Feb 7 10:06 AM

6 things you need to know about the fight for land in Colombia

Today, Friday, February 7th, at 9:30p EST, our new Fault Lines episode “Colombia: The Deadly Fight For Land”  airs on Al Jazeera America. 

Traveling through Colombia’s remote jungles and countryside Fault Lines investigates the threats facing farmers struggling to return to their land.

We will have more from the episode in the coming week as it repeats on Al Jazeera America on February 8, 2014, 5:30p ET, and premieres on Al Jazeera English later in February 2014.

 Join us as we livetweet this episode Friday from our main Twitter account, @ajfaultlines

Before the episode, check out the background reading!

Displaced Colombians seek to reclaim land,” Al Jazeera English, July 11, 2013

“Land disputes have been at the heart of the Colombian conflict since 1964, when the left-wing FARC emerged in order to “end social, political and economic inequalities”, according to its foundation charter. As a result of the conflict, hundreds of thousands of displaced people have abandoned their land, while others were forced to sell under threats of violence.

According to the latest report issued by the Norwegian Refugee Council, Colombia is thought to have 4.9 to 5.5 million internally displaced people - more than any other country in the world.

The agreement has been celebrated by both sides as key to ending a conflict that has lasted more than half a century, and left hundreds of thousands of people dead.”

Land reform key for Colombia peace talks,” Al Jazeera English, May 28, 2013

“Colombian government and guerrilla delegates have announced an agreement on the question of land reform – an important step in the peace talks that began six months ago in Havana.

“This first document…is the ‘golden gate’ for the continuation of talks on the rest of the issues,” Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) negotiator Andrés París said shortly after Sunday’s announcement.

“This is a firm step towards a final agreement to end the conflict,” he said, adding that the peace process “is being strengthened as the government’s spirit of change and reform grows stronger and as Colombians begin to see a future of peace in these talks, as well as changes that benefit them and improve their living conditions.”

Land reform is the first item on the agenda for the peace talks aimed at putting an end to the conflict that began in 1964, when the FARC emerged on the scene.”

Peace talks with FARC rebels set to resume, says Colombia,” Al Jazeera America, August 25, 2013 

“FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, is a Marxist–rebel organisation that has been fighting the Colombian army since 1964.

Santos’ decision on Friday to recall his team in Havana came after FARC declared a pause in talks to study a government proposal on how to ratify a final peace accord.

Santos has said he wants talks concluded by the end of the year.

FARC has insisted a constituent assembly be formed and be charged with incorporating the content of the peace deals into the country’s constitution. The government has rejected that demand.

The fighters have also proposed a bilateral ceasefire during the talks, but the government has rejected the proposal, saying it could be used to strengthen the insurgency militarily.

FARC claims to be an armed peasant movement with an anti-imperialism agenda inspired by Bolivarianism.

The group now has about 8,000 fighters, according to the Defence Ministry.

A government commission last month estimated that 220,000 people have lost their lives in the nearly 50-year-old conflict.

Other estimates run as high as 600,000 dead.”

Tens of thousands march in Bogota in support of farmers’ strike,” Al Jazeera America, August 30, 2013

"About 30,000 people marched in the Colombian capital, Bogota, Thursday to support a strike by small farmers who are protesting the government’s agricultural policies, which they say are driving them into bankruptcy.

The largely peaceful protests have involved teachers, students and health workers.

Demonstrators chanted, “Long live the farmers’ strike.” Some clashed with riot police, who responded with tear gas to disperse them[…]

By Thursday, relative calm was reported in the countryside.

Santos, an economist and former defense and foreign trade minister, has been buffeted by protests since taking office in August 2010.

University students took to the streets the following year to demand reforms. Truck drivers have protested high gasoline prices, and indigenous groups have demanded that security forces and guerrillas quit their territory[…]”

Renewed Violence Keeps Colombia Farmers from Getting Back Their Land,” PRI.org, August 30, 2013

"Land lies at the heart of Colombia’s war. One of the main grievances for peasant farmers, who formed Marxist guerrilla groups in the 1960s, was lack of access to farmland.

The war made things worse.

Legions of small farmers have been killed or uprooted by right-wing paramilitaries who accused them of collaborating with the rebels. Others were run off their land by guerrillas. All told, they left behind nearly 15 million acres, roughly the size of Maryland and Massachusetts put together.

"Instead of land reform having occurred in Colombia," says Max Schoening, a Colombia researcher for Human Rights Watch, "there has been a counter land reform that’s been driven by atrocities like massacres in which armed groups would enter into towns and start killing civilians, torturing them in public. And after they abandoned that land, they would acquire it for themselves."

In 2011, the Colombian government passed a land restitution law that aims to return millions of acres to displaced peasants over the next decade. But the armed groups that stole the land in the first place are still operating in many parts of the country. These gunmen have killed more than a dozen land-rights activists in the past two years and have threatened hundreds more who have tried to reclaim their farms, according to a new Human Rights Watch report, written by Schoening.

The land restitution law was designed to help places like the state of Arauca, where fighting has displaced more than a third of all residents[…]”

Dying for the promised land: Colombia struggles with land restitution law”,  Alfonso Serrano for Al Jazeera America, February 6, 2014

“Alicia Ramos began receiving death threats immediately after returning to the farmland she inherited from her father — 120 acres in Necocli, in Colombia’s northwest, near the Panama border. Left-wing guerrillas seized the plot in the 1980s and forced Ramos’ family out. Now she is back, thanks to a government land restitution program that provides her with armed guards, security cameras and a bulletproof vest.

“They killed my neighbor recently — I don’t feel very secure,” said Ramos, a mother of three, referring to Urabeños, a neo-paramilitary group with a strong presence in the region. “They follow my car and ransacked my house when I stepped out recently, so now I don’t leave very often.”

Like Ramos, thousands of Colombian farmers are attempting to recover land usurped by paramilitary groups and leftist rebels during decades of armed conflict with the central government. Their struggle is the subject of a “Fault Lines” investigation, “Colombia: The Fight for Land,” premiering Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET.

Backed by the 2011 Victims and Land Restitution Law, Colombians have filed roughly 40,000 claims for 11,000 square miles of land. But unless it is modified, the law is doomed to fail, say analysts and civil rights groups. Up to 50 claimants have been killed since 2011, according to the Colombian attorney general’s office. And at least 500 have received death threats in the past year. But no arrests have been made[…]”

Further Coverage:

Colombian farmers risk death to reclaim lost land,” Sibylla Brodzinsky for The Guardian, October 16, 2013

(PHOTOS) “Farm protests reach Bogota,” Al Jazeera America, August 30, 2013

Chiquita seeks dismissal of lawsuit blaming company for Colombia deaths”,  Al Jazeera America, September 22, 2013



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