Colombia: Garzal Lands in Court


The Simití municipality in southern Bolívar province includes the towns of Nueva Esperanza and Garzal which lies along the Magdalena River a few hours north of Barrancabermeja.  The 136 families who live in the two towns make their living growing cacao and vegetables, raising cattle, and fishing.

      During the 1980's, the Barreto family lived and worked in Garzal processing cocaine and transporting it for the notorious drug czar Pablo Escobar.  In 1989, the drug lab was raided and Mr. Barreto spent 2 years in jail.

      Over the next years, the Barreto family all but abandoned their land in Garzal.  Other landless families moved to the area and began working the land.  Now, the Barretos are back and demand not only the land they used to live on, but all the land in Garzal.

      Approximately half of the families in Garzal and Nueva Esperanza legally own their land based on a Colombian law that states that a person can take legal ownership after five years of living on and working the land.  INCODER, the Colombian Institute for Rural Development, issued paper titles to 64 families a few years ago, but took them back under the pretext of making changes to the documents.  The Barreto family had false titles drawn up which show they own all of Garzal, and have used these papers to bring a suit against the community.  They want to officially revoke titles that currently exist and have mired the case in court for years.   

      In recent weeks, the Barretos brought a criminal case against ten members of the Garzal communities based on trumped-up charges. The judge called both parties together for "conciliation" on March 4, implying that the communities would have a chance to address the terms of the sale of their land, despite the fact they have no intention of selling.

      CPT maintained a presence in Garzal during the first week of March and CPT's May 26 - June 8, 2009 international delegation will visit the community.