Land reclaimed from Colombia's FARC used for drug crops
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Land reclaimed from Colombia's FARC used for drug crops

After Colombian government reclaiming 280,000 hectares of land in Colombia’s Meta department from the FARC guerrilla, it has transpired that the insurgent group was using the area for drug crop cultivation to fund its armed campaign.

The nine reclaimed plots, valued at 450 billion pesos ($162 million), was not only used for cattle farming but was also for cultivation of illicit crops, El Espectador reported.

The total area is the size of Colombia’s Quindio department.

“The land provides an answer to the question posed by many. How are we going to maintain the land bank outlined under point one in the Havana agreements? (…) these lands are going to be redistributed to Colombian “campesinos” in a productive manner,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos explained.

“An important step,”

In the largest campaign for illegal land recovery against the FARC to date, the government recovered around 40,000 cattle from properties spread across the area.

President Santos tweeted that the land would be redistributed for “productive use.”

A total of 238,000 hectares were reclaimed from Colombia’s Tinigua reserve, part of a protected area in the south of the country.

“It’s an important step in our politics to reclaim land which was illegally acquired, by either paramilitaries, the FARC or individuals who have laid claim to land which did not belong to them.” Santos added.

The operation will break up the FARC’s eastern and southern blocks, who used the land for strategic access to Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela.

Land recovery is not only an important step for government, it also has affected millions of Colombians living in rural areas.

Over 64,500 people were officially declared displaced during the first half of 2014 and were awaiting registration; and almost 24,000 people were officially registered by the national Victims Unit, according to the UN refugee agency figures for Colombia from 2014.

Land rights and peace talks

Almost six million people (13% of the population) have been forcibly displaced over the course of Colombia’s internal armed conflict. An estimated eight million hectares have been illegally acquired, an area larger in size than Costa Rica, according to Amnesty International.

Between 1985 and 2008, 6.5 million hectares of land was stolen, abandoned or changed hands during the conflict, the Guardian reported.

The land rights ruling, established during 2013 as part of the peace process, marks a step forward for Colombian landowners.

It was hoped that the creation of a “land bank” would redistribute the seized lands, providing farmers with technical aid, loans and protection.

The 280,000 hectares reclaimed from the FARC, illustrates the sheer scale of the problem, as millions of hectares still remain in the wrong hands.

Moving forward?

As a new unilateral cease-fire came into effect at midnight on Monday, a lot still remains on the discussion table in Havana. For now, at least, there could be a brief respite in attacks against civilians and infrastructure.

With Santos set on his peace campaign trail, land distribution is just a small part of a more complex political puzzle that continues to remain unsolved.

See more: FARC says it will maintain unilateral cease-fire

Victims to speak at FARC negotiations