In the heat of midday a man lifted a bundle of blackened springs lying in the midst of the Tamarindo estate, a 120 hectare property alongside the Barranquilla to Bogota highway.
“This was my bed.” he said.
The other remains of the farm that hadn’t burnt had been shunted by earth movers to form the mound of ash on which he stood; a buckled chair frame, some piping, scattered bricks, blackened branches of the plum and lemon trees he had planted there. Beyond him the land stretched away into the haze, freckled with other mounds of the farms that had become established there for over more than 15 years.
A dirt track connects Tamarindo to the Ruta del Sol, still lined on one side with plantain, mango and plum trees, with watermelon and yucca bushes, and with the timber farmsteads that used to surround it. This remaining 33 hectare strip is all that has survived the three major evictions that have taken place thus far and is now crowded with farmers cleared from the other side of the track who sought refuge in the land of their former neighbours.
The space, 0.45 hectares per family, is inadequate to feed those forced into the new confines, but without any form of compensation those dispossessed could only chose to continue in Tamarindo or face the uncertain life of the cities. Now this remaining strip of land, the last plot of Tamarindo, is to be evicted.
Some of the local authorities have told the remaining farmers that the final eviction will occur “imminently”. No measures are in place to provide for the displaced, and it is likely that no new land will be provided for those to be evicted.
But the farmers are not passively awaiting such a fate. Juan Martinez is legal representative of ASOTROCAMPO, the alliance of farmers that FOR Peace Presence accompanies in Tamarindo. They have declared the remaining properties to be a ´temporary humanitarian space’ that asserts the rights of those who remain to be rehoused in a collective and dignified manner:
“What we have said to the Mayor of Barranquilla is that our doors are open to a solution of the problem, but she needs to have a bit of political will as well. There is land in the Department of Atlántico, we have seen it, and we have told the mayor and the departmental government that they should work with the national government to buy these lands so that we could be resettled and solve this problem. But the authorities have said that they have no land for us.”
To Martinez there is a key impediment to the final eviction:
“How in this moment can the mayor proceed with an order to clear us if the municipal authorities say we are only to be offered apartments in the city, where we don’t know how to live, then they are violating the law and the rights of the victims.”
More than 80% of the humanitarian space’s inhabitants have been registered as victims of the armed conflict, but a renewed violation of their rights through secondary displacement without compensation is, according to some in the community, the most likely option given that the first evictions saw the army and ESMAD riot police joined by suspected paramilitaries. Martinez himself has since received death threats from the Black Eagles and the Rastrojos paramilitary groups, ordering him to leave the land.
International law requires that evictions be preceded by consultation and prior notification, yet Amnesty International records that in November 2013, “State security forces and other armed men, thought to be linked to paramilitaries, moved in” to Tamarindo and threw many in the community out; that prior notification simply did not happen.
The violence and lack of consultation are not the only anomalies in the clearing of the farms: The United Nations says that forced eviction is “incompatible with the requirements of the [International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights] and can only be justified in the most exceptional circumstances, and in accordance with the relevant principles of international law”.
The circumstances surrounding the Tamarindo evictions are however far from clear, and so the ‘exceptional’ need to clear the farmers impossible to assess. The first moves to evict the farmers were initiated by local business figures in 2008, when they claimed to possess the deeds to the property. However ASOTROCAMPO argues that the land in question had been abandoned during the conflict and that the farmers started settling in good faith in 1991. As a consequence the settlers were able to register the land lots with Colombia’s land restitution agency.
The real ‘exceptional’ development, according to the remaining farmers, was the establishment of the Free Trade Zone of Barranquilla in 2007, which drove up local land prices to 3 thousand million pesos per hectare and encouraged developers to take land from the vulnerable.
The farmer who had stood on the remains of his house had walked from that mound of ash to visit some of the surviving farms to talk in the shade of the houses. Each smallholding grew fruit or yucca, but in addition each produced something extra to sell in Barranquilla: one prepared charcoal, another wove hammocks, while another raised poultry. Such work brings in crucial funds to pay for transport for children’s education, and to buy some of what cannot be produced locally, but it is an economy dwarfed by the new enterprises that have sprung up in the area since the free trade zone was established.
Whether such rapid growth displaces the farms from the remaining 24 hectares, and whether an agreement can be negotiated to the conflict over the land of Tamarindo, will say much about whether human rights can play a role in reducing or mitigating displacement in Colombia. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre calculated that as of December 2014 there were 6,044,200 people internally displaced in Colombia, but many in Tamarindo remain hopeful that their resistance can not only serve to ensure that their lifestyles can be recreated through resettlement, but also to ensure that in future the rights of those in the path of commercial projects will have their rights respected.
UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights: Forced Evictions and Human Rights http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet25en.pdf
Amnesty International: Colombia: A Land Title is not Enough: Ensuring Sustainable Land Redistribution in Colombia