The government said Thursday it had seized 173,000 acres of agricultural land and planned to turn it over to hundreds of farmers as part of ongoing efforts to claw-back property from rebels, outlaws and corrupt officials.
At a ceremony on a sprawling farm in central Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos handed out land titles and said he planned to put almost 750,000 acres of property back into farmers’ hands within the year.
Land legalization and distribution is emerging as one of the cornerstones of Santos’ young administration and is designed to address the needs of the estimated 3.4 million people who have been displaced by violence in Colombia.
Among the parcels that the government began breaking up on Thursday were 37,000 acres amassed by Pedro Oliverio Guerrero, a powerful crime boss and former paramilitary member known as Cuchillo or “Knife”, and 95,100 acres that had been illegally appropriated by cronies of former senator Habib Merheg.
Santos said there was also proof that Colombia’s oldest guerrilla group, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, or FARC, had been building up its real estate holdings. According to documents recovered from the laptop of the FARC’s top military commander, Jorge “Mono Jojoy” Briceño, who was killed in September, the rebel group owns 96 properties that span some 121,000 acres, he said.
Speaking to a crowd of sunburned farmers, crisp-collared officials and journalists, Santos said his administration was determined to keep investigating fraudulent land claims and turning property over to its rightful owners.
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