BOGOTA, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Colombian conglomerate Grupo Argos will donate money and a large piece of land to a charity for poor farmers, its chief executive officer said on Thursday, in a bid to support peace amid uncertainty about land reparation efforts.
Laws on how to compensate victims of a five-decade war as well as a partial land reform agreement reached at peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have prompted some business leaders to worry that land purchased for company operations may be reclaimed by displaced inhabitants.
Argos will donate $20.9 million and 6,600 hectares (16,309 acres) of land located in the Montes de Maria region, near the country’s northern Caribbean coast. Argos CEO Jose Alberto Velez said the land was purchased “in good faith” for a reforestation project funded by the group, one of Colombia’s largest holding companies.
The land may previously have belonged to farmers who were displaced by illegal groups, Velez told local Caracol Radio, so the company felt it was better to donate the land to a charity which works with that group.
“There’s the possibility that there are claimants on the land, who we didn’t purchase the land from, but who may have sold it years ago, displaced by violence or pressured by paramilitaries or the guerrillas,” Velez said.
“So we decided to give all the land, some 6,600 hectares, a thousand of which have been reforested, to an independent foundation,” Velez said, adding that the cash donation will go to the ‘Grow in Peace Foundation’.
The charity will use the land and money to create a “peace laboratory” for 600 farming families, who will grow avocados, tobacco and sesame, among other agriculture projects.
More than 200,000 people have been killed and millions displaced as a result of the Colombian government’s war with leftist guerillas.
In 2011, Colombia’s Congress approved the ‘Law of Victims’, under which displaced people may reclaim their land and get reparations. Businesses and investors now fear they may be asked to return land they thought had been purchased legally.
The plight of the displaced is a leading topic at the two-year-old talks between the government and the FARC, where a partial accord on rural land reform has been reached.
If implemented, the agreement would create a fund to distribute land to poor farmers and provide reparations for the displaced, among other measures.
Any peace deal must be approved in a public referendum before it becomes law.
$1 = 2,049.90 Colombian pesos Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Paul Simao