Colombia 16/01/12

Land restitution process begins in “Las Catas”, FARC leader calls on government to resuscitate peace negotiations and Chávez willing to mediate in peace talks.






The beginnings of Colombia’s land restitution process began this week as President Santos handed over the estate “Las Catas” to 304 families who have been displaced by the violence.

Speaking from the official handover in the department of Córdoba, the President declared that through the handing over of land to farmers and those displaced by violence the government was initiating a “great agricultural revolution in Colombia”.

On Thursday the Victims and Land Restitution Law, which was signed in June, came into effect.  The historic law promises to provide reparations to those who have suffered human rights abuses in the conflict and to return land to those whose land was seized by illegal groups.

“Las Catas” the pilot project of land restitution, once belonged to the drug-traffickers brothers Gerardo, William and Francisco Moncada, who worked for Pablo Escobar.  The families who now hold the title to the land will work in the commercial cultivation of rubber, cocoa and bananas.  The government hopes that projects like “Las Catas” – in which farmers will enter into a “productive alliance” with business – will enact an enormous transformation in production.  Over the next four years three million hectares of land will be handed over under this model.

On Monday, FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry, alias “Timochenko”, called on the Colombian government to resuscitate the failed peace negotiations abandoned a decade ago during the presidency of Andrés Pastrana.

The new leader, who took over the leadership of the guerrilla group after Alfonso Cano was killed in November, asked the government for a “conversation” on a number of issues of national interest: “We are interested in questioning privatization, deregulation, the absolute freedom of commerce and investment, environmental depredation, democracy ruled by the market, the military doctrine”, he stated in a statement circulated on the internet.

Before his death, Cano had also called for a dialogue with conditions.  After becoming leader, and after the protest of thousands of Colombians in December over the deaths of four hostages held by the FARC, Timochenko had asked for a humanitarian exchange of imprisoned guerrilleros for hostages, as the first step in such a dialogue.

President Santos however, rejected the FARC´s demands.  On Twitter he stated “We don´t want any more rhetoric, the country asks for clear acts of peace.  They must forget a new Caguan”; making an explicit reference to the failed dialogue between Pastrana and the FARC between 1998 and 2002.  Since then, during the presidency of Uribe and the current Santos administration, the Colombian government has rejected any negotiations with the guerrillas, opting instead to fight for a military victory.

The Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez stated on Friday that he would be willing to mediate in any such peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government.

During his speech before the National Assembly in Venezuela, Chávez argued that he had never given his support to the Colombian guerrilla group, something he has frequently been accused of doing.

Although explaining that he wasn´t going to “get involved in Colombia´s internal affairs”, he said he would be closely watching the declarations of all parties involved.  “What we want is peace in Colombia and we will help the search for peace if they ask us to”.