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Cablegate: Curvarado and Jiguamiando: A Tale of Two

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBO #3855/01 1502232
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 302232Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5750
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 7568
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 9031
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ MAY LIMA 5093
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 0339
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 5714
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 003855

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/19/2017
TAGS: PTER PGOV PREL ECON CO
SUBJECT: CURVARADO AND JIGUAMIANDO: A TALE OF TWO
DISPLACED AFRO-COLOMBIAN COMMUNITIES

REF: A. BOGOTA 2533
B. BOGOTA 2274

Classified By: Political Counselor John S. Creamer.
Reason: 1.4 (b,d)

-------
Summary
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1. (C) Conflict between paramilitary and FARC forces
displaced the Afro-Colombian communities of Curvarado and
Jiguamiando in 1997. Between 2001-2002, after the GOC
designated 100,000 hectares in the area as Afro-Colombian
"communal territories," community members returned. They
found their land occupied by African palm plantations. Palm
companies claimed they "bought" the land, but human rights
and Afro-Colombian advocacy groups say sellers were
intimidated by paramilitaries and/or lacked the legal right
to sell the land. The GOC's land titling agency has spent
years sorting out which plantations are legitimately on
private property and which are on communal territories.
Contacts expect the lands to be returned by the end of 2007.
The GOC is also prosecuting corporate officers in palm
plantation companies operating in the area for charges
including homicide. Prosecutors are optimistic about the
cases, but worried about their ability to protect witnesses.
End summary.

--------------------------------------------
Background: Afro-Colombians and African Palm
--------------------------------------------

2. (U) 1993's "Ley 70" designated traditional
Afro-Colombian lands as "communal territories." The law
described what lands would become communal territories, but
did not explicitly demarcate their boundaries. Article 63 of
the National Constitution and Article 7 of the "Ley 70"
declares that the land in each community designated for
collective use cannot be transferred or seized as collateral
in a legal proceeding ("inalienable, imprescriptible, e
inembargable"). The department of Choco on the Pacific coast
has the highest concentration of Afro-Colombians (ref A).
About 10 percent of Colombia's African palm oil, a source of
bio-fuel and other products, comes from the Pacific coast
region (ref B).

3. (U) The USG supports African Palm projects in many parts
of the country. In addition to a thorough diligence process
that establishes land history and ownership, the USG works
primarily with small and medium sized land holders. The USG
also works with private banks, which adds an additional due
diligence step. Further, the USG is working with INCODER and
local government entities to strengthen the land titling
process and accountability.

--------------------------------------------- -------
Curvarado and Jiguamiando: Caught in the Cross-Fire
--------------------------------------------- -------

4. (U) The Afro-Colombian communities of Curvarado and
Jiguamiando in northern Choco were caught in the cross-fire
between the FARC and the United Self-defense Forces of
Colombia (AUC) in the late 1990s according to Hector Cruz, a
fifteen year veteran of the national Prosecutor's office who
is coordinating criminal prosecutions in the area. Prior to
1997 each community had a population of 3,000-5,000, spread
throughout half a dozen or so small river villages. FARC
influence was pervasive until 1997 when paramilitary forces
began engaging the FARC. The FARC and AUC targeted community
leaders for assassination, and local residents fled.

5. (U) Palm companies began "purchasing" land in the area
between 1998-2001. Human rights and Afro-Colombian advocacy
groups say sellers were intimidated by paramilitaries and/or
lacked the legal right to sell the land. They also claim
corrupt local government officials colluded in the process
and that threats continue. Cruz said palm plantations began
operating in the area in 2001. At the same time, the
government land titling agency, INCODER, designated 100,000
hectares of communal territories in Curvarado and Jiguamiando
and displaced community members began returning. According
to INCODER, they found thirteen thousand hectares of land
were occupied by palm plantations, some financially supported

by GOC agricultural agencies.

6. (C) LorenaGarnica, a special advisor to the Ministry of
Agriculture and Rural Development which oversees GOC land
agencies, said INCODER has spent years sorting out which
plantations are legitimately on private property and which
are on communal territories. INCODER ultimately decided that
15,000 hectares of plantations were on communal territories.
Still, returning the land has been complicated by the
multitude of government agencies involved. Land registration
offices (local municipal notary offices that register land
titles) have to void prior title decisions before the land
can be returned, but have waited until civil courts resolved
property demarcation disputes. Civil court decisions have
sometimes been contingent on criminal court findings.
Garnica said "buck passing" was a problem, but thinks an
interagency March 28, 2007 agreement will expedite the
process. Garnica and Cruz both expect the majority of the
15,000 hectares to be returned before the end of 2007.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Prosecutions for Murder, Mayhem and False documents
--------------------------------------------- ------

7. (C) Hector Cruz has worked for three years developing
cases for crimes committed in Curvarado and Jiguamiando since
the displacement. He was recently put in charge of all cases
against palm companies in the area, a responsibility
previously shared between a number of different prosecutors.
Every month he spends about a week in Choco: talking to
witnesses, reviewing documents, and traveling by boat (for up
to ten hours) between different courthouses. Pointing to a
five foot high pile of indictments stacked against his office
wall, he said he has prepared cases for 16 murders, a dozen
land invasions, five forced displacements, and two uses of
false documents. Most cases are against corporate officers
of palm companies, and Cruz plans to charge about 25 of them.
Cruz believes there were connections between paramilitaries
and palm companies, but said they have been difficult to
verify. He has focused his resources on what he can prove.

8. (C) Cruz predicts he will get convictions within 18
months, but resources are a problem. He only has one lawyer
and a several local investigators helping him. Success will
hinge on witnesses. Cruz expects to need between 50-75
witnesses, but worries that many may be too frightened to
testify. Cruz said the Prosecutor General supports his
efforts, and has told him to expedite the cases. Still, he
said his office has only been able to offer protection to
four or five witnesses, and he does not know if they will
have the resources to protect others.
Drucker

=======================CABLE ENDS============================

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