinator of the team that works on the issue of land and territory from the NGO CINEP (Center for Popular Research and Education) in Bogota. Sergio Coronado spoke with Orsetta Bellani, collaborator of El Reportero San Francisco, about agricultural policy in Colombia.
Why is the problem of access to land considered a historic cause of the Colombian armed conflict?
Colombia could never undergo a successful land reform process, all the attempts that were made in the course of the country’s history – and it coincided with a time when many Latin American countries were designing land distribution programs – failed. The main reason is that the landowner elites never wanted to yield the rights of property that they had gained from the civil wars of the nineteenth century. After the assassination of Liberal Party candidate Jorge Gaitan in 1948, the period known as “violence” came, when farmers not only claimed access to land, but also an actual political involvement that they had never had. Access to land is a central point, but if you look at the complexity of the agricultural world will find many more answers to why there is a war in Colombia: the under-representation of farmers in the country’s political life explains the origin of the guerrillas in the ‘60s.
With regard to agricultural policy, is there a shift in the approach between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and former administration of Alvaro Uribe?
Yes, there is a different approach. Officials who currently lead public entities have different profiles and political origins from those from Uribe’s administration, at least at a national level.
For example, Miriam Villegas, director of INCODER (Colombian Rural Development Institute), worked as an advocate for farmers in emblematic land claims in the Magdalena Medio region. However, the change in the national plan has failed to move to regional institutions, which are often ruled by local elites linked to paramilitary groups. Furthermore, Santos’s brought a change of attitude and style, but this does not imply a policy change.
In June 2011 President Santos passed Law 1448, or Law of Victims and Land Restitution. What is it?
In general terms, Law 1448 seeks reparation and compensation for victims of the conflict, creating the conditions for ensuring the return of displaced peasants to their land and start a process of certification. These lands can currently be found in very different legal conditions, we look forward to what might happen. To date (end of December) the first news have emerged that actually the first titles to property to displaced farmers in the Montes de María are being delivered. In these cases, there was no theft of the lands, but abandonment, meaning that nobody used the territories abandoned by displaced peasants. It rests to be seen if the state will be also able to remove property rights on land formally and materially stripped to be returned to the farmers, ensuring the safety of those who will return to their lands.
Critics of Law 1448 say that it does not take away privileges to agribusiness and large enterprises. Why?
Victim Law and Land Restitution operates in the framework of a general state agricultural policy, both would have to be articulated. You have to analyze what is the model of rural development that is simultaneously consolidating Law 1448. Is it a model that in addition to recognizing property titles to displaced peasants respects and renders rural economy viable? Or is it a model that prioritizes large investments, business and industrial agriculture? The answer is that the model implemented by the government does not seem to support the rural economy: formalizing the land property to the extent that farmers are linked with a particular model of agro-industrial production. A farmer can have titles stripped of property on the ground but you cannot choose your own production project, but it has to be linked to one that has been given to a region, the state is shifting to a particular model of development. Moreover, to prevent the concentration of the property, Law 1448 contains a very weak and precarious provision vis-à-vis contextual conditions, meaning that the farmer whose land has been restored can´t sell it in the first two years.