In a landmark ruling, a judge ordered land returned to 14 families who were forced from their homes in Uraba, north Colombia, by paramilitaries in the 1990s.
Uraba is one of the zones most affected by Colombia’s armed conflict. In the 1990s and 2000s, paramilitary forces carried out displacement campaigns against peasants to gain control of the region’s natural resources and strategic location on the Caribbean. In 1995, 120 families who lived on land around the municipalities of Turbo and Necocli were told to abandon their homes on the orders of leaders of the paramilitary army United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).
When the farmers fled the area, AUC leaders arranged for proxies to buy these properties using a front company called Tulapa Investments, reported Semana magazine.
The government has said that, through force or fraud, at least 41,790 hectares of land in Uraba were illegally acquired. The recent ruling returns land to the original owners that had been purchased using false credentials or forged signatures. Semana magazine called it a historic judgement.
As InSight Crime has reported, land restitution is still a dangerous process in Colombia, and many advocates for the reforms have been murdered. Uraba, for example, is still dominated by criminal groups (bandas criminales – BACRIM) that inherited much of the membership and power base of the AUC, such as the Urabeños. They use Uraba’s Caribbean coast to transport drugs out of the country.