'Narco' Land for Agrarian Reform
By Yadira Ferrer
More than 100,000 hectares of land seized from drug traffickers in Colombia will be used for sustainable farming initiatives. Thousands of families displaced by the decades of civil war violence stand to benefit.
BOGOTA, (Tierramérica).- The Colombian government has seized more than 100,000 hectares from narco-traffickers and will hand it over to peasant farmers and displaced families as part of a process being described as ''a new agrarian reform''.
The program is to unfold over the next four years, with the land expropriated from traffickers by the National Narcotics Directorate (DNE), and another 40,000 hectares that the government has purchased, Héctor Hernández, advisor to the Colombian Institute for Social Development (INCODER), told Tierramérica.
Two hundred thousand hectares have been seized from illegal drug traffickers, according to DNE director Alfonso Plazas.
Annulment of ownership and administrative expropriation of illicitly acquired land and goods is included in Colombia's new Land Act, which parliament passed in December.
The beneficiaries -- poor peasant farmers and families displaced by the violence of civil war -- will receive a subsidy limited to the value of the land they receive, and financing that can be as much as 30 percent of the value of the productive projects they propose.
''It is an agrarian reform with strong follow-up so that the farmers are truly able to get their products to the international markets,'' Agriculture Minister Carlos Cano said on May 27 in the ceremonies handing over the first parcels of land: 560 hectares that belonged to drug trafficker Jairo Correa were passed on to 61 families in La Dorada, in the central-western department of Caldas.
The recipients set up a cooperative to develop farming and livestock projects.
''We have known each other for 20 years. Our families worked the farms when they were the property of Jairo Correa, and we continued to work them when they were in government hands, with the hope that some day they might be ours,'' said a farmer who asked not to be identified.
A second hand-over -- 2,800 hectares -- is scheduled for July in the southern department of Caquetá. More land will be distributed in the southwestern departments of Nariño, Cauca and Valle del Cauca, in Boyacá and Caldas in the central region, and Santander in the north.
''We are convinced that if we have real support we can successfully carry out our farming initiatives,'' Carlos Suárez, a farmer in the village of Milán, in Caquetá, told Tierramérica. He hopes to be one of the beneficiaries of this month's land distribution.
''Ten years ago I presented a request to INCORA (Colombian Agrarian Reform Institute, now INCODER) so that I could have my own land,'' says Suárez, who has worked since he was a teenager on a farm that pays less than the monthly minimum wage (less than 130 dollars).
The Alvaro Uribe government's policy to subsidize the purchase of land is innovative and deserves support, says specialist Stephen Suhner, author of a book on the topic, sponsored by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD).
Swiss-born Suhner says it is the obligation of the state to seize private property that has been acquired through drug trafficking or other crimes and to put that land at the service of the farming communities who have not had the wherewithal to own property themselves.
The Colombian farmers are very efficient at production, and have made a place for themselves in the national and international markets, but their greatest limiting factor has continued to be lack of land, says the researcher.
Another problem, says Suhner, is that in many cases the state has failed to provide complementary supports, such as low-interest loans, technical assistance and a broad-based agrarian reform.
It is not known precisely how much land the drug traffickers, leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries possess, but it is clear to some analysts that these illegal groups carried out ''another agrarian reform'' over the past three decades of civil war, using intimidation to appropriate land from the families that today are among the millions of displaced Colombians.
According to ARLAC, the Latin American Refugees Association, 2.5 million Colombian peasants out of a national population of 44 million have been dispossessed of their land and forced to migrate to the cities. And 0.2 percent of the population owns almost one-half of the country's productive land.
* Yadira Ferrer is a Tierramérica contributor.