After 12 long years, Afro-Colombian communities have finally secured the legal right to their land.
9.00am on 17 September 2011, in the presence of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Colombian Institute for Rural Development (INCODER) are awarding 43 communities with their collective land titles.
Christian Aid partner the Diócesis de Quibdó (the Diocese of Quibdó) has been instrumental in making this historic moment happen; a moment which will surely be a positive move for other Afro-Colombian land rights claims across the country.
A long time coming
It is hard to imagine waiting over a decade for the legal right to live on land that you and your ancestors have dwelt upon for 500 years. Imagine then campaigning for all of that time, in order to secure what has been promised to you 12 years ago under your country’s constitution.
The fight for the land titles by the Afro-Colombian communities of the Chocó region (collectively known as ‘Cocomopoca’) has been fraught with difficulties. Red tape and a lack of political will have slowed the process down, and the right to the land was even temporarily denied in 2008.
A momentous achievement
Once the titles are delivered, the implications are considerable:
- The distinct ethnicity and cultural identity of the people of Cocomopoca will be recognised, and the State will design appropriate social and economic development initiatives for them
- These land titles will allow the Afro-descendant communities to occupy and work their land in traditional and peaceful ways, without intrusion by foreign companies
- Afro-Colombian communities will be able to carry out subsistence farming and hunter-gatherer activities, and these will be given priority over commercial and industrial uses of the land
- The collective ownership of the land will mean that the decision making process will lie in the hands of these Afro-Colombian communities
Protecting the land
The Chocó region where the Cocomopoca communities live is known for its large reserves of gold and platinum. Currently there are 45 mining concessions granted to multinational corporations and 175 applications are pending. 'This is truly a momentous day for marginalised communities across Colombia'
While the land titles will continue to allow traditional, small scale mining to take place, large-scale invasive activity will be prohibited. The protection of the soil, forest and water will take priority.
Christian Aid’s programme officer in Colombia, Beatriz del Campo, is delighted with the achievement of this work. She says: 'This is an exciting day for the communities of Cocomopoca – and the hard work of the Diócesis de Quibdó is finally paying off.
This collective land title will allow the people to really protect and preserve their land and ecosystems. This is truly a momentous day for marginalised communities across Colombia'.