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| 2/7/2011 12:00:00 AM

Colombia hoping land reform efforts will help sow peace

To beat back a stubborn guerrilla movement, Colombia and its closest ally and benefactor, the United States, upgraded a once-hapless army and began to wrest territory from rebel forces.

Now Colombia's new president, Juan Manuel Santos, is ratcheting up the pressure on the guerrillas but with a far different strategy: returning thousands of square miles of stolen land to poor farmers who were displaced during a long, murky conflict.

The government's objective is to pacify violent regions and put Colombia on a path to peace by blunting the appeal of a guerrilla group that uses the banner of land reform to justify its struggle.

"This is as critical a stage as you could imagine - what we do with the land defines the course of the war," said Alejandro Reyes, a land expert who was hired to spearhead the Agriculture Ministry's restitution efforts. "Giving back land is the difference between winning and losing the war."
 
Over the past quarter century, the United States has spent about $25 billion here, mostly in military-related costs, to help Colombia dismantle cocaine cartels and bring order to a lawless countryside. Violence has ebbed, and U.N. data show that the acreage dedicated to the production of the leaf used to make cocaine has fallen by half since 2001.
 
Read more here.

Semana International delivers news about Colombia in English. Find more in our home.

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