Of the total 20 million fertile hectares in the country, the government wants to give the peasants 3 million. For this reason, he worked on an agreement to buy land from ranchers and, so far, they have offered him just over 300,000 hectares. However, the Government says that it is necessary to increase the offer in order to advance in the agrarian reform. Even President Gustavo Petro will warn them that the agreement is «for now» and that it would be «sad» if it were not true. What José Félix Lafaurie, president of Fedegán, He replied that they are going to comply, but that this is only one of the sources that the peace agreement with the Farc contemplates and that the best lands are owned by the SAE.
(You can also read: ‘We are ready to start buying land’: Cecilia López)
President Petro said that the agreement is «for now, not for 20 years from now.» Are they not complying?
We are committed and we will fulfill it. Fedegán does not sign agreements that he does not comply with. This is how it has been throughout history and it will not be an exception. At the same time, we want to put an end to a myth: ranchers are not paramilitaries, nor are we landowners, much less are we opposed to a farmer who does not have land being able to have it. On the contrary, we want them to access property titles. The day that more citizens are capable of promoting a legal productive activity, the history of Colombia will change.
How many hectares have you offered so far?
We have already delivered to the National Land Agency (ANT) 502 offers for more than 300,000 hectares, and close to 400 ranchers, as far as we know, have submitted them directly. We made a call in Montería and we are going to do more in Magdalena Medio and where necessary to make it easier for the Government to buy land. It is important to clarify that Fedegán does not own land itself, but promotes its sale among ranchers. We are facilitators.
So, do you expect to be able to meet the goal of 3 million hectares?
President Petro wants to comply with the first point of the Havana Agreement and hand over 3 million hectares to the peasants. But several sources are based on this, such as the purchase of land, vacant lots and seized land, among others. So it means there is a much wider range. Apart from the agreement that was built with Fedegán, there are the lands of the SAE. The country cannot ignore the fact that for several decades all those who accumulated illicit income and who had territorial control, be they paramilitaries, the Farc or pure and simple drug trafficking, they kept the best lands in the Caribbean, in Magdalena Medio, in the Eastern Plains and in Caquetá.
Does it mean that the lands that the Government is looking for are held by the SAE?
Correct. Juan Camilo Restrepo Salazar himself, as Minister of Agriculture, said at the time that the Farc had dispossessed peasants from Caquetá in an area of more than 800,000 hectares. If the Government wants to buy, it cannot stop counting in its inventory with those seized. There are a million hectares and more than 4,000 farms that nobody knows who owns them or where they are. The government has to get hold of that.
In which departments have ranchers offered more land?
In the most violent areas like Arauca. The Government wants it in the Caribbean and in the Middle Maggalena, but that is where a lot of land was taken by these actors and some of it is in the hands of the SAE. It is the Government that, through the agency and in accordance with the law, will have to dispose of them, as established in the agreement signed with the FARC.
The Minister of Agriculture, Cecilia López, says that most of the land they have offered is in the highlands and in the south, but they need it in the north, which is more productive and underutilized. Do you have more there that you could sell?
We are in Córdoba, we are going to Cesar, Magdalena Medio, we are going to visit the areas where they want the most so that more farmers are encouraged to sell. In other words, the problem is not going to be the inventory of land.
According to the Ministry, only 54,149 hectares of those that have been offered are suitable for agrarian reform. Why are so many being rejected?
I don’t have clarity. What is clear is that there are no unproductive lands but idle ones, all land is productive, one is good for one thing and another for something else. The environmental offer is the one that marks. Not even the desert is unproductive.
What would you say are the biggest difficulties encountered for farmers to sell?
The problem is the mechanism that the ANT has to deploy in order to acquire the land. In order to buy in the State, you have to follow a series of steps that are absolutely essential. The transaction between individuals is simpler: I sell you, I buy you, the price is this and I give it to you; in the state no. So you also have to have a little patience. The problem is not that there is no interest with the farmers, that there is.
Is the offer that the Government is making you in economic terms attractive?
The final price is given by Igac and is a commercial appraisal. To do this, it has technical teams that, according to the commercial values of the area and the characteristics of the price, in a very particular way, establishes what is the value that the ANT would eventually buy.
Is it true that in the first week of March the ANT is going to formalize the land to buy some 10,000 hectares from them?
Yes, that is the information they gave us from the agency.
Petro also said in his speech that “the State must take the bull by the horns, could the specter of expropriation return?
I hope not, but it is an intimate decision of the Government. It seems to me that the path we are taking is the best, which is that whoever wants to sell should sell. Colombia since the year 61, with Law 135, has been advancing agrarian reform processes. That went wrong for the country. For more than 60 years, what we managed to deliver to the peasants were 1.7 million hectares, of which more than half passed into other hands and the rest are a monument to the unproductive smallholding, not only because of its subsistence extension. but, mainly, due to the lack of competitive conditions. Only about 43 percent remained in the hands of the original beneficiaries.
Is it necessary to learn, then, from the mistakes of the past?
Clear. The country has to learn that lesson. You cannot create 3 million hectares without productive projects. Conditions are needed: highway, electric light, port to export… So, the big problem is that we carry out agrarian reforms and then we don’t have productive projects. Land must be handed over without repeating the mistake of thinking that a property title can lift someone out of poverty.
In the agreement that the Government built with you, it also promised to advance crash planes to build tertiary roads. Is it being fulfilled?
So far we haven’t seen it. They even handed over an emblematic piece of land in Córdoba that belonged to the Castaños and there are no productive projects.
Right now you are in Mexico as part of the negotiating team with the ELN, how are the talks going?
I feel like it’s going very slow. It seems to me that the substance has not yet begun to be dealt with. And the theme of the land is, because in the end it ends up transforming the regions. The agenda agreed with the ELN in the Santos government consists of 6 points and one of them is transformations for peace. If you do the same thing that was done with the FARC, which is to give impunity, seats, allow the planting of coca and not transform the regions, well, people continue planting coca. What is needed is to make productive projects.
How important is the current land agreement in order to reach total peace in the country?
The agreement we made with the government is as important for total peace as the negotiations with the ELN because it could end up marking the dynamics of intra-regional violence.