(Translated by Leo H Torres, a CSN Volunteer translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, a CSN Volunteer Editor.)
VerdadAbierta.com documented as had never been done before, how the Agrarian Reform Institute was open to abuse by 'Jorge 40' and his cronies so they could legalize thousands of hectares of land taken by force to poor peasants in the Magdalena.
Incoder returned 37 properties 'Jorge 40' had stolen in the department of Magdalena, and then managed to legalize, when pretending to leave the war. The District Attorney Office is already investigating several Incora (the predecessor institution of Incoder for land reform) officials for the illegal legalization of the dispossession in complicity with the paramilitaries.
VerdadAbierta.com, after reviewing dozens of documents of the entity, could verify that there were not only 37 lots that the paramilitary group stole. Those documents were obtained by a guardianship, and with them they could demonstrate that in only one year, 2003, the Incora revoked 134 titles to farmers in 13 municipalities of Magdalena, in areas where the paramilitary leader was committing crimes.
The revoked titles were given by the same entity between the eighties and nineties to address years of complaints about the land of farmers in this region. Each peasant had been assigned a family farm unit, which in this area ranged 20 and 30 hectares.
But after paramilitaries took the region by fire and sword and forced thousands of peasants to move, the entity, renamed Incoder, revoked the titles of the displaced peasants and in many cases re -awarded them to third parties.
Oscar Jose Pacheco Ospina alias "Tolemaida," a demobilized paramilitary who was part of the band 'Jorge 40', in free version before a prosecutor for Justice and Peace has confirmed what the documents suggest: that the AUC achieved the legalization of the dispossession of peasants by Incoder.
Tolemaida said another paramilitary known by the alias of 'Cordoba' was the one who served as a bridge between management of Incora and 'Jorge 40' to legalize the theft of land to peasant families displaced by the paramilitaries at late nineties.
The other witness who is cooperating with the justice, but whose name is being withheld for security reasons, told the authorities that he participated in several meetings between '40 'and Incora officials, and how they organized to revoke the land awarded to farmers and how they should be titled to the paramilitaries.
The documents support those versions. Between February and March 2003, the Incora reversed the award of 134 farms; two on average per day, arguing that farmers abandoned the land or defaulted on payment of a loan that was gave to them fifteen years ago. It can be seen from the exaggerated amount, if one considers that between 1996 and 2002, in the last seven years, it had just revoked the titles of 80 properties.
Revocation in 2003 included properties with extensions from 47 square meters, equivalent to an orchard, up to 69 hectares, a large estate. These cancellations of titles occurred in 12 municipalities of Magdalena, but mainly concentrated in four of them, just where the greatest displacement occurred due to the terror of Jorge 40.
VerdadAbierta.com knew that in his defense before the courts, the former Incora manager in Magdalena, José Fernando Mercado Polo, said to the authorities he had never heard of forced displacement of peasants in the area, much less than 'Jorge 40 'have killed or intimidated someone to steal their land.
It is a difficult version to believe, after that, by 2003, everyone in that region for many years listened to the reports by radio and newspaper about the forced displacement of peasants, who were arriving in large numbers every day to Santa Marta creating whole neighborhoods of metallic sheets and cartons.
According to Social Action in the 12 municipalities of Magdalena, where the Incora revoked land, at least 199,746 families were displaced between 2000 and 2009 by illegal armed groups. In the same municipalities, between 1990 and 2009, 9,642 people were killed.
Chivolo was the municipality with the largest number of peasants displaced by violence in the department between 1997 and 2002, where more titles were revoked. According to Incoder's own records, farmers there lost ownership of 47 parcels; the partitions of the largest farms were like the ones called El Encanto, Liana Prieto and La Palma. The second hardest hit municipality was Ariguaní with most cancellations of titles, where farmers have lost ownership of 32 plots, which in 1980 had been part of larger farms called Pacific, Melissa, San Jose and No Te Canses.
The third most affected municipality was Pivijay where Incora reversed 24 farms, which previously were part of large tracts of land called Palmarito, Florence and Santa Barbara. The number four municipality was Sitionuevo, where farmers lost their property over 12 areas that had been part of a global property called La Trinidad. In order for annulment of titles, but on a smaller scale, some of the affected municipalities were Tenerife, Aracataca, Plato, Slough, Foundation, The Bank, and Santa Marta Banana Zone.
Much of the land allocation to poor farmers was governed under Act 160 of 1994 on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development which established a selection process by points. This gave land to those peasants with family who lacked properties.
The selection was rigorous: a regional committee formed by the regional manager of the Institute, the chief legal officer, Agriculture Law Attorney, a representative of farmers and representatives of the associations of farmers, attesting to the score. If the peasant was selected for the award, they could not sell their land for 15 years.
The committee also watched how the farmers manage their land. They could not leave, yield, lease or sell their land. And only the committee could authorize the revocation of titles.
So it is noteworthy that in 2003, the Incora's Award Committee of Magdalena reversed so quickly 134 titles without even looking for farmers to explain why they had left their properties. On the decisions of revocation, they only mentioned that the staff of the Management Group visited the respective area and found that farmers had abandoned the plot, and of course, the Selection Committee, which met in late 2002 and early 2003, recommended starting the process for revocation.
But none of the files to which VerdadAbierta.com had access documented those revocations of land allotment; their records of every other administrative decision was complete. In his defense, the former manager of Incora-Magdalena, Mr. Mercado said that for every procedure for revocation, they left written records. These, however, have mysteriously disappeared and even the prosecutors could not find them.
Despite the Farmers affected, Incora never reported to them that their titles would be removed for alleged breach of the obligations of the award.
The new owners
It is even stranger that after the revocation of land allotment, they returned to be awarded in record time. They were usually to new farmers who already had invaded the land. This was reflected in the resolutions of Incora. It was later learned that the new owners were mostly demobilized AUC or their relatives, if not, nominees of former paramilitary leaders themselves.
In less than four months, the Incora signed 137 new awards to other owners. The dates of review and new awards were made on February 7th, 10th, 20th, and March 31st, 2003. Incora used just three months to reverse and then re-award these lands, with a speed never seen before.
In some cases, the land was reversed in February 2003 and titled between April 21, 24, and 25. Curiously, in the revocation INCORA did not specify the number of acres set aside, while in the new contract for the new owners they indicated that these farms were between 32 and 33 hectares. INCORA also applied to them the dispossessed peasants to lapse by default on loans they had contracted with the Agrarian Fund to pay 30 percent of the value of their lands.
The regular process, according to a former manager of Incora consulted by VerdadAbierta.com, could take 6 months to a year. In addition to verifying all the information, the new plot holders had to go through the procedure for getting a loan amounting to 30 percent of the value of the property.
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