Photo: FARC Guerrillas Large Land Owners
Colombia’s FARC guerrilla group has carried out land seizures and owns - in the names of straw men - farms of up to 42,000 hectares (105,000 acres), the director of the Territorial Consolidation and Reconstruction Unit, Alvaro Balcazar, said in an interview published by the El Tiempo newspaper.
“We can quite safely say that in the provinces of Meta and Caqueta there are farms of between 5,000 and 42,000 hectares which are in the hands of straw men” of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Balcazar said.
The entity Balcazar heads began operations on Jan. 1 and has the task of recovering for the state areas that for decades have been in the hands of illegal armed groups.
“We’ve received much information and the country is aware of the dispossessions carried out by the paramilitaries. But the seizures by the FARC are the same or worse,” Balcazar said.
The guerrilla groups “base their continued existence on the control of territory ... (but) that doesn’t mean that the people are on the FARC’s side,” Balcazar said.
If there is no state to protect them, “people necessarily wind up doing what the FARC need them to do, not because they want to but rather pressured by threats and intimidation,” he said.
The guerrillas “have taken children away, although their parents are not in agreement. They make them fulfill certain tasks and the family that refuses has to go,” Balcazar said.
“When they began to do away with illicit crops, many people were without employment and abandoned farms that were very far away and now the FARC is placing people there who carry out logistical and strategic tasks,” Balcazar said.
This is “a type of invisible repopulation,” the rural development researcher said.
“People are afraid to make a claim ... (but) if at this time we would want to conduct restitution activities it’s very difficult for people to accept having land returned to them where the FARC still has control,” Balcazar said.
Since June 2010, about 7,000 claims have been filed to recover 416,218 hectares (1.04 million acres) of land usurped by rebels and by the right-wing AUC militia federation, Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo said Thursday.
About 350,000 families “from whom was taken not less than 2 million hectares (5 million acres) will have the right to demand the restitution of their land,” Restrepo said, adding that “in the last quarter century ... the forced abandonment of about 4 million hectares (10 million acres) occurred in the country.”
President Juan Manuel Santos signed the victims and land restitution law in June 2011 at a special ceremony attended by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as the guest of honor.