Alternative Developments, Economic Interests and Paramilitaries in Uraba

Moritz Tenthoff
TNI Drug Policy Briefing Nr. 27
September 2008

The following document analyses how the Forest Warden Families Programme and the Productive Projects of the Presidential Programme Against Illegal Crops in Colombia have been used to legalise paramilitary structures and implement mega agro-industrial projects in the Uraba Region.

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The project against illegal crops implemented by the Colombian government in the Uraba has served to benefit members of the AUC who have managed to legalise thousands of hectares of land stolen from peasant farmers, indigenous people and Afro-Colombians.

The Forest Warden Families Programme in Uraba is being developed on land that was obtained through blood and fire. Behind many of the Productive Projects lie the interests of the paramilitary movement that has taken advantage of the circumstances to present the projects as a type of reparation for the victims. The peasants and members of the usurped communities have been forced to work as peons in the land that previously belonged to them. In this context, the possibilities for truth, justice and reparation promised to the victims of paramilitary violence will be difficult to achieve in the case of Uraba.

Colombia’s economic liberalisation and the bid for free trade agreements have been accompanied by a counter-agrarian reform promoted by the government and business groups. In many regions of Colombia, such as Uraba, they have had the collaboration of paramilitary groups and the action of the public forces. In the framework of the battle against drugs, the international community is funding agro-industrial projects that hide their own economic interests. A clear example of this is the case of palm oil in the agro-fuel boom. This crop constitutes more than half of the productive projects in the framework of the presidential programmes against illegal crops (PCI).

The Productive Projects and the Forest Warden Families Programmes in a region like Uraba have no impact on the production of narcotics at a national level. In the case of Uraba it is evident that the objective is not the eradication of crops for illegal use but rather the strengthening of agro-industrial proposals for this region. At the same time and in a paradoxical manner groups linked to drug trafficking have promoted new illegal crops in the zone that do not participate in the Programme in order to have access to resources form the PCI Programmes.


  • Until there is a strict monitoring of the funds earmarked for Programmes in the framework of the battle against drugs in Uraba, different international donors should impose a moratorium on the resources to the Colombian government.
  • Involved donors and international organisations should examine the practice of the Presidency Programmes against Illegal Crops in Uraba – Forest Warden Programmes and Productive Projects – from their origins as a requirement to continue the international aid that is earmarked for them. They should also examine the ownership of the land where the projects are developed and determine who are the true beneficiaries of the Programme.
  • Peasant farmers or communities linked to these Programmes should not be obliged to collaborate with the public forces. This not only increases the situation of risk that these people are living through by converting them into supporting actors in the conflict but also represents an infraction of International Humanitarian Law.
  • The Productive Projects they seek to develop in the collective lands of indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples must be consulted with them previously as stipulated in Law 70 of the ILO 169 Agreement. When there are denouncements about presumed ties to the paramilitary movement, international support should be frozen until there are control and follow-up mechanisms about the use of these resources.