Colombia: Little Progress in the Implementation of the Comprehensive Rural Reform

Even if the implementation of the Comprehensive Rural Reform is advancing at a snail’s pace, the government’s actions don’t embrace the spirit of the agreement and are aimed at faking compliance with the Agreement. There are several reasons for this:

There is no recognition of the importance of the peasant, family and community economy. Although the Final Agreement recognizes the fundamental role of the peasant, family and community economy in the development of the countryside, the Duque government’s inaction in implementing the sub-points on access to land and social planning of rural property shows that it has another agenda.

The Comptroller General’s Office warns that the ANT (National Land Agency) intends to change the indicator established in the Implementation Framework Plan for measuring the compliance of the Land Fund. This indicator would only measure the properties registered in the Fund. This change represents an attempt to restrict the assessment of this item to the lands registered in the Fund without considering whether these lands have been handed over to peasants. This amounts to a distortion of the agreement and a de facto change to the Agreement, since the Land Fund was created to hand over land to peasants without land or with insufficient land. There can be no claim of compliance with the Agreement if this doesn’t happen.

Likewise, the Agreement specifies six types of properties that can be sourced for the Land Fund, one of which is the legal extinction of ownership or the recovery of unexploited land. However, the government is only sourcing uncultivated properties or lands already registered in the National Agrarian Fund. In this way, it isn’t promoting the reduction of large land holdings nor the democratization of access to land.

The government bodies contradict each other on the area of land registered in the Land Fund. Thus, while the Ministry for Stabilization and Consolidation states that the Fund holds 924,266 hectares, the director of the ANT has declared that it includes 557,000 hectares. Adding to the confusion, these figures don’t even provide the required information to assess the progress achieved in the implementation of the Land Fund since they don’t say how many hectares of land have been handed over. There are also discrepancies in the government data on the legalization of rural property. While the ANT maintains that 1,900,000 hectares have been legalized, the President’s Council states that the figure is only 93,106 hectares1.

No matter which government figure is used, there is no way to know whether these properties were legalized through programs executed before the Agreement because the Plan for the Massive Legalization of Rural Property established in point 1 of the Agreement still hasn’t been implemented.

There are also serious limitations to community participation. The Colón Theatre Agreement recognizes participation as a guiding principle of implementation. However, the Duque government persists in ignoring this principle. For example, measures to close and protect reserve zones were adopted without any community participation. The PATRs (Regional Transformation Action Plans) didn’t apply methods to ensure the participation of women and omitted creating spaces for prior consultations with ethnic peoples.

The communities have emphasized the lack of participation in the implementation of the PDETs (Territory-based Development Programs) and are denouncing that no dialogue is taking place with social and community organizations. Their participation was limited to the programs’ planning stage, but once the PATRs were signed, the process stopped and the government decided that the role of the citizenry ended there. It continued to engage in dialogue with local authorities, but work with communities and their delegates came to a halt, and this generated mistrust. Also, the government isn’t allocating sufficient resources for the implementation of the PDETs: 4.6 billion must be invested annually. However, in 2020 the government reduced by 10 to 20% the funding of the main agencies involved in the process.

Including these programs in the Territorial Development Plans represents a step forward in the implementation of the PDETs. The local authorities of the 170 PDET municipalities included more than 10,000 initiatives (designed with the communities in the PDET planning processes) in the Territorial Development Plans. This reconfirms the local authorities’ commitment to achieving the implementation of these programs in the territories.

Although the Agreement recognizes the importance of participation and dialogue between different social sectors, the Duque government is reluctant to promoting such spaces. For example, it has chosen to send the public force to execute forced eradication operations of illicit crops rather than respond to the communities’ calls to create discussion tables and find a solution to the illicit crops problem that doesn’t involve violence and human rights violations. The sole response to their request was the use of force.

The Agreement provided for a series of interlinked mechanisms for the planning and implementation of the Comprehensive Rural Reform. Thus, each of these mechanisms depends on the others but the implementation process has broken this integrity. For example, the absence of the 16 PNRRIs (integral national rural reform plans) has impeded the coordination with the PATRs, which was planned for the first three years of implementation. Of the five adopted PNRRIs (all approved under the Santos government), the Duque government’s National Development Plan specifically includes only the Tertiary Road and Land Adjustment Plans. The lack of progress in the implementation of the PNIS, which could also negatively impact the effectiveness of the policies implemented under the RRI, is also undermining the agreement’s integrity.

Likewise, progress is still pending on alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, the creation of the agrarian jurisdiction, the creation of the High-Level Body for the definition of land use guidelines and the mechanisms for social dialogue and consultation. These failures show how inherently complex processing land and territorial conflicts can be, and the institutions’ lack of interest in giving life to the different bodies.2

Under the Duque government, the rural development approach has clearly changed from a comprehensive and territorial state approach to one focused on territorial security and militarization. This is why 50 US soldiers arrived in Colombia on June 1st who will focus on the areas of Tumaco, Catatumbo and Chiribiquete, 3 of the 5 “zones of the future” that Duque is implementing. These zones overlap with the areas that were prioritized for the implementation of the PDETs proposed in the Peace Agreement.

Peasant and social organizations have submitted complaints claiming that military and local authorities are organizing meetings in areas they have called “zones of the future” to involve peasant communities in military actions. The organizational processes have expressed their opposition to such activities that are in no way reconciliatory or civil. On the contrary, they’re military initiatives. Therefore, the civilian population should in no way participate in their planning or execution.3

1 Centro de Pensamiento y diálogo político – CEPDIPO (2020). La Reforma Rural en Deuda. [The Rural Reform is indebted.] Colección cuadernos de la Implementación. Bogotá.ón_web_06_La-reforma-rural-integral-en-deuda.pdf

2 Centro de Pensamiento y diálogo político – CEPDIPO (2020). La Reforma Rural en Deuda. Colección cuadernos de la Implementación. Bogotá. Recuperado de:ón_web_06_La-reforma-rural-integral-en-deuda.pdf

3 Radio Macondo (July 7, 2020) Sur de Córdoba ejército estaría involucrando comunidades en acciones estratégicas de guerra. [In southern Cordoba, the army is involving communities in strategic military activities.]