The Rise of a New Faction Against the Restitution of Land in Colombia

President Juan Manuel Santos is on a collision course with a growing faction of powerful economic groups that oppose the land restitution Law 1448. The outcome of this dispute will show whether Colombia's democracy could stand up to the influence of the richest classes.   
Nazih Richani 2/20/2012


780 Santos in Antioquia (

My previous two blogs highlighted some of the hurdles confronting the application of the 2011 Law 1448, which aims to return land that is now owned by banana plantations and large cattle ranchers to its previous owners. More recently, another set of opponents has emerged against the lawAntioquian Syndicate, which forms part of the most powerful economic conglomerate, known colloquially as “los Cacaos.” Combined, they control nearly 30% of Colombia's GDP. The Antioquia Syndicate is the largest of the six members of the conglomerate, employing 110.000 workers, and controlling 6.4% of the GDP. 

Now, new evidence is surfacing that exposes a Syndicate company—Argos Cement—as one of the largest land usurpers. Approximately 40,000 hectares are currently in dispute, suspected of having been appropriated illicitly in Montes de Maria, a well-known conflict area. 

Companies like Argos Cement will be tried by agrarian judges under the law 1448 to determine whether those purchases were done in "good faith." They will have to prove that the land was bought from "legal" third parties. This process is alarming to the Antioquian Syndicate, and other members of the Cacaos, and has placed them on a collision course with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.    

As a result, Colombia's government will have to choose between two options: 1. Water down the application of Law 1448 to protect the interests of the dominant classes, which have now consolidated into a powerful new faction; or 2. Return the lands to the dispossessed peasants.

This challenge will test the strength of Colombia's government, and show whether it is strong enough to resist the influence of large land owning classes. 




See "President Santos and the Question of Land Reform in Colombia (Part I)" and "Part II."

For more from Nazih Richani's blog, Colombian Cuadernos, visit, or see the  July/August 2009 NACLA Report, "Coercion Incorporated: Paramilitary Colombia." See also "Show Time in Necocli, Colombia" and "Colombia's Catch 22: Undermining the Victims' Law," by Nazih Richani, and "Victims Law Decree Fails Afro-Colombian Communities.


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