Colombia has one of the highest numbers of internally displaced people in the world, second only in rank to Syria. The long history of conflict over access to land in Colombia is illustrated well by the story of a woman we’ve met through our accompaniment work, named Lusdary. Lusdary and her family are originally from Pelaia, Cesar, but were displaced from their farm there in 1996 when Lusdary was just 17 years old, due to violence from armed groups in the area. Forced to find a new place to restart their lives, they eventually moved to a patch of untitled and abandoned land about three kilometers outside of Barranquilla, to a community called Tamarindo. There, along with approximately 130 other families, Lusdary and her family began to grow enough food to sustain themselves.
There newfound sense of calm was short lived, however, when in 2007 the Barranquilla Zona Franca (the city’s duty-free zone) was expanded to attract more business investments to the region. Businesses in the Zona Franca would be offered tax exemptions on their imports and exports, making the previously undesired land that families like Lusdary’s had been cultivating suddenly much more valuable. The most powerful families along Colombia’s Caribbean coast bought up the rights to the land occupied by the community of Tamarindo, and both state and paramilitary forces began threatening and attacking its residents. In response, some Tamarindo residents formed the organization ASOTRACAMPO, a legal collective of campesinos who demand to be recognized as the prior inhabitants of the land, and to be granted protection and resettlement rights, as victims of the armed conflict.
FORPP began officially accompanying ASOTRACAMPO in 2014, after the son of a prominent community leader was killed, and armed men came to Tamarindo with bulldozers to destroy the community’s plantain and yuca crops. Almost exactly two years ago today, on December 9th, 2015, the residents of Tamarindo were forcefully removed from their land by state forces. At the request of ASOTRACAMPO, FORPP was present during the displacement as an international observer. The displacement was halted for two weeks, but then completed just two days before Christmas, on the 23rd of December 2015. Families like Lusdary’s were once again left homeless.
FORPP was instrumental in bringing the injustice of the case to the attention of both national and international institutions. Finally in the spring of 2017, the National Land Agency and the Victims Unit —two state entities responsible for providing land and other rights to victims of displacement—carried out a census of the former inhabitants of Tamarindo. Because land is limited, the most vulnerable families were prioritized for relocation, and Lusdary—as a single mother of a young daughter—was included in that category.
On her 38th birthday, October 26th of this year, Lusdary was officially granted a new piece of land by the National Land Agency, in accordance with her rights as a victim of displacement. Her new home is no where near the coast, but in fact lies in the mountains of Antioquia. In spite of her past difficulties, Lusdary is happy with this new arrangement, and pleased with the land’s fertility. She says she is excited to learn how to grow and sell coffee, the main crop in the area, as well as “a little bit of everything”.
The new year will be full of new challenges as Lusdary adjusts to a completely new part of the country, and to the demands of a new type of crop. The majority of families from Tamarindo are still waiting to be granted new lands to cultivate, and it is unlikely that the entire community will be resettled in the same area. Nevertheless, FORPP will continue to accompany ASOTRACAMPO in its push for resettlement rights. Lusdary is hopeful that her former neighbors will one day soon be able to reap the fruits of what they were unable to sow in Tamarindo.