Cablegate: Goc Ready to Return Afro-Colombian Lands in Choco


DE RUEHBO #0239/01 0172054
R 172054Z JAN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 07 BOGOTA 3855

1. SUMMARY: The GOC has resolved the legal issues
surrounding the return of the Afro-Colombian communal
territories of Curvarado and Jiguamiando to their rightful
inhabitants. The GOC determined that the communities,
displaced by paramilitaries in the mid-1990s, own 29,300
hectares of land occupied by African palm plantations.
Still, security concerns have prevented most community
members from returning to their land, and basic
infrastructure will require work. The Ministry of the
Interior and Justice (MinInt) expects to resolve the security
issues within the next two months, clearing the way for the
communities' return. END SUMMARY


2. Conflict between paramilitary and FARC forces displaced
about 8,000 members of the Afro-Colombian communities of
Curvarado and Jiguamiando in the department of Choco in the
mid-late 1990s. The GOC had previously recognized the
communities' right to their land pursuant to Article 55 of
the Constitution of 1991 and Law 70 of 1993. The GOC's land
titling agency, INCODER, delineated the boundaries of 110,000
hectares of "communal territories" for Curvarado and
Jiguamiando between 2000 and 2001. However, when community
members tried to return to their lands in 2001-2002, they
found 35,000 hectares, or roughly a third of the land,
occupied by African palm plantations.

Untangling the Mess

3. In 2006 the GOC began the process of untangling ownership
of the disputed 35,000 hectares. Lorena Garnica, a special
advisor to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
(MinAg), said "buck passing" of responsibility between GOC
agencies remained a problem until the MinAg agreed to
coordinate the legal resolution of the cases. The MinAg
decided the most effective process would be to pursue
administrative solutions through INCODER and the
Superintendent of Notarization and Registration (as opposed
to filing court cases which could take many years).

4. In July 2007 the Consejo de Estado (Colombia's highest
administrative court entity) issued an advisory opinion
invalidating the plantation companies' claims to 5,100
disputed hectares because they were not registered on time.
In September the Superintendent of Notarization and
Registration revoked companies' claims to another 24,200
hectares (6,500 hectares of claims based on false documents
and 17,700 based on false claims that river movement had
created new land). In August and September INCODER also
determined that the companies had legitimate claims to 6,400

Legally Resolved, But Further Civil and Criminal Action Likely
--------------------------------------------- -----------------

5. Catalina Riveros of the MinAg's Office of Rural
Development has coordinated the legal resolution of the
cases. Riveros said the MinAg's role ended in September with
the decisions regarding ownership. If plantations challenge
the decisions by the Consejo de Estado and Superintendent of
Notarization and Registration, which Riveros thinks likely,
the Defensoria del Pueblo (National Ombudsman) will defend
the decisions. However, Riveros said such law suits should
not legally prevent Afro-Colombians from taking possession of
their lands. Additionally, because the plantations' actions
were determined to be in "bad faith," the communities own any
African palm trees on their land.

6. MinInt Vice-Minister Maria Isabel Nieto, who has
responsibility for coordinating security issues for the
communities' return, noted that legally the communities still
need to request local authorities to inspect the lands and
formally hand the title over to them. She described this as
a simple administrative requirement that she anticipates will
be accomplished imminently. Nieto said that once the
communities ask local authorities for the inspection-title
handover, MinInt will help coordinate the delivery.

7. In addition, Prosecutor Hector Cruz said in the next six
month he plans to file criminal cases against 20 plantation
officers on charges of using false documents and forcing
people off their land (in addition, he expects to bring
charges against non-company individuals for eight murders
related to the land takings). Nieto noted that the
government has reached out to other palm companies in the
hope that arrangements could be reached to allow the
communities to take advantage of the valuable palm trees on
their property.

Security Issues Remain

8. GOC officials and local residents told us security
remains a serious concern. Nieto said the police and
military currently provide protection to specific at-risk
community members, but agreed that the communities need an
overall security plan. She is working with local
authorities, the communities, police and the military to
develop such a plan, and expects to finish it by March.
Nieto is also coordinating the return with Sister Cecilia
Naranjo, the director of the human rights group "Justice and
Peace" which represents the communities. Naranjo told us she
is confident that residents will be able to return once the
security plan is in place.

Living Conditions Will Need Work

9. Nieto and Naranjo agreed that even after security has
been established, living conditions will be difficult. Most
homes have been destroyed or fallen into disrepair. Public
facilities for health, education and other social services
are non-existent outside of two "humanitarian zones" where
about 500 people live. Nieto has begun working with Accion
Social (the President's social program office) on improving
living conditions. Diego Molano, Accion Social's Deputy
Director, told us the GOC's Centro de Coordinacion de Accion
Integral (CCAI) would soon start working in Curvarado and
Jiguamiando. CCAI coordinates about eighty million dollars
of GOC spending to develop social services in areas where
security exists but state control remains shaky.


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