USAID and Colombia’s Superintendence of Notary and Registry (SNR) continue recovering important land records by digitizing files and building the entity’s capacity to serve a healthy land market.
In 2016, when USAID tried to support the Colombian government with the digitization of rural land and property files, this initiative encountered resistance. In Cauca, for example, public servants opposed moving any physical land files off the premise. They locked and barricaded the doors, and when the files were finally loaded into a moving truck, they filmed the action and published videos on social media denouncing the “theft of Cauca’s land documents.”
In a country where issues of land ownership and access were at the heart of a six-decade conflict, the mistrust is understandable. Historically, a centralized land administration process has been carried out by a series of government agencies headquartered in the country’s capital of Bogotá. The Superintendence of Notaries and Registers (SNR) is the agency responsible for overseeing and protecting property in Colombia and houses the registry of all properties, including historical information about each parcel, including everything from who bought and sold a parcel to the mortgage used to purchase it.
Today, the SNR has 195 regional offices located throughout Colombia. In each office, millions of land documents rest in cardboard boxes, old filing cabinets, and mildew-filled basements. Each file represents a registered property, and some files include dozens of sheets of paper. In addition, there are more than 93,000 ledgers—large leather-bound books where regional superintendents, trained in calligraphy, wrote down information, such as liens, mortgages, and transactions, involving each parcel. The oldest of these ledgers date back to the 1870s.