Colombia returns land to peasants plundered by militia

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Monteria (Colombia), April 11 (IANS/EFE) President Juan Manuel Santos travelled to the northern province of Cordoba Wednesday to preside over the restoration of lands taken away from 60 peasant families by the founders of Colombia’s murderous AUC militia movement.

“Where murders reigned, the peasants return,” Santos said to an enthusiastic ovation.

“You who have suffered from violence like nobody else understand the significance of seizing these lands from the Castano clan,” the president told a crowd of some 400 people in a rural area near Monteria.

Besides the return of 671 acres of land, each of the 60 families will receive 45 million pesos (nearly $25,000) to help them rebuild.

Brothers Carlos, Fidel and Vicente Castano, who dominated the AUC, began buying land throughout Cordoba in 1990, ostensibly to carry out an agrarian reform.

They then donated 120 parcels on the Santa Paula estate to peasant families.

After handing over the titles, however, the Castanos demanded that the peasants hand over part of their profits and sought to dictate how the farmers used the land.

Eventually, the brothers forced the families off the land, paying only token compensation.

“I feel very content, very happy,” Manuel, one of the beneficiaries of the restoration, told EFE.

But some of his neighbors said they were afraid to return to Santa Paula, given Tuesday’s murder in Cordoba of land restitution activist Ever Antonio Cordero.

–IANS/EFE

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