War Concentrates Landownership in Hands of Elite Few
COLOMBIA: Armed Conflict as Agrarian Counter-Reform
Armed conflict in Colombia is undermining land ownership for citizens.
by Yadira FerrerBOGOTA - Some 1.5 million hectares of land abandoned by small and medium-sized Colombian farmers in 1999 underscores the violent changes in rural real estate ownership resulting from the country's decades-long civil war.
A study by the non-governmental Human Rights and Displacement Consultancy (CODHES) indicates that 32,087 of the 54,385 households displaced last year as a result of the armed conflict included farmland.
CODHES director Jorge Rojas told IPS the report reveals that ''forced displacement is proof of an accelerating process of violent land redistribution.''
The organisation's human rights experts conducted the rural land ownership research with support from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office and the Dutch embassy.
Rojas underscored that abandoned households with farmland represented 47 percent of the total in 1997, while in 1998 it declined slightly to 46 percent, jumping to 58.9 percent in 1999.
From 1996 to 1999, the armed conflict - involving guerrilla groups, paramilitary organisations and government armed forces - pushed 86,799 families from their homes, for a total of 1,480,493 hectares, most of which is agricultural land.
Most of the landholdings affected were between two and 10 hectares (34 percent), followed by farms of 11 to 20 hectares (14 percent) and those of 51 to 100 hectares (13 percent).
Colombia has 14.4 million hectares of agricultural land, representing 12.7 percent of the country's total area.
Of the area used in agriculture, 45 percent is concentrated in the hands of just 0.3 percent of the nation's landowners, with more than 500 hectares each. Twenty percent belongs to 2.3 percent of the landowners, with 100 to 500 hectares each, while 35 percent of the land is distributed among 97.4 percent of Colombian farmers, who have less than 100 hectares each.
Testimony CODHES experts gathered in Córdoba department in the north indicates that farmers left their small properties under threats from the right-wing paramilitary terrorist group United Self-Defence of Columbia (AUC).
''The men from AUC told us that behind them was coming a tractor (an allusion to progress), and I wondered, who is going to enjoy the benefits of that tractor?'' said a peasant farmer who requested anonymity for reasons of safety.
The statements of local people reflect the drama thousands of families have suffered as a result of a war ''that expands without humanitarian concerns,'' according to CODHES.
A civil society activist, who asked that his name be withheld, told IPS that in the Urab region in the northeast, ''not a centimetre of land is bought or sold without the consent of the paramilitaries,'' just as happens in other areas.
A report by the Brussels-based Vía Campesina, an international coalition of peasant farmers, says a great deal of responsibility for the displacement of thousands of peasants lies with the large landowners.
Vía Campesina representatives who visited Colombia last month said it is inconceivable that the systematic displacement of people ''does not follow a preconceived plan. The agents of a supposedly accelerated development model consider peasant and indigenous populations nonviable'' because they get in the way of the plans.
The CODHES study indicates that 288,127 Colombians were displaced from their homes last year, blaming the paramilitaries in 49 percent of the cases, guerrilla groups in 28 percent and governmental forces -- army or police -- in six percent of the cases.
In the first half of the 1990s the redistribution of rural land was controlled primarily by drug-trafficking organisations, which appropriated an estimated two million hectares from small and medium-sized farmers.
This relationship between the rural displacement and armed groups, and the inability of the government to control them, endangers food security for all Colombians in addition to the safety of peasant and indigenous populations, agree experts on the issue.
According to CODHES, president Andrés Pastrana's policies intended to prevent and resolve the displacement problem ''have been a complete failure.''
Pastrana declared before he was elected in 1998 that he had a plan to help displaced people, says CODHES, but he waited almost two years to implement it. ''Three months later, the numbers show it is ineffective.''
This article was distributed by the Grassroots Media Network courtesy of the InterPress Third World News Agency.
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