Colombian land rights campaigner gunned down

Jesús Adán Quinto, 55, a community leader and spokesperson for displaced families from his town of Cacarica, in the state of Choco, had been assigned a security detail due to frequent threats against his life.

Colombian land rights campaigner gunned down

World Bulletin / News Desk

The second land rights activist to be killed in Colombia in 2014 was gunned down after stepping outside his residence in the state of Antioquia on Wednesday, April 9, Colombia’s “National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity with Victims.”

Jesús Adán Quinto, 55, a community leader and spokesperson for displaced families from his town of Cacarica, in the state of Choco, had been assigned a security detail due to frequent threats against his life. He had been living in the city of Turbo, in neighboring Antioquia, since being displaced from his town in January 2013 along with 45 other families.

Land rights are a central dispute in Colombia’s five-decade-old armed conflict. The Colombian struggle has created the world’s largest internally displaced population, forcing 4.8 million people to abandon roughly 14 million acres of land in the past 30 years, according to a report produced by Human Rights Watch.

Today, 52 percent of the country’s farmland rests in the hands of 1 percent of landowners — one of the most disparate land distribution rates in the world, according to the United Nations.

“It's unfortunate what happened to the leader from Cacarica. He had been provided with security by the National Protection Unit (UPN), but according to preliminary information, on Wednesday his bodyguards were not present and upon leaving home he was killed.” said Jorge Armando Otalora, Colombia’s ombudsman.

Quinto’s town of Cacarica is located in a largely impenetrable section of Choco, known for dense jungles, and the only access is by boat. The region, to the west of the city of Medellin, has long suffered from a lack of state presence, principally due to the lack of access, and has been fought over by both the paramilitaries and the guerrillas in their desire to control important river routes.

Historically, the FARC’s Front 57 and members of the newly emerged criminal group called the Urabeños, formed from demobilized right wing paramilitaries, have been active there. In November 1997 there was a mass displacement of an estimated 15,000 members of the population from various municipalities in the region after attacks by paramilitary groups.

While the communities returned in 2000, they have continued to suffer due to power struggles between the various groups wishing to control lucrative trade routes for illicit goods, such as illegal logging and coca paste, to the Pacific coast to the west or through to Panama to the north.

Land reform is also at the heart of peace talks between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC. As a result of the peace talks, which began in 2012 in Havana, Cuba, the two sides have agreed on a tentative deal that would redistribute farmland to balance some of the inequalities found in Colombia.

However, with the death of Quinto, the president’s “Victims Law” of 2011, designed to return displaced Colombians to their lands comes under greater scrutiny. President Santos himself declared yesterday in a ceremony commemorating the victims that it would “not be possible to compensate the six million victims of the internal conflict at one time.”

Despite declarations by the Director of the UPN Andrés Villamizar that those guilty of the murder of Quinto will be “investigated, captured and sentenced”, there remain major concerns amongst those displaced by the violence about whether the appropriate measures of security exist to permit them to return to their homes and farms.

Last Mod: 11 Nisan 2014, 11:01
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