by Rhodri C. Williams
For an example of the entrenched problems facing incoming Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ land restitution bill and some of the forces that may nevertheless give it legs, its hard to beat the following story, brought to my attention recently by Samir Elhawary at ODI.
One of the subtexts in discussions about the restitution bill has been the question of whether its passage and implementation will be resisted by vested interests that may, in many cases, have supported Santos’ candidacy. While this gives rise to concern that the bill may be weakened through a bit of friendly fire by the new governing coalition in Parliament, it also gives rise to a certain ‘Nixon goes to China’-type hope. If Santos is capable of forcing concessions on government-friendly landed interests, and is seen to do so by the opposition, this would represent an unprecedented opportunity to transcend what has been a depressingly polarized debate about victims’ reparations issues.
However, as I pointed out in an addendum to my earlier post on Colombia, the bill faces some really extraordinary problems. One of the thorniest is presented by cases of concessions and mono-culture plantations. An IDMC report on palm oil plantations a few years back gave a very good sense of the intractability of this problem. On one hand, the report found patent usurpation of land recognized by law as irreplaceable to its highly vulnerable inhabitants, providing an incredibly compelling case for restitution in integrum. On the other hand, the land has been irretrievably transformed and is churning out cash for a product that world public opinion would otherwise cherish as bio-fuel or a viable coca-substitute or … hand soap?