Old Age Treads Tenderly on the Backfoot; Murmurs from Beneath the Landslide of Feet in Colombia

THE POLITICIAN GAITAN QUESTIONED: who does the land really belong to, if the owner´s fifth forefather stole it? He made the point into a protest with his thousands of supporters rejecting land acquisition by violence and violence itself. So in this reasoning he and the majority of his supporters as descendants of conquistadores were thieves…Vikings so too flawed, as are the descendent land profiteers of every empire ever. Gaitan justified the murder of a journalist for defamation in his stint and since character is land in his profession the equivalent: ´We reject character slights, and to you scumbags who disagree, stand behind a mule with firecrackers´ is a steady reminder to his inconsistencies of being against violence. Land redistribution needs a starting point of ownership. Lest all of it be given to the minority of indigenous communities who root traditions to those lands, the inheritance that generations have demonstrably survived themselves with requires formalization without costs, a quandary because of the difficulty in that evidencing.

Gaitain was assassinated which is the agreed cause of La Violencia, a 50 year period marked with over 200,000 murders and forced displacements still unrelenting and being denounced. The fallout is slow to be recuperated and means injustice because of mortality, with those acknowledged as having being wronged becoming unjust by doing what has been done unto them. I wanted to understand what Agrarian reform meant because so few people own the majority of the land here, which I supposed was the rich and diabolic being greedy in continuing and profiting from conflict.

www.closeroceans.com/journalism Outcast and Inalienable Article 2 Old Age Treads Tenderly on the Backfoot; Murmurs from Beneath the Landslide of Feet in Colombia Journalism

Well I looked in Magdalena, in the north of the country, and found banana plantations bundling fresh yellow on the roadsides, as if standing in for absent street lights, and the heat intensifying the further northward I travelled into its upper part, en route to La Guajira. On this main road to Riohacha I was surrounded by smallholding after smallholding, farms of several hectares that are canopied from the sea´s saltwater wash to their West and interspersed between one-story tin towns. I asked Ruben Cortez, owner of one of these farms, whether he trusted in the legal process for displaced farmers to reacquire their land.

´The government sees the farmer who has a lot of cows, the landowner who has a lot of land, but they do not pay attention to those of us who are small farmers.´ He said.

´The processes are slow and it is very slow to get help on any abnormal situation with your farm. Thank God in my case nothing bad has happened, I have not had any expropriation, I have not had to leave but I have seen other people in very long and slow procedures.´

Ruben is as one of the majority of smallholders who inherit their land from a father or grandfather, these farmers relying on understandings and vouches for not being able to afford formal titles.

Rafa Marruga, an assistant on a smallholding near to this highway, maintained there being a lack of government support for small farmers in general.

‘The landlord is the owner of the land who has the documents and we only till the land as administrators or managers, we cannot have another definition.’ He said.

‘The weather has changed a lot. The water comes in the year only for three months, nine months are in summer and it affects us farmers.

´Sometimes the product we produce is worth nothing, when you have it in development and put it on the market it is worth nothing. There is no agrarian reform, we do not have it, sometimes we fail; we do not have help for our crops.

Two years ago, two court rulings won, one forced eviction later and Oscar Landazabal has become nemesis to a faction of small scale farmers who were tilling lands without formal titles. Intimidated from returning to his farm bought in retirement from a line of inheritors, through arsonists burning his livestock´s fodder and setting fires on his land, these neighbours of 13 years live there as recompense for their claimed displacement at his hand. The farmers have interpreted his deeds as the strongest between us takes all, where owing to his land´s location deep in the countryside of the Middle Magdalena, justice has left its sword and reapplied its blindfold at the motorway’s turning point.

It has been two years since Oscar has returned there, and upon leaving it he saw a tired land as of himself; his fight had been spent getting to it, and on seeing these intruders return after riot police had evicted them, he knew his sorry lot was his own, his retirement no longer his, the deeds and mortgage of the house securely his, the dilapidation and weeds overcoming the house his should he return, and where now as one under the landslide, extolment by the law also his.

There are paramilitary groups, there are ideological groups and so too there are criminal gangs carrying on forced displacements. Only the atrocities by criminal outliers, often categorized into gangs, extended the law by which victims of La Violence are registered to include generalized violence. Communities like those of Apure, Venezuela, from which 900 fled to Arauca because of violence are not covered by this law for them not being in the country’s borders, being instead rushed by international media and humanitarian organizations with support. Communities at risk and being displaced are prioritized within Colombia with likewise response, whereas individuals recourse only through legal channels and Defensorias Del Pubelos (town defenders). And of the pity to one man who owns 900 hectares to his region´s 24 hectares per farmer average, the pity that motivates action to begin shovelling the pile instead of compacting it, that pity Oscar is without. What good would it do Oscar anyway to have pity to his appeal from the law when it already agrees with him?

The 2.3 million COP monthly salary affords small farmers not the files and evaluations for formal titles, and apparently nor does the the law afford successful recourse for when those titles are disregarded, even with larger scale farms such as Oscars. The result of the tenure by those on Oscar’s land who have ignored his titles have contrarily made him the grandson who begins Gaitan’s cycle.

Written by Jacob Hamilton in May 2021

Photography by Augusto Ramirez Vallejo