PARA-POLITIK: Colombia’s obstacles for peace, returning the 15% of national territory that was stolen in the war – By Adriaan Alsema

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“…You get peace, we keep the stolen land – How many individuals and companies benefited from the paramilitaries’ land flipping and how many are still involved in illegal activity with armed groups is unknown”:

(“Medellin Police are city’s crime syndicate’s ‘biggest ally’, Capo – By Adriaan Alsema)

The biggest ally of Medellin crime syndicate “Oficina de Envigado” is the city’s own police department, a commander of the group told television network Caracol.

The Oficina, founded in the 1980s by late drug lord Pablo Escobar, is the main criminal organization in Medellin and has controlled the many drug trafficking, drug dealing and extortion rackets taking place in the city for decades.

The organization was long controlled by former paramilitary commander “Don Berna,” but violently reorganized after the AUC chief was extradited to the United States in 2008 where he is currently serving a 31-year prison sentence for drug trafficking.

The commander admitted that most of his group’s income is derived from drug dealing and trafficking, and extortion, or “contributions to security” in neighborhoods where police have no to little control.

In an interview with program “Los Informantes,” one of the group’s commanders, alias “Pantera,” claimed that he has some 2,000 armed militia members under his command.

According to previous reports, Pantera is one of the members of the executive board of the Oficina, which according to the crime lord, has a vast number of corrupt policemen on its payroll.

“Our biggest ally here in Medellin is the police. Members of the police are receiving approximately 200 thousand to 300 thousand pesos [, between $80 and $120,] per week from us,” meaning that some lower-ranked policemen would receive approximately one third of their monthly income from the Oficina.

For the crime syndicate, this is a minor expense. According to “Financiero,” one of the group’s financial administrators, the group controls some 80 “plazas” or drug dealing points in each of the city’s 16 districts.

The drug dealing and extortion activities generate $1.3 million per month, said Financiero.

Medellin Police are city’s crime syndicate’s ‘biggest ally’: Capo


Colombia’s obstacles for peace: returning the 15% of national territory that was stolen in the war – By Adriaan Alsema

Colombia’s peace process with FARC rebels is partly stuck because approximately 15% of the country’s national territory was stolen during the armed conflict and many owners don’t want to give it back.

Since Colombia’s war began escalating in 1985, approximately 8 million hectares, an area the size of Costa Rica, have been stolen and sold, leaving millions of small farmers displaced and without land to return to.

The phenomenon has been so enormous, it has become one of the significant reasons why more than half of the country’s national territory is private property of, according to the UN, only 1% of the population.

Colombians forcibly displaced because of conflict per year

FARC only 6.25% of the problem

To give you a sense of proportion, 500 thousand of these 8 million hectares are in the hands of Marxist rebel group FARC, according to President Juan Manuel Santos. This means the guerrillas would only own 6.25% of Colombia’s stolen land.

The remaining 93.75% is owned by individuals, corporations and presumed front-men of former paramilitary commanders who carried out an anti-guerrilla offensive between 1997 and 2002 that severely reduced national territory under guerrilla control.



Fact sheet

The consequent abandonment of an estimated 15% of Colombia’s national territory also proved a profitable investment or cheap expansion opportunity for ranchers, miners and large land-owners who bought the lands after they had come free.

In some cases, the same people who helped finance the formation of the AUC paramilitary group were the ones making profit of it, a phenomenon called “para-eonomics.”

The political involvement with paramilitary death squads was so intimate that since the group’s demobilization between 2003 and 2006, dozens of Congressmen off all benches have been imprisoned for using the war against the FARC as a pretext to seek personal gain in collusion with paramilitary groups, a phenomenon called “parapolitics.”

Forced displacement — a crime against humanity — is a massive, systematic and long-lasting phenomenon, and to a high extent linked to the control of strategic territory. The latter characteristic proves that … there exist economic and political interests that push the dispossession of the civilian population’s land and territories.

Center for Historic Memory

While their initial objective was to fight guerrillas, the paramilitaries, the ranchers and large land-owners who had financed the paramilitary expansion, soon discovered the death squads effectively liberated territory for mining, land expansion and large-scale agriculture.

Land, not FARC, a reason for violence?

Both victim organizations and former paramilitary commanders have confirmed that the country’s mass dispossession of land became one of the AUC’s main objectives particularly in agricultural and gold-rich regions.

In some of these cases, economic rather than public safety motives were behind joint military and paramilitary operations with names like “The Pacification of Uraba.”

Because paradoxically, civilians were left displaced rather than enjoying an improved public security. Some fled out of terror. Others sold their lands to the paramilitaries afraid they’d get killed if they didn’t.

Imagine, those displaced farmers in San Pedro de Uraba starving and comes [paramilitary commander] “Monoleche” with his bodyguards and tells them: “Sell your land, we’ll give you 50 thousand pesos ($17) for it.” The farmer had no choice but to sell.

AUC commander Ever Veloza, a.k.a. “HH”

Many of the AUC’s leaders were extradited in 2008, but that was years after they had already sold their lands or secured the transfer to the new owner.

Ten years after they had formed their paramilitary umbrella group in 1997, 15% of Colombia’s territory had simply been stolen from its original owners. The FARC had also been decimated and pushed away from economically important areas. It took a ruling from the constitutional court in 2005 to force then-president Alvaro Uribe to declare a “humanitarian tragedy” over the millions who had been displaced until then.

How to make stolen property legally owned: trick 1

In most countries, if you buy or own stolen property you have no right to ownership of that property. In fact, depending on the value of the property, in the United States you could even be convicted on felony charges disregarding the circumstances.

Most countries have these laws to deter people from stealing and allow a smooth return of stolen property.

But not in Colombia when it comes to the 8 million hectares that were flipped and have now well-established owners.

While supposedly meant to repair victims, the 2011 Victims and Land Restitution Law promoted by President Juan Manuel Santos gave owners of stolen land the opportunity to keep the land if they could prove they purchased their property “in good faith.”

Consequently, many of the stolen land owners claimed to have bought the stolen property in good faith, forcing claimants into court cases they can not afford.

Some of the stolen land owners even claim to be “land restitution victims” while others have formed paramilitary “anti-restitution armies” that seek to prevent returning stolen land by killing or threatening returning farmers.

The party of Santos’ predecessor, Uribe, tried to make this even more difficult by amending the victims law and relay the burden of proof on the land claimants, but this initiative failed.

You get peace, we keep the stolen land

The interests of these stolen land owners are looked after by the former president, who recently led a successful campaign to sink an ongoing peace process with the FARC that would bring paramilitary collaborators, land thieves and fencers to justice.

The former president is now negotiating with his successor to unfreeze the process.

One of Uribe’s primary demands is increased legal protection for stolen land owners and a restriction of the rights for victims of displacement.

Santos’ curious “good faith” clause in the Victims Law allowed Uribe to demand that peace with the FARC “may not affect honest owners and holders, whose good faith must be given the presumption … of innocence.”

Additionally, “the analysis of context [of land purchases] may not serve as evidence to incriminate the owners in good faith,” Uribe said in his proposal for amendments of the sunk peace deal, allowing stolen land owners to claim they acted in good faith while public knowledge dictates the land was stolen or extorted.

Additionally, Uribe proposed, any peace deal with the FARC “should recognize the existence of large-scale commercial production, its importance within rural development and the national economy, and the state’s obligation to promote this.”

Additionally, the former president audaciously proposed that a revived peace deal should allow those who in bad faith benefited from the mass theft of farm land to only voluntarily cooperate with transitional justice, in spite of the immensity of the crimes committed and the victims generated.

Some 24,400 members of the military and another 12,500 private persons or enterprises are expected to appear before the transitional justice tribunal because they have been either sentenced for or accused of having collaborated with the now-defunct AUC , the predecessor of the currently active “anti-restitution armies.”

How many individuals and companies benefited from the paramilitaries’ land flipping and how many are still involved in illegal activity with armed groups is unknown, the sunk transitional justice system was supposed to investigate this.

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