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Colombian farmers in a field
Colombian farmers in a field
José E. Mosquera

-Analysis-

BOGOTÁ — Decades of civil conflict and the formation of the communist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) could be attributed in part to the struggle for land in this Latin American nation. That's why land was one of the most important issues in FARC's peace negotiations with the government. A historic deal was signed on Aug. 24 in La Havana, Cuba. It will now need to be approved by voters in a plebiscite on Oct. 2.

Why is land so important?

In Colombia, this precious resource is concentrated in the hands of a few. Reforms in the past have repeatedly failed. That was the case with President Carlos Lleras Restrepo's 1936 land law. Same goes for the 1961 measure. That latter law allowed the issue of 123,000 land ownership deeds, which may seem significant except for the fact that land was supposed to be given to about 923,000 families. In 1972, under a pact signed by the administration of President Misael Pastrana, land reforms from the time of Lleras were finally shelved. Instead, land ownership became concentrated into even fewer hands.

The numbers are astounding: 77% of private land belongs to 13% of the population. And 1.5% of landowners own 52% of all privately-owned land. Out of 114 million hectares of productive land in Colombia, 40 million is used for extensive livestock farming. Only 6.3% is used for cultivation.

The rebel group FARC, which has peasant origins, had asked the government for Peasant Reservation Zones known by the Spanish acronym ZRC, restricted indigenous enclaves and collective lands owned by black communities. Other key issues in FARC's political agenda include land distribution to demobilized fighters and the economic development of certain marginalized territories.

ZRC isn't FARC's brainchild. These zones were created in 1994 to extend land ownership to indigenous, black and peasant communities in order to give them more autonomy, making thousands of rural families land owners. The World Bank backed the ZRC initiative as part of its poverty reduction measures. It's a victory for the Colombian peasantry's fight for better land distribution in the 20th century.

The most vigorous opposition to ZRCs comes from cattle farming landowners and the extreme right-wing. A part of the right-wing rejects any land reform that benefits the peasantry. FARC rebels consider ZRCs the perfect legal instrument to hand over land to demobilized fighters. The group has proposed expanding the existing six ZRC zones that covers 830,000 hectares to 59 zones that's spread over 9.5 million hectares.

The government's negotiator Humberto de la Calle insists nothing agreed on so far affects the property rights of landowners. He says unused government land could be given to create ZRCs for the poor. Regarding the possibility of creating more territories with an autonomous status similar to those of black or native community lands, the right-wing is up in arms.

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Geopolitics

Women, Life, Freedom: Iranian Protesters Find Their Voice

In the aftermath of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the morality police mid-September for not wearing her hijab properly, many Iranians have taken the streets in nationwide protests. Independent Egyptian media Mada Masr spoke to one of the protesters.

Students of Amirkabir University in Tehran protest against the Islamic Republic in September 2022.

Lina Attalah

On September 16, protests erupted across Iran when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in custody after being arrested and beaten by morality police for her supposedly unsuitable attire. The protests, witnesses recount, have touched on all aspects of rights in Iran, civil, political, personal, social and economic.

Mada Masr spoke to a protester who was in the prime of her youth during the 2009 Green Movement protests. Speaking on condition of anonymity due to possible security retaliation, she walked us through what she has seen over the past week in the heart of Tehran, and how she sees the legacy of resistance street politics in Iran across history.

MADA MASR: Describe to us what you are seeing these days on the streets of Tehran.

ANONYMOUS PROTESTER: People like me, we are emotional because we remember 2009. The location of the protests is the same: Keshavarz Boulevard in the middle of Tehran. The last time Tehranis took to these streets was in 2009, one of the last protests of the Green Movement. Since then, the center of Tehran hasn’t seen any mass protests, and most of these streets have changed, with new urban planning meant to make them more controllable.

Remembering 2009 triggers many things, such as street strategies, tactics and the way we could find each other in the middle of the chaos. But this is us now, almost at the back. Up front, there are many younger people, especially girls. They are extremely brave, fearless and smart.

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