The civil war that has raged in Colombia over the past quarter-century has resulted in the illegal seizure of at least 17-million acres of land by armed groups, according to the Bogota government.
Some estimates claim the actual figure is as high as 20-million acres.
The properties were taken over illegally or by force by rebel groups, paramilitary soldiers and drug traffickers.
The country’s Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo said the mass transference of property drove hundreds of thousands of families off their land and that restoring the property to their rightful owners would pose a huge undertaking.
Nonetheless, the government has passed a law that seeks to do just that.
The “Victims' Law” and the “Land Restitution Law,” which had been proposed years ago, passed last week, leading President Juan Manuel Santos to call the measures historic.
I congratulate those who participated in this process, he said.
Colombia had been engaged in a deadly conflict with FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a leftist revolutionary movement that has reportedly financed its activities through the sale of drugs or by kidnapping. In response to the threat posed by the FARC, the government used paramilitaries to fight them.
Over the years, farmers and peasants became innocent pawns between the two battling groups and, gradually saw more and more of their lands grabbed by both sides of the brutal conflict.
Reportedly, some paramilitary groups have re-sold the land they took to powerful landowners or other third parties, making land reparations that much more difficult.
Still, the government seems determined to redistribute the land properly.
Lasting peace in the country -- it has always been said -- will come pass through the settlement of land disputes, said Restrepo.
Today, it has taken a decisive step in this direction that is under no circumstances at odds with the right of property lawfully acquired, nor honest peasant farmers, who are the vast majority in the country.