"The first thing you do is look at the areas with a high number of claims. That information is sent to the Ministry of Defense, which reviews the security situation and, if given the green light, we plan the intervention, reviewing what people are required. In the same way we coordinated with the Judicial Branch to place judges there and monitor that the process goes well and within a reasonable time. It is a very responsible, judicious planning, but which cannot look at a long-term horizon. In some areas, after the restitution process started, we had to suspend it: in Putumayo, in the Valle del Cauca, Norte de Santander".
According to periodic reports released by the Forjando Futuros (Forging Futures) Foundation, the last of which is dated June this year, out of the 73,127 applications filed to the Unit above mentioned, only 7,472 have been brought before the judges, while 61,780, i.e. 84 percent, are awaiting at the Ministry of Defense which does not give the green light needed to continue the process. This green light is called micro-focus in the decree of the law, and because of it the land restitution process is, in reality, frozen. Without that approval there are no processes, full stop. An otrageous situation.
The excuse given not to advance restitution is the war. The presence of guerrillas and other armed organizations, mined areas, things like that, very easy to say and which become the perfect excuse to say that you cannot advance the process for safety.
According to the careful study by the above mentioned Foundation about 1,000 of the judicial decisions ordering the restitution of land, dispossession of smallholders is attributed by 84 percent to paramilitary groups, including in these a 3 percent attributed to the Bacrim. It is sufficiently known that overwhelmed paramilitarism had the support of the Colombian armed forces, which allowed it to make all its misdeeds, one of them being the forced displacement of millions of peasants, whose lands were seized by a select group of people.
It is truly shameful that the land restitution process seeking the return of properties to their rightful owners or possessors, are stopped overwhelmingly by the silence of the same ministry which acted with gross negligence when paramilitaries were expelling the peasants. The beneficiaries of this plunder, prosperous and respectable rural investors, are the only beneficiaries of this silence. As they say, the Colombian military quieted when the dispossession occurred, and now they remain silent to prevent restitution.
The absence of security conditions is a myth being invoked by the State to not advance restitution of land, a myth helped by the legality of the decree incorporating the micro-focus to the restitution process. Mr. Ricardo Sabogal does nothing but feed this myth in his interview given to El Espectador on 9 December, when with absolute boldness says: "There are areas where if you said something to the guerrilla, if he did not like it, he leaves. And there they put another family. Or in some areas where there is no state power because the guerrillas have not allowed it, then they evict a family because they need the place as a corridor for drug trafficking."
The circle is closed again. The wily official who can only show a ridiculous 2 percent of restitution sentences in 4 years (within a total of 10 years), ascribes to the guerrillas the inability to restitute the land to the victims. In this way, everybody looks well, except the violently dispossessed peasants and the guerrillas who need to be abhorred.
That same State issuing laws and decrees knowing that they will not be complied because its own officials covered by the trap contained in the law will prevent it, does not say a word, nor move a single finger, to the fact that in half of all restitution processes initiated by the dispossessed before judges across the country, the very same 10 individuals represent the opposition, i.e. the same opponent who presented himself in court against one or more claimants in the Caquetá, also present himself against other claimants in Urabá or another region of the country. A true cartel of opposition. No one at the highest level of government or in the Defense Ministry seems to think this looks like a suspicious coincidence.
It is the sad reality of the promises made by Juan Manuel Santos when he begun his government. Furthermore, it is the sad reality of laws enacted by the Congress to never be fulfilled. As it the study of Forjando Futuros Foundation finds, putting together all the physical and bureaucratic infrastructure for land restitution has cost the Colombian government 836,719 million pesos, nearly one billion, while the value of the 1,679 restituted land and 80 offset by judgments reached 263,304 million pesos, that means that the amount invested cost three times the amount restituted.
The huge apparatus for restitution certainly serves many officials as Ricardo Sabogal to live and do politics, but in their practical results it is a real fiasco, in which the worst is suffered by the displaced and dispossessed peasants who, although no one believe it, have the legitimate right to recover their lands, despite everybody makes fun of them. Others are the ones who win, the same ones who must be applauding Ricardo Sabogal, while laughing out loud.