Colombian government makes historic advance towards agrarian reform and peace

The government of Gustavo Petro will buy three million hectares from cattle ranchers with the aim of redistributing them to dispossessed peasants, fulfilling the first point of the peace agreement signed with the FARC

October 11, 2022 by Tanya Wadhwa
Colombian President Gustavo Petro, Agriculture Minister Cecilia López Montaño and the FEDEGÁN’s president José Félix Lafaurie, on October 8, signed an agreement to purchase 3 million hectares of land from cattle ranchers to later redistribute them to peasant families. (Photo: Colombian Presidency/Twitter)

The government of Colombian President Gustavo Petro and the Colombian Federation of Livestock Farmers (FEDEGÁN), on Saturday October 8, signed an agreement that would allow extensive implementation of the much-needed and long-delayed agrarian reform in the country.

According to the agreement signed by President Petro, Agriculture Minister Cecilia López Montaño and the FEDEGÁN’s president José Félix Lafaurie, the national government will purchase three million hectares of productive land from cattle ranchers, who are willing to sell their lands, at a fair price with the purpose of redistributing them to peasant families without land or with insufficient land.

With the agreement, the Petro administration made progress on two of its election promises, seeking social justice and consolidating peace in the country. The agreement enables the implementation of the Comprehensive Rural Reform, which fulfills the first point of the Havana peace agreements signed with the demobilized FARC guerilla group in November 2016.

Human rights defender and Senator Iván Cepeda explained that “the comprehensive nature of the reform consists of the commitment not only to deliver land, but also to guarantee the conditions of productivity, access routes to markets, agricultural inputs, which make the project viable and sustainable in the long term.”

President Petro, on his Twitter account, hailed the signing of the agreement and described it as “historic,” adding that “social pact and peace are possible.”

The FEDEGÁN, founded in 1963 in defense of private property against the then expropriatory agrarian reform, also deemed the agreement “historic.” FEDEGÁN’s president Lafaurie praised the conciliatory attitude of the Petro administration.

“The government could do it without us or, even, against us, but it has decided to do it with us, and this inclusion has an importance that we cannot measure right now,” said Lafaurie in a statement. He added that “FEDEGÁN has never been against the peasant’s right to own lands, accompanied by conditions that make them truly productive.”

The agreement is indeed remarkable given the staunch opposition by the conservative FEDEGÁN against the land distribution section of the Havana peace agreements. The Federation had criticized Petro’s campaign promises to fully comply with the 2016 peace agreements to achieve “total peace” and introduce an agrarian reform to fight high levels of inequalities and unproductiveness in the sector.

Petro’s agrarian reform

In Colombia, 0.4% of the population owns 46% of rural land. Cattle ranchers are among the largest owners of large extensions of land. During his election campaign, Petro vowed to introduce an agrarian reform to address one of the country’s deepest problems.

Last month, on September 21, the government began the first phase of redistribution of lands, with delivery of property titles to peasants, indigenous communities and Afro-descendants. In this phase, which will run until November 15, a total of 680,000 hectares of land will be delivered to 12,600 families in 19 of the country’s 32 departments.

The second phase will begin soon after, in which the government will lease 125,000 hectares confiscated from drug traffickers to peasant organizations. During the third phase, the government will sell 5 million hectares, bought from ranchers and other large landowners, at a lower price to people who work in agriculture or in small and medium businesses.

Petro’s peace process

Since its inauguration in early August, the national government has been constantly working to meet its commitments to end the violence in the country. This agreement is the latest achievement of the new peace process led by the Petro administration. It is significant for the peace talks that the government seeks to reopen with FARC dissidents, who returned to armed struggle in August 2019, following the violation of the peace agreements by the government of former conservative President Iván Duque.

National celebration

The signing of the agreement between the government and the FEDEGÁN was celebrated by human right activists.

Human rights activist Carlos Velandia, praising the agreement, said that “the purchase agreement will allow the country to advance in social justice, strengthen the peasant economy, food sovereignty, reduce 14 million tons of food imports, lower the cost of living and achieve peace and equity.”

Jorge Rojas Rodríguez, human rights defender and founder of the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), also described the agreement as “historic.” “The agreement was built recognizing diversity, respecting differences and seeking a common country agenda. This agreement constitutes a real advance in a purpose that has been postponed so many times: an agrarian reform in Colombia,” tweeted Rodríguez.

In another tweet, he added that the agreement “highlights the democratic spirit of president Gustavo Petro, represents a powerful advance for comprehensive rural reform, promotes implementation of the peace agreement, and opens possibilities to overcome causes of conflict and drug trafficking.”

Luis Emil Sanabria Duran, human rights activist and founder of Redepaz, also welcomed the news. “Total Peace is everyone’s commitment, this agreement with FEDEGÁN shows that the inclusion of those who think differently is possible and necessary. The way to Comprehensive Rural Reform has opened, which will fully complement the delivery of land. The land will belong to all those who work on it, live on it, enjoy it and respect it,” Sanabria Duran wrote in a thread.