COLOMBIA: Rural families celebrate ruling on Las Pavas

26 November 2012
COLOMBIA: Rural families celebrate ruling on Las Pavas

The Colombian government's rural land authority published a "definitive decision" on 14 November to expropriate all remaining properties of the estate known as Las Pavas from oil palm grower Aportes San Isidro.

"With the forfeiture process being definitive, [the case] will proceed to material recuperation and titling in favor of the rural population," reads a translated portion of the press release from the Colombian Rural Development Institute (INCODER).

Plots expropriated earlier this fall, primarily waterways and wetlands, never should have been allowed to be privately held, the agency ruled.

 Farmers return to the Las Pavas estate, April 2011.

In a November 16 statement, the Buenos Aires Farmers Association (ASOCAB) – whose 116 families Christian Peacemaker Teams' Colombia project has accompanied since 2009 – gave thanks to God, to supporting churches and other organizations, and to responsible government agencies. While praising the decision, the families also called for its orderly fulfillment amid ongoing threats.

In recent months, Aportes San Isidro has stepped up intimidation tactics against ASOCAB farmers, including land invasion, threats, house destruction and crop destruction. In light of "promised retaliation against our community and its leaders because of this [INCODER] decision," the ASOCAB statement includes a request for security measures.

INCODER's concern was expressed by the agency's Rural Lands Subdirector, Jhenifer Mojica, who said, "[INCODER] now calls on the corresponding authorities to accompany the process and the farmers to guarantee the rights of the people and organizations involved," (quoted in Colombian daily Vanguardia Liberal, 16 November).

How and when Colombian government entities will implement the ruling remains to be seen. Aportes San Isidro and its large oil palm extensions remain in portions of Las Pavas, while ASOCAB members cultivate other portions.

The violence and oppression faced by ASOCAB members in Las Pavas are emblematic of the problems of land-grabbing and forcible displacement in the context of Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict. Their persistent, faithful, nonviolent responses to a catalog of wrongs have helped them hold together where other communities may not have managed to do so.

The community's endurance in struggle has enabled Las Pavas to become a high-profile test case of a national effort to provide a legal framework for land restitution undertaken since Juan Manuel Santos was elected President in 2010, with some 27,000 claims registered to date. The effectiveness of the land restitution effort will necessarily have a significant impact on prospects for peace. It may also shape ongoing talks between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas.

ASOCAB members "have hope that the journey ahead will be positive, and that we may finally obtain what we have called The Miracle of Las Pavas."

A translation of the full text of ASOCAB's statement can be found here.