Colombia is a country of peasants. There are more than 15 million people who live in rural areas and whose main livelihood comes from the countryside, according to official data from 2023. When talking about agrarian reform, no less than a third of the total population is questioned. At this point, no one doubts that making a fairer distribution of land, historically in the hands of landowners, is an urgent project that would help improve not only poverty rates, but also reduce the violence of a countryside eternally at war. But that’s all the certainties. The complexity of the reform has made all previous attempts fail and, although President Gustavo Petro managed to place the issue on the agenda from the first months of government, the speech now threatens to set good intentions on fire.
There are words that the violence of decades has left marked in the Colombian imagination, that trigger a spring when heard and directly produce rejection. Words like expropriation, protest or mobilization are marked with negative connotations, even when expropriation is a legal mechanism used in many countries and in Colombia itself, when protest has served to achieve labor conquests or mobilization to not stop social progress. In any case, Colombia today has a left-wing president who was a guerrilla during his youth, something unthinkable until a few years ago. It is this president, who promised in the electoral campaign to change the country and whom a large part of Colombians saw as a demon capable of turning Colombia into Venezuela, who has completed a year in office and neither one thing nor the other. As several analysts recognized on the first anniversary: the country has not changed that much, nor does democracy look into the abyss, although it sometimes seems that way.
A man at the Popular Peasant Assembly in which Petro launched the National Agrarian Reform System, on August 3. NATHALIA ANGARITA
In a country accustomed to polarization, political tension is constant and tends toward passion. In the last hours, a draft of a decree published by the Ministry of Agriculture for citizens’ evaluation was placed at the center of the debate. In the heading, it says: “Through which peasant mobilization and organization for agrarian reform is promoted.” The fire ignited by itself.
It is not the first time that the president has called for mobilization. In recent months, Petro has repeatedly asked for the support of his base in the streets to defend his reforms. It has been interpreted as a call to action from the president, who as the months went by became aware that changing the country is neither easy nor quick. The reforms became bogged down in Congress, where he does not have a majority, and Petro made the decision to take the Government to the left, after months of reaching out and agreements with moderate parties. He also toughened his speech against what he considers a plot by the country’s economic and political elites that seeks to remove him from power.
This latest draft decree therefore comes at a time of tension. The text mentions the creation of municipal committees for agrarian reform, led by peasants – 30% of the population of Colombia -, which it describes as “spaces for participation, consultation, planning, management, evaluation and territorial escalation of agrarian reform processes. The publication of the draft opened the majority of national media with headlines such as “The Government of Gustavo Petro has a decree ready to force the peasant guards to mobilize,” from Semana. The Minister of Agriculture, Jhenifer Mojica, told Caracol Radio that the text “is nothing out of this world, more than the opportunity for all organizations to participate in the creation of agrarian reform.”
The analysis of current events and the best stories from Colombia, every week in your mailbox
RECEIVE THEJhenifer Mojica addresses farmers gathered at the Sincelejo Fair Coliseum, on August 3. NATHALIA ANGARITA
However, many have seen in this new role of Minister Mojica and the agrarian reform a search by Petro to direct the mandate in other directions now that the rest of the reforms are not advancing at the pace that the president would like. He relies on the peasants and those dispossessed of the land to gain strength in the territories in the face of a government project that is choking on the marble of Congress. Others directly see in the president the desire to stir up the country to increase the confrontation. A source close to Petro’s first cabinet is blunt about this: “This is going to make farmers feel authorized to go out and take over farms. “This is going to start another war in the countryside.”
The idea of peasant mobilization awakens in some the memory of the creation of the National Association of Peasant Users of Colombia (ANUC), in 1967. An organization that was born with the support of the Government of the liberal Carlos Lleras Restrepo to channel the agrarian reform of that time, a process that did not have the expected success and that over the years caused peasant enthusiasm to weaken. With the change of government to that of the conservative Misael Pastrana, and the loss of support, a part of the ANUC became radicalized and began to promote the direct seizure of land. Today, in the draft, many read a return to the past. The decree says: “The Committees will be the instance in which the community learns from the execution, management, administration, social control, oversight and surveillance of the agrarian reform process and in which community knowledge is contributed and put into execution.” He points out that the Ministry will also ensure its implementation. If the hidden intentions are different, we will have to wait for the final decree and its implementation.
Peasants at the Fair Coliseum, in Sincelejo (Sucre). NATHALIA ANGARITA
Subscribe here to the EL PAÍS newsletter about Colombia and receive all the key information on current events in the country.
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits
#Petro #peasants #mobilization #living #ghosts #Colombia