Colombia: ranchers fear ‘communist’ redistribution

Colombia's federation of cattle ranchers, representing the country's large land owners, on June 28 rejected the government's recent agrarian deal with the FARC, charging that it could lead to Venezuela-style expropriations of private property. José Felix Lafaurie, president of FEDEGAN, said the joint report from the negotiating table in Havana "generates more questions than answers," and opens the door to legally acquired land being expropriated. His letter to chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle Lombana also warns that FARC and other illegal armed groups are concentrating land ownership, saying that ranchers will not accept losses of land while illegal groups benefit.

Lafaurie is a loyal ally of former president Álvaro Uribe and strong critic of President Juan Manuel Santos. Mired in corruption scandals several times, he has managed to continue his political career while also running significant business interests of his own.

While Lafaurie accepted that illegally taken land should be returned, his letter expressed concern that the ability to expropriate legally owned, but unused lands to give it to small farmers would "open a Pandora's Box" in which legal land owners would become targets of a process in which the government agencies would have too much discretionary power.

However, FEDEGAN cattle ranchers have been accused of being some of the chief propagators of paramilitary violence in Colombia, and Lafaurie himself has admitted to FEDEGAN paying AUC paramilitaries, the main perpetrators of massive land theft.

Lafaurie reserved his full fury for the government's negotiating position with the FARC, saying that the government has "acquiesced" to the FARC's ideological position that "a communist utopia of equality is achieved by redistribution." He also criticized the idea of creating more Campesinos Reserve Zones, saying they could serve as a cover for FARC guerillas.

The government has in recent years seized much land and many other assets belonging to the FARC and drug-trafficking groups. However the national paramilitary network AUC was also known to be involved in land theft from small farmers that, through corrupt government officials, then legally handed up in the hands of large landowners. It is unknown how much of this land has been seized or returned.

The joint report of the negotiators in Havana on the issue of land was the first such report produced as part of the peace process, and is intended to form the basis of the final peace deal. (Colombia Reports, June 29)