AMERICA/COLOMBIA - Thanks to Caritas, the families of Paquemás return to their seized lands

Thursday, 26 July 2018 caritas   violence   local churches   social situation  

Turbo (Agenzia Fides) - In a short documentary the Colombian Caritas reports the story of the displaced people of Paquemás, refugees of the internal armed conflict, who after 21 years are returning to their lands thanks to the Church's support. "Los reclamantes de tierras de Paquemás, 21 años logrando el retorno digno" is the title of the film produced with the collaboration of the diocese of Apartadó and Caritas internationalis through some national Caritas, gathered in the "Working Group for Colombia".
In 1997, due to the conflict between guerrillas, army and paramilitaries, a hundred families from the peasant village of Paquemás, Turbo municipality, in the Antioquia region, were forced to evacuate. The return was possible only recently, thanks to the law 1.448/2011 for the assistance and the "complete reparation" to the victims, which foresees the return of the lands and an indemnity that allows them to start an economic activity. Very often, however, the State does not have the necessary resources to ensure that the return home actually takes place, especially due to the lack of security conditions, in particular the territories demobilized by FARC.
Caritas is one of the realities that makes it possible. "In 2013 we were looking for a group, an emblematic case of people who claimed the lands seized", says Marina Marina Quintero, one of the coordinators of the project. "The idea was not to start from scratch, but from a group that was already experiencing the dynamics of cooperation". After consulting various dioceses, the choice fell on Paquemás, also because of the terrestrial access (not all communities have it) and above all "because they already had in mind to organize themselves, and were one of the emblematic cases at a national level".
The accompaniment allowed to strengthen the organizational commitment and the knowledge of their rights, then allowed to create networks with institutions and families for the protection of personal and collective safety, significantly reducing the risks arising from threats by criminal groups (former paramilitaries, former dissident and guerrillas and not only) who defend the interests of illegal occupiers. Caritas began with a research project, training and impact on public opinion.
All the information on the judicial causes already opened on an individual basis was recapitulated and the knowledge of the law was deepened while advocacy was being made, raising public awareness at a national and international level.
Thanks to the European Caritas involved, institutions such as the European Parliament, the British Parliament, the United Nations were involved, etc. a project financed by the European Union for the training of human rights defenders was added. Both projects, together with a specific one from Colombian Caritas, allowed to consolidate the "Asopaquemás" association, which today produces bananas, corn and rice. "After 5 years - explains Luz Marina Quintero - we have decided to leave the process, which was very profitable, since more than 35% of families have obtained judgments of land restitution and have returned (30%) or are returning" . Eighty of the 105 local families are part of the association.
"What happened in Paquemás is an example at a national level". Quintero reports how displaced people faced serious problems when they tried to return to their occupied lands. "The law affirms their ownership of land, but does not offer guarantees for an effective return". They came back alone, and they could not always settle without the help of the police, or, once settled, suffered threats or material damage such as fires, killing of animals or destruction of fences on farms". The occupiers have those who defend them by force, and they are often political leaders, industrialists or senior civil servants. At the beginning the leaders were assassinated. Caritas then demanded legal measures of protection and the accompaniment of the police, but the solution came when the owners began to return to Paquemás in groups of families. "The assassination of a leader was no longer effective for criminal groups, because the management was by no means unipersonal", concludes the coordinator. (SM) (Agenzia Fides, 26/07/2018)