There is No Sense in Doing Such a Complex Job to Lose it All in the End

Photo by: USAID Colombia Land and Rural Development

Q&A with Ricardo Sabogal, Director of the Colombia’s Land Restitution Unit

Originally appeared on Exposure.

MORE THAN HALFWAY THROUGH THE MANDATE OF THE VICTIMS’ LAW, THE LAND RESTITUTION UNIT CONTINUES TO PRODUCE THE NECESSARY TOOLS TO IMPROVE THE PROCESS OF RESTITUTION. RICARDO SABOGAL, DIRECTOR OF THE LAND RESTITUTION UNIT, SPEAKS ABOUT USAID’S SUPPORT IN STRENGTHENING RULING COMPLIANCE AND THE CREATION OF AN AMBITIOUS INFORMATION SYSTEM LAUNCHED IN 2017 WITH USAID SUPPORT.

Q: Where is the Land Restitution Unit currently in terms of its mission to execute its land restitution policy, and how are achievements being measures?

A: After six years, our balance sheet is quite positive. We are present across the country and have received more than 100,000 claims. Of these, the LRU is working on 60%. Every day, judges issue rulings. To date, judges have ruled on more than 200,000 hectares, and there are another 600,000 hectares in the cases, on which they are deciding every day. And most importantly, families are returning to their land and are not leaving due to violence. They’re working the land and many of the families are exporting what they are harvesting, all thanks to the land restitution policy.

Q: What have been the biggest problems and challenges in the implementation of the land restitution policy in its different stages (administrative, judicial and post-ruling)?

A: At first, the big challenge was the fact that we were entering the world of transitional justice—we did not know how to operate a public policy with these types of characteristics, and there was no technical bureaucratic mechanism in place. Additionally, the country has a huge problem with land administration, an outdated cadaster and property registry, or at least the one it has does not correspond to the cadaster. Another issue was security in many areas of the country. When we started off it was not possible to intervene due to violence. With the Peace Accords, new difficulties arise in many areas, such as the issue of landmines. Another challenge is ensuring that all institutions reach rural areas. The LRU might be there, but sometimes others are not. The agencies in charge of rural housing, the Agency for Rural Development, those responsible for roads, or health, and education. They all need to be present.

Q: How has USAID supported the LRU in the implementation of the restitution policy at the different stages of the process?

A: USAID supported the creation of the strategic plan, helping define where to go. When we began with the land restitution policy, there was no reliable estimate of the number of cases. Thanks to USAID’s support, we studied the data and made an estimate that was closer to reality. We sent the estimate to our honorable Constitutional Court, to say: this is the breadth of the issue that we are going to solve in the years that are left for the validity of the law. USAID has been fundamental in the post-ruling phase. There is no sense in do such a delicate and complex job, to only lose it all in the end. We are deeply hurt every time a farmer gets his or her land and sells it. Nowadays, thanks to this program, nearly 90% of the restituted farmers are staying on their land and farming it. To achieve this, USAID has been crucial, supporting the post-ruling models to ensure that entities comply with the rulings.

Read the full photo essay on Exposure.

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