Security in Colombia: New names, old games | The Economist

HAD Joaquín Tordecilla, a leader of a community of displaced peasant farmers, been at home on the afternoon in February when armed men rounded up the group, stripped them of their mobile phones and forced them to watch the murder of another of their leaders, he would have probably been gunned down as well. But Mr Tordecilla was in the city that day, filing a complaint about threatening demands they had received to vacate their land. He, his wife and 12 children are now crowded into a small home with a dirt floor in Montería, the capital of the northern department of Córdoba.

His fate is a familiar one in Colombia. Over the past three decades between 3.5m and 6m hectares (8.6m to 15m acres) of farmland have been seized by armed thugs, according to estimates by officials. The chief villains were right-wing paramilitary groups, whose motive was in part to wrest territory from the left-wing guerrillas of the FARC.

When a security build-up under Álvaro Uribe, Colombia’s president from 2002 to 2010, reduced the FARC to smaller bands in remote areas, some 30,000 paramilitaries demobilised, formally at least. So who evicted Mr Tordecilla? He rattles off the names of several armed groups, new and old. “Who knows?” he concludes.

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