Still a Dream: Land Restitution on Colombia’s Caribbean Cost

Twelve years ago the families of Macayepo, Colombia suffered a horrifying fate. On October 14, 2000, without warning, the otherwise quiet rural town near Colombia’s Caribbean cost was flooded with paramilitary soldiers, ready to kill. They did just that, assassinating 15 farmers and forcing 200 families to flee. That day the people of Macayepo joined the ranks of Colombia’s internally displaced population, now estimated at five million people, and were forced to begin a new life with little land, no homes, essentially no capital, and a lot of uncertainty.

Returning with Dignity

LWR began working with the people of Macayepo during this time, when they were living in a busy city not far from their hometown working hard to survive as a community. Continued violence made a return home impossible. Their crops went to seed, their homes were destroyed and years of investments were lost, back in Macayepo.

Years later, security improved in Macayepo and dozens of families prepared to return. They felt they could do so without facing violence, but they had little support for the return process. Land awaited them, but so did hunger.

Candelario Álvarez de la Barrera, an LWR partner working to protect delicate wetlands for farming families and ensure access to land for rural communities resisting displacement, is shown here with his granddaughter and a diversity of crops in his home garden.

Committed not only to a safe, but also dignified return, LWR extended support to returning families. In concrete terms, this meant providing technical support to the farmers of Macayepo to improve their crops — wonderful avocados and zapote fruit among them — for sale and consumption. LWR also offered guidance and support to improve families’ food security, and helped to strengthen local organizations as they responded to an array of needs in the community, including helping families recover from the trauma of displacement.

LWR’s work with the people of Macayepo is representative of the organization´s efforts to accompany, with targeted and tangible support, displaced communities choosing to return home or resettle. Over the years, LWR´s expertise in this area has benefited hundreds of families in Colombia and provides an important model for how other organizations and even the Colombian government can usher in safe and dignified returns for the nation´s thousands of displaced farmers.

Programs and Policies

Last week, LWR and the Latin America Working Group released the report, Still a Dream. Based on a July research trip involving visits to the organizations and communities LWR accompanies, the report draws on lessons learned from LWR’s work in Colombia and highlights the programmatic and political changes that rural citizens on Colombia’s Caribbean coast call for.

The report underscores the challenges facing communities that wish to return to their lands, as well as the struggle of human rights activists and victims of violence seeking justice in their cases. The report comes out as Colombia’s groundbreaking “Land and Victims Law” takes hold, and offers high-level recommendations for advancing the law and ultimately addressing Colombia’s displacement and human rights crisis.

Drawing on LWR’s direct experience with displaced rural communities in Colombia and a long history of policy and advocacy work on behalf of Colombia’s victims of violence, the report will be distributed among members of Congress, to Colombian government officials and shared with key members of President Obama’s Administration.

While people continue to face challenges back home, in Macayepo, their return was made with success, and nearly 12 years to the date of their original displacement families have great hopes for their future on the land.

It is LWR’s hope that government policies in both the US and Colombia, together with effective non-governmental programming and investments will lead to safe and dignified returns and resettlements for all families that have been displaced by violence in Colombia.

Thumbnail of Still a Dream

Read the Policy Brief

Read “Still a Dream: Land Restitution on Colombia’s Caribbean Coast” at LWR In Depth