“If you won’t sell it to me, I’ll buy it tomorrow from your widow”. This phrase became famous in the nineties in the Bajo Atrato area, when the Elmer Cárdenas Bloc of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) arrived with force, dispossessing communities and buying land en masse using illicit means. This still resonates in the memory of the inhabitants of Pedeguita y Mancilla and they are worried that history might repeat itself.
Pedeguita y Mancilla is an extremely biodiverse region, with abundant fauna and flora. The inhabitants are still waiting for their lands to be returned to them. When the war ended they went back to their lands and found extensive palm oil and banana plantations, and cattle farming in their territory. Today, 58% of Pedeguita y Mancilla is in the hands of people who have occupied the land in bad faith and just 13% is in the hands of the community.
The land restitution process has been very slow and there have been no protection guarantees for the claimant leaders. Recently, five NGOs that accompany claimant families in the Urabá region filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General’s Office calling for a disciplinary investigation to be opened against the director of the Land Restitution Unit, because he has not taken the necessary actions to reinstate the lands to the community council of Pedeguita y Mancilla.
To all this is added another complicated situation. The legal representative of the collective territory granted a usufruct contract of 20,000 hectares (almost half of the collective land) for one hundred years to the Agromar Small-Scale Farming Association, without having previously consulted with the communities. Since then, this association, which develops projects for extensive banana production, has been installing working families in the area, whose task is to “clean” the land so that crop sowing can begin. They have destroyed native forests and basic food crops.
The leaders have reported this desperate situation. According to the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP) “The use of backhoe loader type machinery to adapt the land and the construction of water channels for the plantain agro-industry has a negative environmental impact on the soils”.
The environmental damage is great; deforestation and damage to the soil have an impact on the families’ underground freshwater reserves, which puts their long-term survival in the territory in danger.
Anyone who opposes this agro-industrial project has received threats, insists CIJP. A group of community council leaders travelled to Bogotá to report the situation and upon their return they received death threats from neo-paramilitary groups, according to Manuel Garzón, a lawyer from.
The slow nature of the land restitution process, in addition to economic interests by palm oil and banana companies, violates the rights of the collective territory’s inhabitants. The community continues to resist, hopeful in the knowledge that they have not yet given up their land, and that they never will.
 El Espectador: El despojo de las comunidades negras, viaje al corazón del Bajo Atrato
 Verdad Abierta: Restitución en Urabá genera tensiones entre Unidad de Tierras y algunas ONG, 19 October 2017
 CIJP: Se afianzan operaciones empresariales ilegales de AGROMAR, 31 July 2017
 CIJP: Reactivación de trabajos para agronegocio y amenaza a defensores de DDHH, 9 August 2017
 Op. cit. Restitución en Urabá genera tensiones entre Unidad de Tierras y algunas ONG
*Cover photo: Adrian Johanson