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Voices from Colombia: "What if we have no land to till?"

A delegation from the Oikotree movement travelled to Colombia in February. Oikotree is a faith-based network initiated by the World Council of Churches (WCC), World Communion of Reformed Churches, and Council of World Mission that seeks to promote justice in the economy and ecology.

The World Council of Churches is one of the worldwide ecumenical organizations that is supported by the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund apportionment.

The delegation visited a camp of former combatants of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), and also spoke with women farmers at a seminar organized by the Presbyterian Church of Colombia and the Reformed University of Barranquilla.

The voices of these residents form a strong call for justice, a call that peace-builders are hearing.

Former FARC combatants live in a camp set up by the government of Colombia to gradually re-integrate the former fighters into civilian life. FARC surrendered its arms as part of the historic peace agreement signed with the government of Colombia in Havana in 2016. Still, the issue of land persists.

"Most of the ex-combatants are peasants," said Lucas (full name withheld), the main spokesperson for the community. Landlessness and poverty are what gave birth to FARC, he explained.

Lucas also voiced his concern that the land on which the camp is built – just five hectares – is being rented by the government from a landowner. He worries that their camp – which houses a cooperative, community garden and composting facilities – may be demolished at any time.

A woman ex-combatant in the community asked, "We do not have land; how are we going to produce if we do not have land?" She added, "we are peasants and there is no alternative for our survival."

Elisa and Almira (full names withheld), campesinas representing some 50 farming families displaced from lands north of Barranquilla, shared their stories. "Private security men wearing ski masks came and threatened us and destroyed our houses and crops," said Almira.

They rebuilt their houses and replanted their crops, but eventually they were forced out. The Presbyterian Church of Colombia has accompanied the group of displaced farmers and has faced threats because of this.

Julie (full name withheld), who works for the rights of internally-displaced people, said that for women "access to land is a key issue." At the same time, women are in the frontline of the fight for land rights.

"Unlike in other countries across Latin America, land reform has never taken place in Colombia," said Rodrigo (full name withheld), a former FARC commander who met with the delegation.

Indeed a key pillar of the peace accord signed between FARC and the government of Colombia aims to address this gap. In particular, Rodrigo pointed out that the peace accord calls for, among other items, the creation of the Fondo de Tierras which will distribute 3 million hectares of land to landless people or small peasants as well as provide them with technical and financial assistance.

To date the government has done "nothing whatsoever" to implement the land reform pillar, said Rodrigo. "We have given up our guns," he said. "But what will the majority of us do if we have no land to till?"

World Council of Churches website

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