Colombia: Garzal Lands in Court

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The Simití municipality in southern
Bolívar province includes the towns of Nueva Esperanza and Garzal which lies
along the Magdalena River a few hours north of Barrancabermeja.  The
136 families who live in the two towns make their living growing cacao and
vegetables, raising cattle, and fishing.

      During the 1980’s, the Barreto family
lived and worked in Garzal processing cocaine and transporting it for the notorious
drug czar Pablo Escobar.  In 1989, the
drug lab was raided and Mr. Barreto spent 2 years in jail.

      Over the next years, the Barreto family
all but abandoned their land in Garzal.  Other landless families moved to the area and
began working the land.  Now, the
Barretos are back and demand not only the land they used to live on, but all
the land in Garzal.

      Approximately half of the families in
Garzal and Nueva Esperanza legally own their land based on a Colombian law that
states that a person can take legal ownership after five years of living on and
working the land.  INCODER, the Colombian
Institute for Rural Development, issued paper titles to 64 families a few years
ago, but took them back under the pretext of making changes to the documents.  The Barreto family had false titles drawn up
which show they own all of Garzal, and have used these papers to bring a suit
against the community.  They want to
officially revoke titles that currently exist and have mired the case in court
for years.   

      In recent weeks, the Barretos brought a
criminal case against ten members of the Garzal communities based on trumped-up
charges. The judge called both parties together for “conciliation” on March 4,
implying that the communities would have a chance to address the terms of the
sale of their land, despite the fact they have no intention of selling.

      CPT maintained a presence in Garzal during
the first week of March and CPT’s May 26 – June 8, 2009 international delegation
will visit the community. 

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