Land restitution in the Curbarado river basin

Between 1996 and 1997, the Lower Atrato communities were the victims of military and paramilitary operations which caused the mass displacement of more than 70% of the population,[1] murders, torture and disappearances.[2]

After the displacement, banana and palm oil companies set up operations in the territory.[3] Currently, many of these businessmen are on trial for their responsibility and some have already been found guilty of forced displacement and invading lands of special ecological importance.[4]

Maria Ligia Chaverra Curbaradó
Maria Ligia Chaverra (Photo: Charlotte Kesl)

In 2000, then President Andres Pastrana recognised the collective land titles of the Black Communities of Curbarado and Jiguamiando,[5] in accordance with Law 70 of 1993. From 2006, the displaced communities began returning to their lands and demanding that their lands be given back to them.

In 2010, when the lands were on the cusp of being handed over to leaders who were widely accused of being in the pockets of business interests and of ignoring the communities’ rights, the Colombian Constitutional Court issued its first order with regards to Curbarado and Jiguamiando, setting aside the Curbarado Major Council because it “lacked legitimacy” and suspended the restitution until a census had been taken of the population in Curbarado and Jiguamiando, in order to elect the Major Council in a transparent way and in agreement with the law.[6]

PBI Curbaradó

During subsequent years, the Court issued several more Orders which set out the steps to be taken to carry out the census, the General Assembly and to give back the lands to the original inhabitants. Due to the risks, multiple threats and murders, the Court also called on protection and prevention plans to be put in place before the new Assembly, measures to evict the ‘bad faith occupants’ who are occupying the territory illegally and who put the safety of the communities at risk, and criteria to be taken into account regarding who has the right to take part, by voting or speaking, at the election of the Community Council representatives.[7]

Interview with Curbarado’s leaders: Peace is born from within the territories

After multiple problems and formal complaints, the non-implementation of the protection plans and the failure to evict the bad faith occupants, the Interior Ministry unilaterally called the General Electoral Assembly in July and August 2016 at which German Antonio Marmolejo Renteria[8] was elected as Legal Representative of the Community Council of Curbarado River, the same man which the Constitutional Court had said was unlawfully elected in 2010. Fourteen communities (of the 23 which make up the Curbarado collective territory) denounced that they had been excluded from speaking or voting at the Electoral Assembly, and added that most of the people who voted were people who did not live in the territory and the person who was elected, German Marmolejo, continues to represent the interests of the companies illegally occupying the land.[9]

The 14 communities mentioned above held their own Assembly and elected their Major Council and representatives in July 2016.


[1] Justicia Evasiva. La lucha por la tierra y la vida en Curbaradó y Jiguamiandó, June  2013
[2] CIJP/Hands of theLand Alliance: Banacol, empresa implicada en paramilitarismo y acaparamiento de tierras en Curbaradó y Jiguamiandó, May 2012
[3] Ibíd.
[4] The Public Prosecutor’s Office, based on evidence provided by members of the community who have been subjected to threats, baseless prosecutions and smear campaigns, brought charges in Case 3856 for the crimes of aggravated conspiracy to commit a crime, forced displacement and invasion of lands of special ecological importance, against a number of businessmen, paramilitaries and land commissioners. This process has, since 2012, put 16 businessmen in prison, 11 more are on the run, and 22 have been called to trial. CIJP: Condenan a dos empresarios por alianza con paramilitares en negocio de palma, 30th July 2013;    CIJP: Condena contra 16 empresarios, paramilitares y comisionistas de tierra responsables de provocar el desplazamiento forzado de comunidades negras de Curvaradó y Jiguamiandó, 3 December 2014
[5] Incora: resolución 02809 y 02801, November 2000
[6] Corte Constitucional: Auto, 18 May 2010
[7] Corte Constitucional: Auto, 18 May 2010; Corte Constitucional: Auto 384, 10 December 2010; Corte Constitucional, Auto 045, 7 March 2012; Corte Constitucional: Auto 112, 18 May 2012; Corte Constitucional: Auto 299, 18 December 2012; Corte Constitucional: Auto 096, 17 May 2013
[8] MinInt: Se realizó elección de junta directiva y representante legal del consejo Comunitario del Río Curbaradó, 3 August 2016
[9] Contagio Radio: Mininterior impide participación de 14 comunidades en elección de Representante legal, 1st August 2016; Cijp: Por el derecho a la participación justa hacia la paz territorial, 31st July 2016

*Cover photograph: Charlotte Kesl

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