Land is the seed of peace - Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos
Land and Peace in Colombia
Colombia, South America’s fastest growing economy, is ready to turn the page on its violent past. After a violent half century, there is growing confidence in the completion of a historic Peace Accord between the government and rebel groups. This process hinges on addressing the underlying causes of the conflict, such as land and income inequality, as well as its consequences, including as many as 6 million people displaced from their lands (Internal Displacement Monitoring Center).
More than 10% of Colombians have been displaced during the violent conflict, the second highest number of internally displaced people (IDP) among all countries in conflict.
Land dispossession has been at the core of the violent conflict. Colombia has one of the highest rates of inequality in access to rural land in the world, which is considered one of the main drivers of the armed conflict. According to government records, an estimated 60% of land area registered as rural farm land is owned by a mere 3% of all owners with registered parcels. This land inequality is believed to be in part the result of land dispossession and forced depopulation with the objective to acquire land for palm oil, pasture, and illicit crops, and to control resources and territories. Although fewer people have been displaced in recent years, displacements continue. Ethnic minorities, such as Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities, are at highest risk of being displaced.
Land has been contested between armed groups, who regularly displaced rural communities and placed mines to control territories. Efforts to remove land mines are considered central to the peace process, as Colombia has the second-highest land mine fatality rate in the world.
Drivers of Land Displacements
Large displacements in Colombia have been linked to armed groups, palm oil plantations and illicit crop cultivation. In Southwestern Colombia’s Pacifico region, the establishment of large palm oil plantations led to the displacement of numerous Afro-Colombian communities. In 2014-2015, Pacifico Region had the highest density of coca cultivation in Colombia – UNODC (United Nations Office on Drug and Crime).
Displaced people in Colombia often migrate to urban areas, living in informal settlements. Some displaced people illegally occupy other land, complicating land restitution activities.
The majority of newly displaced People are Afro-Colombians and Indigenous People, who represent less than 15% of the total population.
The Law of Victims and Land Restitution led to the creation of the Land Restitution Unit (LRU), which works with displaced ethnic minorities to gather evidence, survey land and submit restitution claims.
The Peace Process: A New Colombia?
Considered almost a failed state just fifteen years ago, Colombia is now firmly on a path to restore security and expand its middle class. For the first time, rebels and government forces are working together to clear the country of landmines. The country is Latin America’s success story.
As private investments continue to grow in post-conflict Colombia, there are concerns that new land-based investments fueled by economic growth could add to oil and mining developments to further threaten Indigenous and Afro-colombian communities. These communities are increasingly under pressure to secure their lands amid growing demand for new tourism infrastructure along the Carribean and Pacific coast and for agriculture investments in Eastern Colombia’s new “agriculture frontier”.
Involving ethnic communities in a transparent dialogue regarding the nexus between land resources and post-conflict development will contribute to a lasting peace process.