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| 2/1/2011 12:00:00 AM

Land grabs have dominated Colombia's history

After Sudan, Colombia has the world's largest number of internally displaced people, and land grabbing for economic gain is the main cause

If you were to write a history of Colombia you could do worse than call it "Land Grab". Starting the day Rodrigo de Bastidas and his companions arrived on the Caribbean shore around 1499 looking to make a fortune, there has been one constant theme at the heart of Colombia's social and armed conflict – land.

Colombia has the greatest number of displaced people in the world after Sudan, some 500 years after the Spanish set about ruthlessly "cleansing" indigenous communities from the land they deemed valuable. While the government claims things are getting better, although still admitting 120,000 newly displaced people in 2009, the more trustworthy figures come from the human rights group Codhes, which sets that figure at nearer 300,000. This brings the total number of displaced people in Colombia to between 3.4 million (government) and 4.9 million (Codhes), about 10% of the population.

Colombia is rich in export possibilities, from coal, oil, gold and emeralds under the ground, to any number of crops above it. But whatever the commodity, you need the land to get your hands on it. Under the Spanish, many communities fled from their favoured lowlands and coastal areas to the mountains to preserve their way of life. Ironically it is these mountainous and jungle areas that are now deemed important for the exploitation of gold and coal and for mega-monocultures, so indigenous people, along with Afro-Colombians and campesinos, once again find themselves at the centre of one of the world's most devastating land grabs.
 
Read more here.

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

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