COLOMBIA: Prayers invited following government visits to communities

30 June 2012
COLOMBIA: Prayers invited following government visits to communities

by Pierre Shantz

A team of Colombian government agricultural engineers, surveyors and lawyers visited the communities of Garzal and Nueva Esperanza from 16-26 May.  Their mission was, among other things, to verify that the farming families of these two communities indeed live on and farm the land.  CPT has accompanied Garzal and Nueva Esperanza since 2007. The Barreto family, which is under investigation for paramilitary ties, says all of the land is part of a large estate they own. The communities are fighting the Barretos in court, claiming their title is fraudulent.

Colombian titling agency visit Garzal.

Colombian titling agency visits Garzal.

The government team, from Colombia's National Institute for Rural Development (Spanish acronym INCODER), was also there to document the existence of protected wetlands and lakes on land to which the Barreto family claims title, for processing and mandatory return to state custody. The inclusion of protected lands within privately titled property points toward the title’s invalidity.

Since the mid-1980s, the Barreto family and paramilitary groups, including the now-demobilized Colombian United Self Defense Forces’ Central Bolivar Block, have made numerous threats against the communities. Pastor Salvador Alcántara, the main leader of the community process, is at particular risk.

During the visit, the INCODER team uncovered illegal mining operations and entered territory used by drug trafficking groups. Rumors began circulating after the visit that those who benefit from the illegal activity will retaliate against the farmers of Garzal and Nueva Esperanza for bringing it to the government’s attention.

A similar government visit took place in the community of Las Pavas four weeks later. If the outcome favors the community and invalidates the palm oil conglomerate’s claim to the land, threat levels to Las Pavas and its leaders could be expected to increase.

CPT Colombia asks for continued prayers for the families of Garzal, Nueva Esperanza and Las Pavas. May God grant justice to the meek and poor. May they indeed inherit the land they have farmed for generations.

NOTE: The 25 June reflection,
COLOMBIA: Against all odds, mentioned coercion from multinationals in Garzal, which has not yet happened. Shell has explored for oil in the region. Also, the statement that 99% of Colombian territory has been given in concessions to multinationals was a misunderstanding. CPT Colombia apologizes for the errors.