Colombia: judge orders return of usurped lands

The Second Civil Court of the Special Circuit for Land Restitution in the northern Colombian town of Carmen de Bol√≠var issued an historic ruling Oct. 16, ordering the return of 65 hectares to 14 families who had been forced from their lands in the “Massacre of Mampuj√°n,” a paramilitary attack carried out on March 11, 2000. The ruling, the first under Colombia’s new Land Restitution Law, calls on the government’s Victims Reparations Unit to oversee the return of the predios, or private collective land-holdings, to the residents of Mampuj√°n, a caser√≠o (unincorporated hamlet) in Mar√≠a la Baja municipality, Bol√≠var department. The residents had been forced to flee when the caser√≠o was attacked by the Mar√≠a la Baja Bloc of the United Colombian Self-Defense Forces (AUC). Bloc commander Uber Enrique Banquez Mart√≠nez AKA “Juancho Dique” was sentenced to 22 years in prison in July after confessing to massacres in the region. Subsequently, the displaced residents returned to Mampuj√°n from the exile hamlet they had established, “New Mampuj√°n.”

The displaced from Mampuj√°n, totaling 1,444 individuals, have refused to accept monetary compensation from the government despite an April 2011 Supreme Court of Justice ruling that ordered a payment‚ÄĒthe first such ruling under Colombia’s 2005 Peace and Justice Law. The residents charged that the government’s Reparation Fund had arbitrarily halved the amount offered from that ordered by the Supreme Court. Authorities say 338 families have been displaced by paramilitary violence in Bol√≠var, with more such cases pending. (El Tiempo, Bogot√°, Colprensa, AFP, Oct. 16; El Universal, Cartagena, July 4; Verdad Abierta, June 7; International Center for Transitional Justice)

Lands elsewhere in Colombia have been returned to campesino communities by order of the Agriculture Ministry, but in some cases returned lands have been attacked by paramilitary forces that remain active. Although President Juan Manuel Santos pledged to address the problem of land usurpation upon taking office two years ago, the practice has nonetheless persisted.