The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC) are pleased to learn that partial steps were taken on February 15th to implement the devolution of illegally and violently usurped lands to their rightful owners in the communities of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó (Chocó Department). Information we received indicates that 1,354 hectares of land were returned by illegal occupiers to the Colombian Ministry of the Interior for the purpose of handing them over to their rightful owners. We are particularly grateful to Representative Donald Payne (NJ) and the U.S. State Department and Embassy officials, who for the past two years encouraged Colombian authorities to advance the process of implementing the Colombian institutions' own resolutions which call for the return of these territories to the Community Councils of Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó.
It must be noted that the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó communities have suffered at least 13 internal displacements, assassinations of their leaders and various other abuses for defending their territorial rights and reporting illegal criminal activity on their lands by members of the Colombian armed forces, paramilitaries and palm oil companies. The members of these communities remain highly vulnerable to harm and Colombian authorities should act effectively to protect them.
We hope that these developments will lead to the full and unconditional restoration of territories to their rightful owners in the coming months. Another 21,000 hectares of land in Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó have yet to be returned to these communities and remain illegally occupied, including 3,644 hectares occupied by palm oil plantations and another 1,300 by illegal cattle ranching. U.S. officials should continue to work to ensure that the land that remains illegally usurped is handed over to the Colombian authorities for devolution to the Community Councils. The impunity for the numerous assassinations of community members should also be addressed, as should the full dismantlement of paramilitaries that remain active in the Rio Atrato area.
U.S. officials should continue to work to ensure that territories that remain illegally usurped are handed over to the Colombian authorities for devolution to these Community Councils. Further, we expect the Colombian authorities to finalize this matter by moving quickly towards justice in Case 3856, in which 23 palm oil businessmen are indicted for the illegal appropriation of land, forced displacement, and conspiracy to commit crimes. Also we anticipate a quick resolution of this land devolution process so that the Colombian authorities can then concentrate on implementing the return of territories to their rightful Afro-Colombian owners in other cases such as that of 800 hectares to the Community Council in Alto Mira and Frontera (Nariño).
Senior Associate for Colombia
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC)