Published by Semana.com, Tuesday, 10 July 2012: link here.
Translation by Duane Ediger
Farmers denounce a new invasion of the disputed parcel of ‘Las Pavas’
A farmers association that has occupied an estate intermittently for the last 16 years reported Tuesday that outside laborers invaded the property, the site of one of Colombia’s most important land restitution struggles.
At least 150 people entered the Las Pavas hacienda in southern Bolivar department and settled in an area of the 1,223-hectare* parcel, according to the complaint.
The farmers, who have occupied the farm since 1996 in hopes that authorities will grant them ownership, fear this is a new action to force them off the land, said Jiseth Estrada, one of the lawyers who helps the land claimants in the case, by telephone.
The Farmers Association of Buenos Aires (ASOCAB), which is seeking legal title to the land, reported that palm producer Aportes San Isidro S.A. paid money to the invaders to plant palm on the hacienda.
They are trying to “provoke clashes, disputes, breakdown of social fabric and delegitimization of our community process,” said a statement from ASOCAB, which represents about 120 families. The association says that in 1996 its members peacefully occupied the farm Las Pavas faced with a lack of lands they needed to survive.
ASOCAB stressed that the farm had been abandoned and the farmers returned it to production with cocoa crops and trees for timber production. ASOCAB maintains that in 2003 and in 2006 they had to leave the farm under threat from proxies or paramilitaries.
In 2006 the Association decided to file a legal claim on the land, but after many motions and appeals the case has not been settled.
The farm’s current owners, Aportes San Isidro among others, are palm oil producing companies that, according to ASOCAB, acquired Las Pavas around the middle of this decade (sic) from Jesus Emilio Escobar. According to ASOCAB, this is an uncle of Pablo Escobar, the drug baron shot dead by police in December 1993.
Colonel Jorge Vargas, a police commander of Bolivar, said by telephone that about 30 police came to the site of the farm.
“We will be on alert for several days to see how the case evolves, but let me tell you there have been no deaths or injuries, maybe some verbal confrontations, but nothing else has happened,” the officer said in a telephone interview.
Calls to Aportes San Isidro S.A. and its lawyers were not immediately returned.
Land ownership is commonly described as one of the roots of the internal armed conflict in this country of 114 million hectares. According to Government and non-government sources, illegal armed groups have taken at least two million hectares from peasants, four million were abandoned by their owners for fear of the actions of these groups and between 400,000 and 500,000 were stolen through fraudulent processes at State registries and notaries.
On Saturday President Juan Manuel Santos said that soon agrarian courts created by the Victims and Land Restitution Bill, which took effect in January, will give their first rulings on land claims in which illegal armed groups forced the flight of the rightful owners.
The President said as of this month, since January authorities have received 16,207 land claims or petitions totaling 1.2 million hectares in different parts of the country.
* One hectare equals about 2.5 acres. An acre is about 40% the size of a hectare.