In August 2018 British Parliamentarians visited Matarraton in an effort to understand the complex situation of land. They found that peaasant farmer communities and Indigenous Peoples despite the Land Restitution Law (2011) and the Peace Accord (2016) were facing a dangerous struggle to get their land rights recognised by State Authorities.
The history of Matarraton is an example of the difficulties that peasant farmers and marginalised communities have in Colombia in order to have their land rights recgonised. Under the guise of the conflcit they have been forced off thier land or land rightfully theirs has been registered as belonging to others. Frequently the Consituational Court or the land restituion court has ruled that this land belongs to them and they are still struggling to obtain the land title. Meanwhile those who are required to return the land encourage thers to come and settle there. This emeshes the historical inhabitants in a legal quagmire in relation to who is recognised as the rightful owners of the land.
Matarraton, El Porvenir
The peasant farmer community of Matarratón in El Porvenir arrived in the Altillanura (Meta) in the 1950s and 1960s, fleeing from political violence. They settled in the region opening a new agricultural frontier. After 5 years of working baldío land, these peasant farmers under Law 160 had the right to request a land title. Although Matarratón had applied for their land title, they experienced considerable resistance from INCORA (former state land registry), who subsequently issued this land title illegally to a large ranch owner. Despite a Constitutional Court ruling in their favour – even when the 2018 Delegation visited them in they still have not managed to obtain the land title.
What is baldio land? Article 64 in the Colombian Constitution directs the State to promote progressive access to land ownership for landless and poor agricultural workers, in order to improve income and quality of life in rural Colombia. In 1961 the Agrarian Reform Law, established that baldíos (state owned unoccupied land) could be only be awarded to individuals (not companies) and Law 160, established the amount of land considered necessary for a family to obtain a decent livelihood in Colombia and it is the maximum amount of baldio land allowed per family. This parcel of land is called the ‘Family Agriculture Unit’ (UAF). The State awarded parcels of land from ‘baldios’ to peasant farmers and landless agricultural labourers in order to address the issue of land concentration. Baldios were only for resource-poor farmers in Colombia.
The community of Matarratón had been working the land since the 1960s, however, despite their rights to this baldío land, unbeknown to them, a large ranch owner, Victor Machado,applied to INCORA and had adjudicated to him in 1970, the 27,000 hectares of land, where their farms were situated. This is something illegal under Law 160. The community continued to work the land unaware it had been adjudicated to Machado. One of the reasons was because the land was open, it wasn’t fenced off. However, when Machado died in 1979 and his widow sold the 27,000 hectares to Víctor Carranza Niño, “the Emerald Czar”.
1980s: After the land titles of 27,000 hectares were transferred to Carranza, the communities noticed the presence of paramilitary
groups in the region. These groups started harassing the population that had historically occupied the lands acquired by Carranza. A range of violent acts were directed at the farmers of Matarratón by
Carranza’s paramilitary group.
1986: The first attempt of the campesinos to claim their land rights was in 1986. The leader in that moment who filed the claim for the land titles, was threatened and forced to leave El Porvenir. The officials of INCORA who received the application were allegedly “bought” by the Carranza family and others threatened.
1987: 10 community members, key to the land claim, from El Porvenir were killed by Carranza’s paramilitaries. The whole village was threatened, and the majority displaced to Orocué (just acrross the river)
Carranza started putting fences and to portion the savannahs of the communities. He started threatening people, and he told people he would kill them. The property was fenced, and the people were kicked out. This happened during the 1980s.
15 January 1992: Knowing that the land was originally baldío and that the community of Matarratón wanted to recover it, Victor Carranza divided up the property into smaller farms and had them adjudicated to 27 people, who all had some relation to him. INCORA (subsequently INCODER) awarded land titles for the 27,000 hectares to 27 persons who had no relation whatsoever with the lands and had never been part of the community of El Porvenir. The land was divided into 5 large farms called “Mi Llanura”, “El Pedregal”, “El Rincón”, “Campo Hermoso”, and “Las Corocoras”. However, the communities say that, thesefarms were worked and controlled by the family business of Victor Carranza, the “Ganadería La Cristalina”.
- 2012: A member of Congress, together with an NGO supporting the community of Matarraton, asked INCODER to revoke land title to the 27,000 hectares owned by the five farms, because they were obtained through irregular means.
- 4 April 2013: Victor Carranza dies
- 30 July 2014: Resolution No. 6423 qualified the land titles for the 27,000 hectares owned by the five farms as illegal and revoked them. They reverted to state property.
- April 2015 it was announced that the family of Carranza had returned the land to the state.
- 13 June 2015: The legal representative of “Ganadería La Cristalina”, Holman Carranza (family member of Victor Carranza), voluntarily handed over the property to the sub-director of INCODER. However, the State did not officially take back the land, which is why unknown persons began to arrive in the area, to install ranches and claim the land as theirs. Faced with the violation of their land rights, the traditional inhabitants of El Porvenir went to the Constitutional Court.
- 9 September 2015: the Matarratón peasant farmers in El Porvenir filed a tutela with the Constitutional Court demanding their right to land restoration.
- January 2016: President Santos sanctions the ZIDRES law; the first ZIDRES project was announced by the President in a speech he gave in Orocué and the first ZIDRES was to be called “El Porvenir”.
- 6 July 2016: the Procuraduría responsible for Environmental and Agricultural Issues called urgent attention to the situation pointing out that the slowness of the authorities to title these lands to the community was generating additional threats and worsening the environment in which they were living.
- 11 August 2016: The Constitutional Court (Sentence SU-426/16) ruled in favour of the traditional owners of El Porvenir. However, this decision was not made public until November 2016. The Court ordered the State to take possession of the land; to undertake a census to establish who the traditional occupiers are; and, together with the Land Restitution Unit, restore the land to the traditional owners.
Sentence SU-426/16: ruled in favour of the 72 peasant farmer families in El Porvenir and Matarratón. The Court ordered the state to return 27 thousand hectares of land belonging to these 72 campesino families. It also ordered that these families should be subjects of the Agrarian reform, which meant that the state had additional responsibilities to ensure that the land recuperated by them (designated as baldíos) should be officially registered and the land titles given to the families.
In this decision, the Constitutional Court ordered the land registry (INCODER now ANT) to continue with the process of adjudication of land titles to the campesinos which had been suspended in favour of the formation of a ZIDRES recently decreed by the Colombian Government. It also ordered that the Agencia National de Tierras ANT should suspend the ZIDRES process until the issue of adjudication of the land claim by the Campesinos had been resolved.
The only aspect that the State has advanced to date is that of the census to identify the victims. In spite of the NGOs accompanying the communities lodging a right of petition to insist the state fully implements sentence SU-426 of the Constitutional Court, the slowness of the State to comply with the sentence has exposed the victims to continuing actions of paramilitary groups, which have favoured the illegal occupation by presumed heirs of the Carranza[i] family.
[i] Human Rights Watch reported that a 1994 police investigation concluded that Víctor Carranza, a well-known emerald dealer and reputed drug trafficker, controls a so-called “private justice group” in his jurisdiction that is armed with guns licensed by the Defense Ministry…. Among the paramilitary leaders who reportedly maintain training bases is Victor Carranza.