Return to La Madre Union

La Larga Tumarado Collective Territory of the Black Communities

At 11 o’clock in the morning it is hot in the Biodiversity Zone of La Madre Union, in La Larga Tumarado river basin. The community of approximately forty women, men and children is gathered under the shade of a zinc roof. Hector, one of the community leaders, voices the question: “What happened on 12 October 2014?” There is a brief silence, some children are giggling, a cockerel crows. Then, little by little, the community members start to tell what they remember of that day.

ZB Madre Unión

Today is 12 October 2017.  Three years ago today, 14 families from the community of La Madre Union returned to the territory, accompanied by members of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP) and two PBI field volunteers.  They brought with them the seeds they were going to sow, tools, some hammocks to sleep in and the dream of being able to return to the lands they had been displaced from in 1997 by the paramilitaries.

In the days after their return, women and men took turns to keep watch at the entrance to the hamlet.  They fought against mosquitos and fear, because the person who stole their land and his henchmen were patrolling the territory at night. On the fifth day, the community received the first threat. But it didn’t let itself be intimidated. Men and women took on the hard task of working the land, because everyone was needed to help rebuild the hamlet and cultivate the farmland.

In 2014, the National Land Agency encouraged the community to return and claim its land.  The return, nevertheless, happened without any support from State institutions. Until now, the land restitution process has been extremely slow. 600 hectares of collective territory and some individually owned plots have yet to be formally given back to the community and much of it is still under the control of the ‘bad faith’ occupants.

The communities of La Larga Tumarado were granted precautionary measures by the Land Restitution Judge of Quibdo, measures that are supposed to protect the Afro-Colombian farmers and communities who claim this territory as their own.  In December 2016, the Land Restitution Court of Quibdo extended the precautionary measures for the territory in La Larga Tumarado, and ordered the Land Restitution Unit to present the land restitution claim within six months.  The time limit has expired, but no claim has been presented.[1]

In addition, in 2013, a mining licence was granted to the company Anglogold Ashanti for the area known as el Cerrito. The licence was granted without the company carrying out a prior consultation, which it is obligated to do by law when undertaking mining projects in collective territories inhabited by ethnic minorities.  The collective territories of La Larga Tumarado are currently occupied by landholders and agri-businesses who are under criminal investigation for land grabbing.  Despite this, the judge ordered the suspension of the licence’s nullification.  This means that the judge recognised that the communities had been the victims of land grabbing, but the company could move ahead with its mining project anyway.  The judge’s decision was based on the argument that the company was not responsible for the land theft.[2]


The community of La Madre Union is smaller now than it was before the displacement. Many families have not returned.  They settled in urban areas like Turbo, and some got used to life in a town, but others don’t want to return because they are afraid of being threatened again.  And yet the small community of La Madre Union has demonstrated that returning is possible.  Its cohesion and mutual support structure gives it the strength to resist. After three years, the community can proudly show that it has achieved it together. They harvest quantities of rice, yucca, plantain, potatoes, papayas, passion fruit… For the celebratory lunch on this special day commemorating the return, every family has brought a chicken, a handful of rice, yucca, potato and plantain. The community knows that a lot of work still needs to be done: cultivating the lands, rebuilding the social fabric, and winning the legal battle for their territory.



[1] IPC, Dilaciones y agresiones llenan de incertidumbre el proceso de restitución en La Larga-Tumaradó, 2 August 2017
[2] Verdad Abierta, Título minero enreda restitución en consejo comunitario La Larga-Tumaradó, 20 September 2017

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