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Colombia: Implementing the Peace Accord: A draft bill

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh 

27 April 2017

As part of the implementation of the Peace Accord, there is a draft bill on the Social Land Management of Rural Property and Land circulating.  A group of congress people and social organizations have sent a letter to the Monitoring Commission expressing their concern and rejection of various parts of the draft.  According to the signatories “several particular parts openly contravene the Political Constitution of 1991, the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court and even the content of the Havana Peace Accord signed between the National Government and the FARC-EP in November 2016.”(1)

Without a doubt, there are parts of the draft that are unconstitutional and they are also right regarding the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court, as it is true that legislation that affects ethnic communities is subject to a process of prior consultation and there is also long list of judicial findings on agrarian issues.  Where the congress people are wrong is when they talk of the Peace Accord.  The contradictions that they point out are not real.

The Agrarian Model and State owned land

First they appeal to general points in the Peace Accords before going on to look at the specific proposals of the law.  They quote a part of the Peace Accord that states:

“a real structural transformation of the countryside requires the adoption of measure to foment an appropriate use of land in line with its vocation and to encourage the formalisation, restitution and equitable distribution of the same, guaranteeing a progressive access to rural property for those who live in the countryside, particularly rural women and the most vulnerable people, regulating and democratising property and promoting the distribution of land in line with its social function.”

Furthermore, they cite part of the Accord that talks about the eradication of poverty etc.  These are like the preambles in constitutions, they are aspirational.  There are various parts of the draft that are more technical and once again the congress people get it right.  It is true that the draft law aims to make it even easier to hand over state lands to foreign companies for projects that are supposedly of “public use and social interest (such as mining or oil companies).”  Moreover, it introduced a new concept, a new legal figure, Rural Production Unit, which may allow the accumulation of state lands in hands other than those of peasants.  As the signatories of the letter say:

“Furthermore, it opens up the possibility, that through the ownership of a UPA, large extensions of land could be accumulated for business or other purposes, which in practice would reduce the land area available for food production by the peasantry.”

Once again they get it right, although they themselves acknowledge that the handing over of state lands to national and foreign companies is not something new.  In fact, throughout the peace process the Colombian state continued with its policy of ignoring the legislation in force, the Political Constitution and the jurisprudence.  The signatories state:

“it is very serious, because as the Comptroller & Auditor General of the Republic, has denounced in several reports, that there are proven cases of irregular accumulation of state lands in the Colombian high plains, in which powerful companies and people were involved (such as Luís Carlos Sarmiento Angulo, Pablo Valencia Iragorria, Cargill, Riopaila, amongst others).  It is not acceptable that the state, instead of strengthening the legal tools to achieve the recovery of these lands and the annulation of these fraudulent negotiations, aims to legalise and restructure them.”

It could not be put better.  The state has a nefarious practice of handing over land to national and foreign companies, and despite the declarations made by several NGOs and social organisations (amongst them signatories of the letter), the state hasn’t the slightest intention of transforming the Colombian countryside in favour of the peasantry.  However, this is not due just to a lack of will on their part, but rather the Peace Accord does not, as the signatories believe, oblige them to do so.  They claim that the law “Strengthens the model that favours agroindustry through figures such as the Zidres.”(2)  But this is not contrary to the Peace Accord, which recognises the legality and legitimacy of this model.  The definitive version of the Peace Accord contains on page 12 a list of nothing less than principles, amongst which is the following gem:

Comprehensive development of the countryside:  the comprehensive development of the countryside depends on the proper balance between the different forms of production in existence – family based agriculture, agroindustry, tourism, commercial large scale agriculture; on the competitiveness and the need to promote and foment investment in the countryside with an entrepreneurial vision and productive aims as a condition for development; and the promotion and fomenting in equitable conditions of chains of small scale rural production alongside other production models that may be vertical or horizontal and on different scales.  In any event, the peasant, family and community economy will be supported and protected ensuring its development and strengthening. (Bold not in the original)

Shall we spell it out for you?  The Accord contemplates agroindustry, large-scale agriculture and competition.  Here the government is not the one telling lies, the liars are those who said the Accord was different to what was written down in black and white.  The signatories are right when they say that the draft bill is regressive in nature for the Colombian countryside, but they themselves asked people to vote for the Accord and campaigned in favour of it.  Yes, the Colombian right was able to introduce some changes in the Accord, such as the ones cited here, but the congress people who signed the letter voted in favour of the Accord with these changes included.

The signatories also complain about the articles in the draft of the bill that try to link the peasantry to big business and the agro-exporting projects.  According to the signatories the draft bill…

… limits [the communities] chances of defining the productive and economic model that would allow the building of peace with social justice, by tying it to technical criteria and guidelines from the National Land Agency, the Rural Agricultural Planning Unit and the Agency for Rural Development, that give priority to the establishment of alliances and chains of production between small and large producers and the efficient use of rural land, technological innovation, technical aid, credit, irrigation and commercialisation that favour an entrepreneurial large-scale agro-industrial production.

They are right, the draft bill, does that, it forces the peasants to associate with large companies. There are two points regarding this. First this has been the state’s policy for a long time, something we will deal with now, but secondly it is also an explicit part of the Peace Accord.  Once again we have to spell it out.  On page 33, point the accord clearly states:

Associative practice: the government will foment and promote associative practices, productive chains and alliances between small-scale, medium sized and large producers as well as processors, traders and exporters with the aim a guaranteeing a competitive scale of production inserted into value added chains that contribute to improving the living conditions of the inhabitants of the countryside in general and in particular the small-scale producers.  To that end, it will provide technical, legal and economic aid (credit or financing) to small-scale producers in order to guarantee balanced, sustainable family and associative based economies. (Bold not in the original)

Can there be any doubt?  No. However, as we pointed out, this idea is not new and the role played by the NGOs and various personalities on the left, in relation to this, should not surprise us.

Productive Alliances

This proposal, which is so nauseating to the signatories, has been the official policy of the state for a long time, with the support of the USA, the EU, the NGOs and the silence of the left.

The idea of uniting the peasantry in common projects with agro-industry is neither new nor Colombian.  But in the Colombian case, it gains traction in the 1990s with the Programme for Development and Peace in Magdalena Medio.  The PDPMM was founded in 1995 as an initiative of Ecopetrol and the oil workers’ union USO.  In 1998 it received a World Bank  learning and innovation loan, but the fate of the PDPMM and its ideologue, the priest Francisco de Roux changed radically with Plan Colombia.  They received the support of Plan Colombia to foment Strategic Alliances where the peasants would form an alliance with big businss to produce African Palm, cocoa and later rubber.  This model transferred all the costs of production of the large companies to the peasants.  At that time De Roux received the political support of large NGOs such as those that are part of OIDHACO (Oxfam, Christian Aid, Trócaire, Secours Catholique and Mundubat [then known as Paz y Tercer Mundo] amongst others).  Furthermore the coordinating body of human rights NGOs such as the Coordinación Colombia Europa EE.UU (Colombia-Europe- US Coordination) remained silent.  They did not want to criticise either De Roux or his model.  In fact, this nefarious personality is still invited to give conferences by left-wing organisations, they distribute his articles and speak his name with reverence.

Then came Felipe Arias, the Minister for Agriculture in Uribe’s government who adopted this model promoted by De Roux and made it his own.  In his Apuesta Exportadora (Exporting Stake) he detailed not only the crops to be promoted but the regions prioritised for each crop and in that he coincided with the European Union and its Peace Laboratories that also promoted this agro-exporting model that linked the peasantry to big business and they implemented it in various regions of the country.  The NGOs not only remained silent in the face of the manoeuvres of European imperialism, or as they call it, the good imperialism that does not shoot bullets in Colombia, but rather social organisations such as the CRIC and CIMA (3) managed the Cauca Peace Laboratory, promoting the model that the signatories to the letter have criticised so much, planting and growing the crops designated by Felipe Arias, such as asparagus, broccoli, garden produce etc.

In 2011, the Victims and Land Restitution law strengthened this model forcing the peasants to grow cash crops if they wanted credit for the lands that have been given back to them.  This model is not new, what is new is that the signatories of the letter criticise it.  But if they want to criticise the Associative Practices of the Peace Accord and the law, then they will have to explain to the peasants why this is bad and why they didn’t say so 17 years ago when De Roux implemented the same model with funds from Plan Colombia and why they never said anything when the Europeans promoted the same thing.  It is an answer that the peasantry deserves, as they are political agents they are not cannon fodder for the political squabbles of the NGOs and Colombian politicians.  Take your time, but your response would be welcome.

The Weakness of the Accord

The Peace Accord is very weak, when not openly reactionary on agricultural matters.  It cannot be the basis nor a reference point for opposition to the agrarian policies of the state because, as was pointed out, the Accord includes many of those elements.  But the Accord has a serious political weakness that few want to acknowledge.  The Strategic Alliances, the handover of state lands, the fomenting of agro-industry, the theft of land etc. all of this began before the process of negotiations with the FARC and the state continued with and intensified this throughout the four years of negotiations.  Neither the FARC, nor any of the signatories were capable of putting on the table the issues denounced in the letter.  This does not mean that they never said anything about state lands for example, as all the congress people did, but not in the context of their support for the peace process.  The Peace Accord was going to transform the Colombian countryside, they said, but they never publicly demanded what they are now demanding in the letter.

Moreover, when the UN and the National University organised the Agrarian Forum as part of the process, it was presided over by and closed by Francisco de Roux.  In his closing remarks De Roux told the peasants and business people present (the Colombian Agricultural Society – SAC- and the Palm Growers Association Fedepalma and others were in attendance) that he would take their proposals to Havana, but also the proposal for what he called permanent tropical crops i.e. palm, cocoa, rubber.  The signatories to the letter that attended that forum never said anything about De Roux’s closing remarks.

The FARC were not capable of including a single word against this agrarian model.  The Accord has nothing to say about the model nor subjecting the peasants to agro-industrial projects.  Neither does it have much to say about state lands (the phrase occurs only three times in the 310 pages of the document).  Whilst the NGOs and the “left intellectuals” demanded total and blind support for the Peace Accord, the businesspeople continued with their plunder and the preparation of the draft bill.

The criticisms of the signatories are to be welcomed, but if they insist on the Peace Accord being the reference point, they will be less than worthless.  The opposition to the state’s agrarian policies must be outside the framework of the Accord and where it has always been, on the streets, highways and fields of the country without the mediation nor good intentions of those who in the name of peace would sacrifice the peasantry.  It remains to be seen how many of the signatories stand by their criticism once the FARC and/or the government invoke the stability and future of the Peace Accord.  The next time though, do us the favour of reading the Peace Accord before telling us what is contrary to the said document.


(1) The signatories are: Senator Iván Cepeda, Senator Alberto Castilla, , Representative Alirio Uribe, Representative Ángela María Robledo, Representative Víctor Correa and for the social organisations: Fensuagro, Coordinación Étnica Nacional de Paz- Cenpaz, Comisión Colombiana de Paz, Grupo Género en la Paz , CINEP/Programa de Paz, Grupo Semillas, Corporación Jurídica Yira Castro.

(2) Areas of land given over to Agro-industrial use through the infamous Zidres Law

(3) The CRIC is the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca and CIMA is a professionalised peasant NGO.

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