• Monica Cruz

Still No Peace for Colombia’s Campesinos Five Years After Accords

Mural at la Zona de Reserva Campesina - La Elvira in Miranda, Cauca.

By Monica Cruz

Reporting from Cauca, Colombia

“I’ve been fighting for 45 years and I will continue to fight as long as it's necessary to live, and until God decides it’s my last day.”

Gabriela, a farmworker and organizer in Miranda, Cauca, has spent decades moving homes constantly to evade paramilitary and state violence. This is just one aspect of the heavy price she and her compañeros have paid organizing for the dignity of campesinos (farmers) in Colombia. The land on which Miranda sits was long an active war zone between left-wing guerrillas and paramilitary forces. While the 2016 Peace Accords formally ended the war, in reality it is far from over.

Gabriela, a decades-long farmer and organizer of the department of Cauca.
Gabriela, a decades-long farmer and organizer of the department in Cauca.

Just last month in Miranda, a campesino organizer Olivar Mestizo was tortured and murdered by paramilitary troops. Two of Mestizo’s brothers, also organizers, had already met the same fate. From January 1 to July 25 of this year, 102 human rights and environmental justice leaders were murdered in the country, alongside 30 ex-FARC combatants who put down their weapons based on the promise of peace and security. These are the official numbers, but grassroots organizers consistently cite higher figures. No one disputes that each year the killings have increased, each death a sign of the Accords’ unraveling. Campesinos have endured the brunt of this violence but in interviews they explained why backing down is not an option.

The largest union representing farm workers in Colombia is the National Agricultural Trade Union Federation of Colombia or FENSUAGRO. Founded in 1976 with the aim of uniting the labor and farmers movements, its members have experienced relentless violence from paramilitaries and the state. Between 2016 and 2020, 38 FENSUAGRO members were assassinated.

Why has the extreme violence continued despite the formal end to the civil war? To put it simply: the Colombian government has failed to uphold its end of the deal.

The livelihood and safety of Colombia’s farmers are dependent on Points #1 and #4 of the Accords in particular. The first point was designed as a major land reform that would give landless farmers access to land through a Land Fund. An August 2020 report by Colombian senators and representatives found that only 0.08% of the targeted 3 million hectares of the Land Fund had been allocated. The government was also tasked with creating a registry to inspect and distribute rural properties. It has been 5 years since the Accords were signed and it remains a complete dead letter. In Colombia, 0.4% of property owners possess 67% of the land.

The fourth point of the Accords seeks to address the issue of illicit crops. Many farmworkers have historically had no option but to harvest coca, used to produce cocaine, in order to make enough money to survive. Due to neoliberal policies like deregulation of the agricultural sector and the 2011 Free Trade Agreement with the United States, crops like bananas and coffee are no longer lucrative enough for farmers to live off of. The National Comprehensive Program for Illicit Crop Substitution is a cornerstone to this point of the Accords.

The program offers farmers the choice to uproot their coca fields in exchange for government subsidies and training programs to harvest alternative crops. Over