Drug traffickers now control almost half of all of Colombia's most productive agricultural lands, according to a study released this week by the Colombian government and reported in the newsweekly Semana.
Traffickers hold some 10 million acres, or 48% of prime agricultural land, with a value of $2.4 billion dollars, according to the government analysis. Those numbers could be low, the report said, because of the use of cut-outs to disguise the true owners of properties. Buying agricultural lands serves multiple purposes for traffickers, it added. "The primordial purpose is money laundering, but the buying of properties permits the traffickers to make savings in the long run and protect their money from devaluation," the report noted. "Additionally, it grants them a certain political leadership in the regions where they bought their properties."
The massive land grab serves other purposes that have little to do with drug trafficking but much to do with the country's decades-long civil war, according to a pair of veteran Colombian analysts. "This is an expression of the agrarian counter-reform that has taken place in Colombia, which has concentrated rural landholdings even more, and not necessarily for productive ends, but for speculation or the expansion of extensive cattle ranching," said Dario Gonzalez Posso, director of FUNDEPAZ, the Colombian Foundation for Development and Peace. "This strengthens the power of local political leaders who are identified with the paramilitaries," he told DRCNet.
"Millions of peasants are mere tenants on the lands they work; they have no home," said Maria Mercedes Moreno, director of Mama Coca (http://www.mamacoca.org), a loose collection of researchers studying the Andean coca complex. Those peasants are the sea from which the leftist rebels of the FARC and the ELN draw their revolutionary troops. "The only way to change things is by redistributing rights and obligations, beginning with land, which is the basis for community and nation-building," she told DRCNet. "The only answer is agrarian reform, but I doubt this administration has any intention of sharing more than crumbs, while making quite a show of that."
Yes. The same issue of Semana featured the government's proud announcement that it had redistributed seized trafficker lands to some 450 families. The amount of land in question was 13,000 acres, or slightly more than than one-tenth of one percent of the total trafficker holdings.