HomeUncategorizedLand Restitution: A Dangerous Job in Colombia
NEWS

Land Restitution: A Dangerous Job in Colombia

COLOMBIA / 8 JUN 2021 BY SARA GARCIA EN

Repeated attacks on teams recovering stolen lands in Colombia highlight the risks involved in restitution, a little-known process that is nevertheless critical to the country's peace agreement.

On May 27, two sisters, a member of Colombia's Land Restitution Unit (Unidad de Restitución de Tierras - URT) and a driver were declared missing in the municipality of Mesetas, in the central department of Meta.

The sisters were meeting with URT official Karen Sulay Garay to survey a property taken from their family in 1999 by guerillas with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC).

The meeting at the site had been scheduled back in 2019, but the sisters had postponed it out of fear.

Their disappearance has not yet been attributed to any armed group. However, FARC dissidents – criminal cells of former fighters who have rejected the FARC's 2016 peace deal with Colombia's government – are in the region.

According to an alert issued by Colombia's Ombudsman’s Office in 2020, three ex-FARC cells – the Seventh, First and 40th fronts – remain in the area where the team disappeared. The ex-FARC in Mesetas exploit land for illegal activities, ranching, and the irregular sale of properties, the alert stated.

Authorities, officials and claimants all face risks related to their roles in land restitution efforts.

SEE ALSO: Colombia Land Reform Activists Face Rising Threats

In February, a police officer was killed in the northeastern department of Córdoba while accompanying a land restitution team in a rural area near the city of Montería.

In October 2020, one officer died and five others injured during an ambush by a FARC dissident cell known as the Adán Izquierdo Company. The police unit had been providing security for land restitution work in Bugalagrande, a town in the western Valle del Cauca department.

In 2018, eight police officers providing support for a land restitution team died after being attacked by armed men in a northern region of Colombia's Antioquia department.

InSight Crime Analysis

The land restitution process in Colombia has been threatened and systematically weakened by both criminal and legal actors.

In June 2011, then-President Juan Manuel Santos signed the Victims and Land Restitution Law, which laid the groundwork for lands to be returned to rural owners who had been stripped of them by rightwing paramilitaries and leftist rebels.

Five years later, the peace accords between the Colombian government and the FARC provided further opportunity to step up the restitution process in regions controlled by the guerrillas.

But intimidation and violence have made claimants wary of proceeding. Forty-eight claimants have been killed between 2011 to 2020, as have police officers escorting land restitution teams. The mere appearance of government personnel in territories where armed actors carry out illicit activities automatically puts lives at risk.

Besides ex-FARC dissidents, the Urabeños, which emerged from Colombia's paramilitaries, are one of the main crime groups attacking and threatening people involved in land restitution efforts, particularly in the departments of Córdoba, Antioquia, Chocó and Sucre, where killings have been highest.

SEE ALSO: BACRIM The Greatest Threat to Colombia Land Restitution: HRW

For armed groups, access to land is key to territorial control and the development of drug trafficking and illegal mining activities.

Economic and political interests associated with large-scale development, farming and mining projects have also benefited from stolen lands. Indeed, in recent decades, land dispossessed by paramilitaries made way for banana and palm plantations, as well as cattle ranches, that exist to this day.

According to a 2020 report published by the Forjando Futuros Foundation, a non-governmental organization that has been counseling claimants in Colombia's restitution processes, 66 businesses – including agribusinesses, mining companies and banks – have been ordered by courts to return lands, suspend mining titles and undo mortgages.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

AUC / 18 SEP 2017

Dozens of individuals in Colombia have been sentenced for crimes committed while serving under the banner of demobilized paramilitary groups, illustrating…

COLOMBIA / 21 JAN 2011

Normally, when we talk about birds, we would be referring to an alias ("el pajaro") or a paramilitary group (the…

COLOMBIA / 19 AUG 2004

"Plan Colombia" is a multi-pronged, multi-billion dollar effort to battle drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), insurgencies and paramilitary groups in the…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Criminal Enterprise on the High Seas

12 AUG 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the second half of an extensive investigation into Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing that plagues the waters of nine Latin American countries. Among the stories were how…

THE ORGANIZATION

Oceans Pillaged in Central America and the Caribbean

5 AUG 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the first installment of a nine-part investigation uncovering the hidden depths of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in Latin America. The first installment covered Central America and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela’s Tren de Aragua Becomes Truly Transnational

29 JUL 2022

This week, InSight Crime published a deep dive into the total control that Venezuelan mega-gang, Tren de Aragua, has over the lives of those it smuggles between Venezuela and Chile…

THE ORGANIZATION

Turkish Traffickers Delivering Latin American Cocaine to Persian Gulf

15 JUL 2022

Last week, InSight Crime published the second half of an investigation piecing together the emerging role of Turkish cocaine traffickers in supplying Russia and the Persian Gulf, which are among…

THE ORGANIZATION

Turkey as a Lynchpin in European Cocaine Pipeline

8 JUL 2022

InSight Crime is extending its investigation into the cocaine pipeline to Europe, and tracking the growing connections between Latin American drug traffickers and European criminal organizations. This led us to…