A slideshow without the talk Current “para-politicians” list
Feb 182008

Here is a quick overview of the utterly depressing scandal that, for the time being at least, has knocked Hugo Chávez off of Colombia’s front pages.

On August 8, 2004, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe announced that his government would liquidate Carimagua, an enormous state-owned hacienda in Meta department, in Colombia’s eastern plains. 17,000 hectares (43,000 acres) of land, Uribe told reporters, would be distributed to 800 families who had been forced off their land by violence.

This giveaway alone would have increased by one-third the 54,500 hectares of land that the Uribe government has distributed to displaced families since 2002. (This total, however, hardly makes a dent in the 2.9 million hectares that, the Colombian government Comptroller’s Office estimates, have been stolen from forcibly displaced Colombians during the past twenty years.)

Three years passed, though, and nothing happened with Carimagua. Not a square inch of the land has been distributed.

The Colombian daily El Tiempo revealed why in a story published February 10. At some point, the Uribe government changed its mind about Carimagua quite radically. In July 2007, the newspaper revealed, Colombia’s Agriculture Ministry decided instead to make the 17,000 hectares available to large agribusiness companies, promising a fifty-year lease to the highest bidder. The displaced families, who had been waiting for years, were not told of this decision.

This revelation has shed an uncomfortable light on the Colombian government’s agriculture minister, Andrés Felipe Arias, an ultraconservative young politician who is so close to President Uribe that Colombian commentators frequently call him Uribito.” Arias – who is known more for campaigning against demilitarizing territory for talks with guerrillas than for any rural development policies – defended the decision to break his government’s promise to the displaced families by arguing that Carimagua is not appropriate for small-scale agriculture.

Arias argued that the 17,000 hectares are poor-quality land (a claim that other experts have since disputed), far from transportation (though along one of Colombia’s largest rivers, the Meta), and that “nothing can be done with only 11 hectares per family.”

In an El Tiempo column, analyst Cristián Valencia responded to that last point, recounting conversations with displaced families he encountered trying to scratch out a living by selling goods at busy Bogotá intersections.

When I asked the González family (stoplight at the circunvalar and 92nd Street) and the Santos family (stoplight at 94th Street and 18th Avenue) what they would do with 11 hectares of land, their eyes teared up.


“Yeah, eleven. Of land, but they say that it is acidic soil and it’s in the eastern plains [llanos].”

My question brought back bitter memories for them. Because they remember the countryside, and life in the countryside, and the peace they used to enjoy in the countryside. The countryside from which they were forced to flee.

“We would be alive again,” one said.

“It would be a miracle,” said another.

Valencia also responded eloquently to Minister Arias’s argument that large investors would make more efficient use of the Carimagua land.

If this is to be the standard for adjudicating lands, all of Colombia’s uprooted people will have to go off and forget about ever having even one hectare. Because there will always be investors with more money, more vision, and more ability to produce and generate dividends.

Minister Arias’s claims, meanwhile, have been called into question because of the political connections of some of the corporations – several of them large-scale African oil-palm cultivators – that have expressed interest in the Carimagua offer. One, notes El Espectador columnist and former presidential intelligence (DAS) director Ramiro Bejarano, is owned by the uncle of the current treasury minister.

Arias’s announced solution to the Carimagua controversy is to appoint a “high-level commission” to decide whether the lands should be distributed to displaced people, wealthy agribusiness investors, or a combination. But with his choice of commissioners, Bejarano argues, Arias “designated recognized allies and spokespeople of industrialists, investors and big capital. He put the mice in charge of caring for the cheese.”

Whatever ultimately happens with Carimagua, much of the damage has already been done. In a country with the world’s second-largest displaced population, where land has been at the center of generations of violent disputes, the current government showed itself to be vastly more sensitive to the needs of large landholders than to those of poor, vulnerable, displaced families. (It remains to be seen what damage has been done to Andrés Felipe Arias’s political ambitions.)

“Taken together,” wrote Colombian author and El Espectador columnist Alfredo Molano, “the agrarian policies of the last few governments have been, in practice, a drama in three acts. In the first act, the paramilitaries enter, chainsaws in hand, and displace the campesinos. In the second, the government negotiates with the paramilitaries, and in the final act, it distributes the lands to large investors.”

23 Responses to “The Carimagua scandal”

  1. jcg Says:

    While the position of Mr. Arias and that of the Uribe administration as a whole continues to be quite shameful as far as I’m concerned…I also sincerely hope that the fact this scandal has come to light may help to, at the very least, provide a portion of the land as reparation to those who so desperately need it. Not exactly the best outcome, but better than leaving everything as it is.

    I still don’t think we’ll see anything remotely close to a real change (or an attempt at a real change) under the current administration though…which is sad enough.

  2. Jaime Bustos Says:

    What’s been going on in Colombia, mainly in the last few years is the stealing of people’s property, elimination of people’s rights and the final take over by two bit thugs of the Colombian government and institutions, all in plain sight. However this did not happen by itself. This happened with the cohonestation of the big corporations, mass communications media and most of the Colombian society’s working class. Not to mention the graceful look away by first world countries that knew what was happening from the beginning, and still do. The only option that someone who realizes this infamous plan is unwinding before his very eyes is just to step out, and wonder what will happen next. The vicious corruption, hideous actions and morbid influence powered by dishonest politicians is no match for rhyme or reason.

  3. LFM Says:

    Well spoke, Jaime.

  4. SJH Says:

    You know, stories like this make me really appreciate this blog while at the same time make me increasingly pessimistic about Colombia’s future. It’s incredibly sad and depressing – they don’t even try to hide the corruption down here. The democratic oversight culture here in Colombia is so underdeveloped that they don’t need to. Uribe essentially has a blank check to do whatever he wants as long as he protects the big cities and the fincas in the Llanos, Anapoema, Girardot, etc.

  5. C Says:

    ¡Uribe hijueputa!

  6. jcg Says:

    Jaime: Part of me would want to agree, on the surface, since I can see where you are coming from, up to a point…but there are things that don’t really fit such an overwhelmingly negative diagnosis…and the rhetoric that comes along with it. So I can’t fully agree, and thus I feel the need to comment.

    Doesn’t mean the picture is as bright as sunshine, that would only be blindness…but there are different degrees of light and darkness, which deserve to be considered even at this time of crisis.

    “What’s been going on in Colombia, mainly in the last few years is the stealing of people’s property, elimination of people’s rights and the final take over by two bit thugs of the Colombian government and institutions, all in plain sight. ”

    This isn’t merely something of “the last few years”, whether you want to talk about displacement, land concentration or pandering to certain “interests”. Suffice to say that the original post itself acknowledges that much of this, IMHO, goes back quite a long way (at least twenty years, if not far more). The current administration may be making things worse in several ways, but that’s hardly the bulk of the problem.

    We can all see the *erosion* of certain rights, that is undeniable and horrible, and that does constitute an “elimination” of the rights of those directly affected. That is indeed depressing.

    But at the same time, there are forces that, even though they may or may not be losing depending on what you want to focus on, are fighting against this process. Even within the state itself, there are pressures in a different direction, including but not limited to the courts, though they aren’t always effective. The media itself also plays a complex role, not merely that of automatic “cohonestation”, if you consider that, to name just one example, this particular case has been denounced by EL TIEMPO. Not by some obscure “alternative” or “anti-establishment” publication. Even if it may not provide us with a magical solution, it’s a push in the right direction.

    In other words, there are more contradictions in this situation, beyond the mere existence of an infamous “plan”.

    If you completely and absolutely ignore that, focusing only on what’s wrong or heading in a wrong direction, then yeah…the picture’s quite black. But I think that even the darkest spots don’t make the entire picture black, as much as it may seem to be when we read about these cases.

    As for this being the “final take over”, that’s more of a personal interpretation and conclusion than anything else. I think that almost implies the existence of a “point of no return”, which is extremely debatable and speculative.

    C: If saying that makes you feel better…sigh.

    SJH: “You know, stories like this make me really appreciate this blog while at the same time make me increasingly pessimistic about Colombia’s future.”

    If we only focus on the negatives, which are plenty enough, it’s all quite pessimistic…but I believe there are other elements and the future can be less predictable, however. It also depends on other factors which we can’t always see so easily.

    “Uribe essentially has a blank check to do whatever he wants as long as he protects the big cities and the fincas in the Llanos, Anapoema, Girardot, etc.”

    Your opinion is valid, but I think that’s an exaggeration that personalizes things too much. Uribe has more power and a freer hand than others, no doubt about it, but even he hasn’t been successful at doing everything he wants.

  7. Jaime Bustos Says:

    jcg, we are not talking about the sun still shining and the birds still singing. We are talking political situation here. And as I said Colombian Political backbone is fezzed up at present. In the future? well in the future, may god on height zap his holy beam on the miserable people responsible for this shoot.

  8. Kyle Says:

    I’ll post with critiques and comments later, but I simply have a seemingly quite random question: Does anyone know where I can get my hands on a copy of ‘El Poder Paramilitar’ and Los Señores de Guerra’ books from the Security and Democracy Foundation here in the US?

  9. jcg Says:

    Jaime Bustos: “jcg, we are not talking about the sun still shining and the birds still singing. We are talking political situation here.”

    I didn’t mean that literally, as you can tell.

    “And as I said Colombian Political backbone is fezzed up at present. In the future? well in the future, may god on height zap his holy beam on the miserable people responsible for this shoot.”

    That may be so…but even right now, in the present, there are other forces, tensions and conflicts at work, not just miserable people doing miserable things all alone.

    Kyle: Can’t help you there, unfortunately. I have the books, but no idea about where you might find them in the U.S.

  10. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Kyliman: I think you can order them from here

    jcg: whatever ….

  11. C Says:


    Must you comment on everything ever? My comment expressed in two simple words the appropriate disgust and rage over such a deranged lack of concern on the part of a government for the well-being of its (poor) people. The information was already clearly presented in Adam´s post. No pseudo intellectual babble can more accurately express the reaction of a human being with actual compassion in her heart. And you comment with a sigh? Your stomach should be boiling at this outrage and…sigh? Save your sigh for a more appropriate occassion than to scough at my sense of humanity…

    Paz y justicia para todos…

  12. jcg Says:

    C: I do comment a lot, but not really on “everything”.

    I just don’t think saying “Uribe HP”, “FARC HP”, “gringos HP”, “terroristas HP”, “lo que sea HP”, or anything along those same lines, actually accomplishes much, other than being a valid form of venting rage…

  13. Sergio Méndez Says:


    It may be true that we are required to see reality in all its spectre. That globally there are positive and negative stuff going on. But concerning the issue of land concentration, land for millions of peasants displaced and whose land was stolen, and the pandering of certain interests (lafitundists and Palma indudtsry), the reality is very, extremely dark.

  14. jcg Says:

    Sergio: I’m not saying otherwise about that specific side of the issue, but I did point out other elements which are related to the same. Even if that’s not going to make the stealing of land less dark for those who suffer it, most of the time at least, I think they should be noted.

  15. jhon Says:

    It would be interesting that instead of preaching to the converted that we could get some follow-up to this article that would outline the govt rationale.

    Secondly, there is an environmental component to this issue with many arguments against palm oil as a sustainable biofuel producing crop.

    Finally (and slightly unrelatedly), someone mentioned to me the interesting idea of introducing the biofuel producing plant ‘Jatropha’ to coca producing farmers to see if the crop can attain a sufficiently high price point such that it might compete with and displace the market for coca leaves. In short to make it more attractive for farmers to grow something legal and useful rather than the alternative.

    Can’t help feel that there is some scope in all of this for a public/private partnership.


  16. Kyle Says:

    Thanks to those who did comment on my question. Jaime, I had gone there earlier and the only thing available for those I am looking for is the prologue. The reality is that I should have bought them or tried to when I was in Bogota last…At the same time I could not anticipate being able to write such an extensive paper on the paracos this semester…

  17. equinoXio english edition » » Carimagua and agrofuels Says:

    [...] The Carimagua scandal (Plan Colombia and Beyond) [...]

  18. Minister denies pressure to avoid ‘Carimagua’ debate Says:

    [...] denies allegations that the government has put pressure on the senate not to debate the controversial plans for the Carimagua farm. Senator Cecilia Lopez Montaño earlier revealed she had been pressured not to file a motion of [...]

  19. Diana Says:

    I am Colombian. In these moments in Colombia the victims are being used to appose anything the government wants to do… With respect to Carimagua, the land in the hands of poor people, only produces more poverty… The same land in the hands of entreprenours produces jobs… Jobs is what we need to develop as a country… Jobs and investment are what we need to fight against poverty, drugs and violence… However, many leaders in Colombia, and in general in Latinamerica, use their leadership to oppose investment, especially from USA… They lie about USA, they make people think that americans are bad people, that if they come to latinamerica, they are going to make us slaves… They talk about USA as the “Empire” and they don’t see that we need a strong relationship with that country… Why??? Because they can invest on us, they have the money and they are interested on making more money, and money improves lifes and jobs…

  20. Diana Says:

    Uribe is a good president!!! He is working hard to improve our country… The problem is that we have our own enemies from inside that go all over the world to talk wrong things about us and about the government… Piedad Cordoba went to Mexico to say that all countries should cut relationships with Colombia… Then she went to Spain to say that we are a bad neighbor… and not only her… In the USA there are many “colombians” convincing the Senate that Colombia is the worst place on the world… I don’t understand them, they are Colombians and should try to help our country… But they act on their own interest, and when they need “victims”, they use them as excuses to oppose something that is not in their interests. Every saturday, president Uribe goes to one small city to know, first hand, the internal problems and try to fix them, very effectively. This work is transmitted by TV and Internet on http://web.presidencia.gov.co/ , so you can evaluate what he is doing for the country… 7 million people voted for Mr. Uribe, because we have seen his work, it’s very transparent and it has been a big change for the country. Now Colombia is more safe… Before we couldn’t travel in our own country, because the terrorists could kidnap or kill us in the middle of the way… Now we can travel to more places…. The government has been strong against violence and terrorism and this has been a big change for us.

  21. Plan Colombia and Beyond » “Agro Ingreso Seguro:” subsidizing the rich Says:

    [...] out benefits to its wealthiest supporters from the public treasury. It recalls the 2008 “Carimagua” scandal, in which land set aside for displaced Colombians was instead leased to agribusiness [...]

  22. Plan Colombia and Beyond » Where are the land titles? Says:

    [...] getting titles to their land, and Colombia’s Agriculture Ministry (whose policies, as recent scandals indicate, favor large landholders) is chiefly to [...]

  23. Called to Colombia » Uphill, Both Ways Says:

    [...] them adrift. While Colombian laws to support displaced people are very impressive on paper they are promises rarely fulfilled, so the struggle for survival continues in an unfamiliar and often unwelcoming place. A photo of [...]

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