On June 5, FOR Peace Presence accompanied community members of Nilo, Cundinamarca in a congressional hearing on the fulfillment of INCODER (the Colombian Rural Development Institute- the entity responsible for the administration of agricultural policy, including land titling) of its obligations to create access to and recover land for campesinos.
Campesinos hailing from various regions of the country testified to INCODER’s authorization of illegal land deals, effectively aiding the conversion of over two million hectares of land previously adjudicated to or devoted to small-scale family farming into land masses that are legally held today by estate owners, national corporations, or multinationals devoted to the production of agrofuels, such as sugarcane, palm oil, bitter cassava; extensive agro-industry, including bananas, soy and cattle ranching; or mining.
Among the administrative irregularities named by the testifiers was the titling of land to deceased individuals, the subdivision of collectively held (and unsaleable) land, and the legalization of title transfers characterized by coercion. Many of these irregular transactions occurred in the wake of displacement spurred by armed conflict.
The community of Nilo differed from other cases presented in that the wresting of their territory was not connected to non-state armed actors. Rather, parcels awarded to the community in 1968 by the state were never administered by INCODER. Years later, the land in question was handed over by INCODER to the Ministry of Defense for the expanding Tolemaida Military Base, despite the 1968 decree and the community’s having occupied and worked the land since the start of the 20th century. As such, according to the community and lawyers from the Corporación Yira Castro, the community had acquired possession rights to the land long before 1954, when the military first acquired land titles there.
Testifying to the congressional panel, Nilo leader Milton Morales explained, “We have not dealt with paramilitaries, but we do have experience with terrorism, and its been lead by the Ministry of Defense.”
Last year, FOR Peace Presence documented various concerning tactics carried out by soldiers at the Tolemaida Military Base, actions that, by the community’s account, have pressured their displacement, including economic blockades, the uprooting of community crops, and the polluting of the river on which several hamlets of Nilo depend.
According to all the campesinos present, the judicial limbo created by INCODER’s inaction on delivering lands adjudicated for agrarian reform, or mistaken titling has fueled conflict and the entry of armed actors into their territories. Armed groups often arrive where land is being contested by re-claimants and squatters. From 2008-2015, 69 re-claimants have been assassinated. A campesino present mentioned, “The issue of INCODER is about peace. This is not just about our patrimony, this is about our physical security.”
Whether displaced by outright violence or bureaucratic tactics such as those employed in Nilo, peace in Colombia’s countryside is dependent on just land distribution. The challenge of any entity that emerges in the wake of INCODER’s likely liquidation will be to take the Ministry of Agriculture’s policies from theory into practice for the benefit of campesinos and all Colombians clamoring for peace.