Afro-Colombians torn in land dispute

Afro-Colombians torn in land dispute

We continue our series from Colombia where the new Land Reform and Victims law was passed last month. CCTV Correspondent, Michelle Begue, visited a region where the armed conflict has left thousands displaced. CCTV spoke to afro-Colombian communities who are caught in a violent land dispute that seems to have no end.

To the naked eye these lands look peaceful and harmonious. The forests are rich in biodiversity and the land is extremely fertile. But for peasants such as Lucho in the northern region of Colombia, these lands have seen a cruel and bloody conflict for over a decade.

Lucho Ferias, Community leader, Curvaradó, said, ” These lands were fertilized with the blood of peasants that were killed in order to steal these lands. Blood is the fertilizer of the African Palm.”

The Colombian Province called el Choco is located at the north-western tip of the south American country and its population is 85% afro Colombian and 9% indigenous. These marginalized communities lived peacefully off their land until the late 1990s when they were forcefully displaced by armed groups. That is when the Palm Oil industry came to harvest African palm, popularly used as bio-fuel. Many companies acquired the lands illegally and today the government recognizes the rights of the afro Colombians to reclaim the properties. Regardless of legal recognition, the communities are constantly threatened, as companies pay armed groups to intimidate and sometimes kill their leaders.

Manuel from Pueblo Nuevo is one of those community leaders who is constantly under threat.

Manuel Denis Blandón, legal representative of Jiguamiandó, said, “They are threatening us to break our spirit and the process we are going through. So we can tire of the fight and leave. They have killed many leaders who are fighting for the restitution of lands.

Michelle Begue, Jiguamiando, Colombia, said, “This is Jiguamiando, which is a rich and bio-diverse sector. The palm industry has not reached this area yet, but the real threat is for the indigenous culture. They have a sacred mountain called the Jaikatuma which can be exploited for gold copper and a mineral called molybdenum, used in electronics.:

The natural wealth of these areas is the main reason these lands are so sought after. Manuel explains the afro Colombian communities’ small scale farming practices will help conserve the rainforest and biodiversity. An important issue for the world, he says, as it faces global warming…

Manuel Denis Blandnón, legal representative of Jiguamiandó,said, “We conserve the oxygen not only for us in jiguamiando but the whole world. I’ve been outside of the country and when I leave I feel I suffocate because there is little oxygen. Here oxygen is pure.”

The towns located in Jiguamiando and Curbaradó continue to live under constant threat. When killing doesn’t work armed groups have tried to bribe community members and leaders. However those that resist such as Don Erasmo feel that giving in to violence and bribes would be the equivalent to accepting money for the death of his friends and family.

Erasmo Sierra Ortiz, legal representative of New Hope, said, “I have suffered much from this violence but I will never betray my people. IF I betray this town I betray my sons. I feel pain for everything that has happened. But the day I die I will be happy because I am fighting for my land. I will leave some kind of history behind.”

The Justice system in Colombia has recognized the plight of these leaders and their communities. They were granted collective titles to the lands in 1993 and the state legalized them in 2001. However enforcement of the laws has yet to come, and petty legal battles on representation continue to stall future enforcement. In the meantime these communities continue to fend for themselves.