Written by Daniel Edgar exclusively for SouthFront
The national umbrella group for organizations representing farming communities constituted in Farming Reserve Zones (Zonas de Reserva Campesina – ZRC) has directed an open letter to Colombian President Ivan Duque calling for the initiation of a comprehensive dialogue process to discuss agrarian reform and elaborate an integrated strategy for rural planning and development. The national association (ANZORC – Asociación Nacional de Zonas de Reserva Campesina) consists of and unites over 50 rural communities that have constituted or are seeking to constitute their communities and farming land as collectively held and managed ZRCs.
There are several very distinctive types of rural communities and forms of farming and agribusiness activity that make up the rural and agricultural sectors in Colombia, discussed in a previous article (“In Search of Colombia: Social and political fragments and perspectives from the past to the present”). These include the ‘ethnic territories’ of the country’s Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, which exist and are governed according to sui generis regimes that recognize the right of the inhabitants of each territory to self-government within their territory and communities and their expressions of self-government are explicitly guaranteed and protected by the 1991 Constitution.
The Farming Reserve Zones (ZRCs) are constituted and governed according to principles and objectives of collective decision-making, ownership and management that in many ways are similar to those that apply in ethnic territories; while they also enjoy constitutional protection their recognition is not as explicit, being implied as necessary for the operation of several articles of the Constitution pertaining to the rights of agrarian and rural communities and individual rural land-holders. Many of these constitutional rights are also generally applicable to other small-holders and rural communities that have not decided to organize their properties and regions under the scheme for ZRCs.
In contrast, a large proportion of rural and agricultural land is held by medium and large-scale absentee landlords and corporations (or a large variety of ‘anonymous societies’ formed to hold legal title to rural properties and for the conduct of associated agribusiness activities). The members of these sectors include locally and regionally based landlords and business tycoons, national tycoons and family-based corporate dynasties (‘oligarchs’), speculators, frontmen for illegal armed groups and drug cartels, and ‘foreign investors’. This form of ownership, organization and management is typically dominant in specific regions and sectors such as sugar, banana and African palm plantations and cattle ranches; several business associations (often very powerful and well-connected with national, provincial and local-level politicians and State officials) have been formed to represent their interests and coordinate their political lobbying and other activities.
The following is a translation of the open letter sent to president Duque.
Farming Communities Call on President Duque to Dialogue
ANZORC, “Zonas de Reserva Campesina convocan a dialogar al presidente Duque”, 21 October 2019, Prensa Rural
Mr. President Iván Duque:
Delegates from 23 provinces in which 68 Farming Reserve Zones are being established and developed, distributed in 7 regional nodes, together with representatives of the Coordinating Committee for Rural Women from these areas, have met for three days from 16-18 October in the city of Bogotá.
Based on our knowledge of the reality in these territories we have analysed the situation throughout the country and found with great satisfaction that the efforts of broad sectors of Colombian society to build the desired peace are advancing in an orderly and sustained manner. The international community, trade unions and business associations, social organizations, women, youth, academia, local governments, the Public Ministry, among others, are working with determination and good will to achieve reconciliation, social justice and a broad-based democracy for Colombia. We meet with them on a daily basis on the roads and trails of the Colombian countryside, which still suffers from the neglect and abandonment by the State that the Peace Agreement seeks to end.
But we have also been able to verify that during your Government the main principles and instruments of the Peace Agreement are being blocked.
The PNIS, the transcendental program for the substitution of illicit crops, is paralysed, ignoring the willingness of 100,000 farming families to comply with the program to replace coca cultivation with licit crops notwithstanding the persistent breaches of the agreement and lack of commitment that is being demonstrated by the Government. The PDETs (Programas de Desarrollo con Enfoque Territorial – Territorially Focussed Development Programs) are being instrumentalized for purposes other than the implementation of the agreement to achieve Comprehensive Rural Reform. Furthermore, once the Regional Pacts for Regional Transformation were concluded, participation by State officials was abruptly terminated and the current status and activities of this office are unknown. The National Plans for Integral Rural Reform have not reached the countryside.
Of the genocide that has been waged against social leaders and rural communities, 140 of those who have been assassinated are farmers who were widely recognised in their communities for their work in the defence and advancement of the Farming Reserve Zones. This has occurred in the midst of the remilitarization of rural territories and in parallel with the growth of criminal structures and illegal armed groups that threaten the integrity and safety of rural territories and communities.
The Special Transitional Circumscriptions for Peace as a mechanism for democratic participation by the victims and the territories most affected by the armed conflict have been buried in the national Congress, denying even that simple act of reparation.
We have been able to verify a notable lack of willingness on the part of your Government to implement the program for Comprehensive Rural Reform, also demonstrated by the budget cut of 18.9% to the National Land Agency projected for 2020 and the absence of a budget for the Land Fund that three years after its inception has not delivered the first property to impoverished farming families.
The 36.8% cut in spending by the Ministry of Agriculture reaffirms the government’s ignorance of the urgency and gravity of Colombia’s agrarian problem. Deforestation is accelerating dramatically, facilitated by abandonment of rural and remote areas by the State resulting in the take-over of these territories by land speculators and large-scale national and international financial and corporate interests. At the same time, the small-holding farming families that have traditionally inhabited these forest areas are struggling to achieve a minimum level of subsistence, and the full force of the Public Security Forces operations to combat deforestation falls on us, the most vulnerable, while the actions against the greatest deforesters are non-existent.
The priority of the Government is exploitation by the mining-energy economy, while the ongoing marginalization of the communities that live in the countryside ignores the enormous potential of rural Colombians. The Government is ignoring our ability to guarantee the country’s food sovereignty and to contribute to a healthier world food supply. We can dismantle the coca economy and consolidate local and regional economies for the benefit and welfare of the whole society. We can take advantage of and conserve our great biodiversity. We can stop deforestation and preserve the Amazon for all humanity. The Farming Reserve Zones remain at the service of this great national objective and emphasize their willingness to work in partnership with the State and with all sectors of Colombian society. In this respect our actions up until now have set an example.
But we cannot continue to be accompanied only by some sectors involving limited cases of local, national and international cooperation, including some State institutions and local governments, to whom we nonetheless express our deep gratitude. We need the commitment of the State as a whole, of the international companions of the Peace Agreement, of the trade unions, of the research centres, of the urban markets, and in particular of the Government. Once again, we express our commitment and call upon you to reopen the channels of constructive dialogue that in previous governments showed their effectiveness in advancing in the fulfilment of the objectives of the ZRC, which are to exercise the right and realize the desire of millions of farming families to cultivate and harvest food, preserve water and forests, and contribute to the production of clean oxygen for the rest of the country.
We agree with you about the need for legality and that is why we urge you to comply with the legal framework which has been developed for the construction of peace, the guarantee of constitutional rights and sustainable development; but we also believe in the need for constructive and permanent dialogue mechanisms to address the most serious problems confronting the country. Therefore we take this opportunity to remind you:
The implementation of the PDETs, in which the participation of the communities has been closed, must be re-established to continue the dialogue and transformative projects and activities in the respective territories to achieve the fundamental goals of development and peace through the coordinating groups, municipal commissions and other networks of strategic allies that have been unjustifiably suspended. We are willing to resume our participation as quickly as possible.
In terms of the management of areas of vital importance for the environment, such as wetlands and natural parks, in which we have farming settlements and in which we can participate to restore the ecosystems and live with dignity; We remind Dr. Ricardo Lozano, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, and Dr. Julia Miranda, Director of National Natural Parks, of our request to reactivate the regional and national dialogue tables to find balanced alternatives using the national and international guidelines available to guide the governance of these areas.
Regarding the reactivation of the PNIS program created to guarantee the effective replacement of coca crops; we invite Dr. Emilio José Archila, Presidential Counsellor for Stabilization and Consolidation responsible for the implementation of the PNIS, to immediately reactivate dialogue to ensure the consolidation of the coca substitution program. The country cannot run the risk of reverting to illicit crops and returning to this illegal economy.
The terms of the Peace Agreement concerning Integral Rural Reform, especially the issues related to the Land Fund, are indispensable for the economy and peace of the rural communities of Colombia. We ask that you direct Dr. Andrés Valencia Pinzón, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Dr. Myriam Martínez Director of the National Land Agency, to reactivate the dialogue with respect to the operation of the Land Fund, the Multipurpose Cadastral Program and the prompt promulgation of and provision of urgently needed support to the Farming Reserve Zones.
We urge you to de-stigmatize this manifestation of the farmers’ struggle which has proven its effectiveness for the stabilization of rural communities, environmental protection, food production and the substitution of illicit crops. Cases such as those of Guejar, Sumapaz and Lozada that have fully complied with the respective administrative procedures and are awaiting a resolution; as well as the 15 applications that have been lodged to initiate the process of constitution, require prompt attention so that they can be declared as ZRCs.
It is important to guarantee the rights of rural women as required by the Gender Equality Roundtable, whose strategic objective is to make the resolution of outstanding gender issues an integral element of peace building, by way of dialogue with the Rural Women’s Coordinating Committee of the Farming Reserve Zones based on the Programmatic Agenda elaborated as a formula to ensure compliance with the commitment made by Mrs. Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez to promote and strengthen the empowerment of women in the rural sectors of the country, especially in those territories where the highest rates of violence and institutional weakness are reported.
We call on all Colombian society to accompany us in the elaboration and implementation of these initiatives, to value and support our contribution to the subsistence of urban centres, providing food, water and oxygen through the care of forests and water sources. We remind you that Colombian identity is closely linked to the countryside and our farming families, that the protection of farming communities is the protection of the life and identity of our country and that it cannot be stigmatized again as happened during decades of war. The famers of the Farming Reserve Zones are not Colombia’s enemy, they are not criminals. The members of the Farming Reserve Zones are a friend, they are a tireless worker for peace.
Remember, Mr. President, that in the rural communities of the Farming Reserve Zones, the country finds an ally committed to peace, caring for ecosystems and territorial development. Our participation should not generate fear, our participation represents the enrichment of democracy and development. We are still waiting for the opening of dialogue channels on your part.