Sucre Land Activists' Homes Burned to the Ground

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Hasan Dodwell

MOVICE, the national victims’ movement in Colombia, has denounced the continued threats being made against the peasant farmers of La Europa, a farm community in Ovejas, in the northern Colombian region of Sucre.

For several years, members of the La Europa community have been in a process to reclaim the land from which they were forcibly displaced as a result of paramilitary violence. As the MOVICE movement has denounced on several occasions, since seeking to reclaim their land the peasant farmers have been confronted with threats, harassments and the destruction of their farm houses.

The latest events have added to concern for the safety of the families involved in the process and MOVICE is calling for the government to guarantee that their rights are respected.

On 13 February, the same day in which the President of the local farmers’ association, Argerimo Lara Barreto, received a threatening phone call, an unknown man was seen entering the farm grounds with a firearm. On 16 March a member of the community found his recently built farm house burnt to the ground. This added to two previous farm houses that had been burnt down in January and November.

Much of the harassment aimed towards the peasant farmers is attributed to employees of the ‘Arepas Don Juancho’ company. As documented by the FENSUAGRO agricultural workers’ union, several individuals claiming to form part of the company illegally occupied land belonging to the families after they were forced to flee.

Also in Sucre, in the municipality of San Onofre, MOVICE has denounced the continuing persecution of the Verbel Rocha family as a result of their work in defence of victims’ rights in the region.

On 11 March, Hernando Jose Verbel was approached by two men, one of whom pointed a gun to his neck before being forced to flee as a passing couple shouted out. One of the men was identified as a soldier currently serving in the Colombian Navy. In March last year, Hernando’s father, Eder Verbel Rocha, was shot and beaten to death.

The MOVICE victims’ movement highlights the lack of protection from local authorities as a particular concern. Since 2006, 35 politicians from the Sucre region have been investigated for their connections with paramilitary groups. The recent Inter American Commission of Human Rights 2011 report has highlighted concerns over the safety of land rights activists.

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