Ambitious measure to help farmers reclaim land taken by rebels and paramilitaries faces major obstacles.
Alicia Ramos began receiving death threats immediately after returning to the farmland she inherited from her father — 120 acres in Necocli, in Colombia’s northwest, near the Panama border. Left-wing guerrillas seized the plot in the 1980s and forced Ramos’ family out. Now she is back, thanks to a government land restitution program that provides her with armed guards, security cameras and a bulletproof vest.
“They killed my neighbor recently — I don’t feel very secure,” said Ramos, a mother of three, referring to Urabeńos, a neo-paramilitary group with a strong presence in the region. “They follow my car and ransacked my house when I stepped out recently, so now I don’t leave very often.”
Like Ramos, thousands of Colombian farmers are attempting to recover land usurped by paramilitary groups and leftist rebels during decades of armed conflict with the central government. Their struggle is the subject of a “Fault Lines” investigation, “Colombia: The Fight for Land,” premiering Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Backed by the 2011 Victims and Land Restitution Law, Colombians have filed roughly 40,000 claims for 11,000 square miles of land. But unless it is modified, the law is doomed to fail, say analysts and civil rights groups. Up to 50 claimants have been killed since 2011, according to the Colombian attorney general’s office. And at least 500 have received death threats in the past year. But no arrests have been made.
“The main problem with the law is the lack of security for those claiming land,” said Carmen Palencia, director of Tierra y Vida, which helps Colombians defend land rights. “They are being killed because government institutions don’t investigate or detain people linked to armed groups who are killing claimants,” added Palencia, who lost her husband to the armed conflict and regularly receives death threats owing to her work.
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