Delivering Collective Afrodescendant Land Rights: Mutual Empowerment in Colombian State-Society Coalitions 1995-2003
Date: July 2022
Author(s): Helmer Quinoñes, Noah Rosen, Jonathan Fox
Publication type: Case study
Published by: Accountability Research Center
“Sandwich strategies” are interactive processes in which reformers in government take tangible measures that reduce the risks of citizen action from below, driving virtuous circles of mutual empowerment between pro-accountability actors in state and society. This case study is one of a set of 18 published here, which are among those included in comparative analyses of whether and how sandwich strategy initiatives drive institutional change.
Colombia’s 1991 constitution created a democratic opening that led, in 1993, to Law 70. This law recognized a series of Afrocolombian rights, including the right to ethnic territories on the Pacific coast. From 1996 through 2003, Black activists from both civil society and the state sought to maximize this brief, unique window of opportunity to advance territorial rights.
Grassroots organizing and advocacy campaigning in the region included the formation of the ethnoterritorial organizations required by law to petition for collective land titles. Large-scale infrastructure projects were blocked. Community-based advocacy organizations, together with reformist government staff and technical advisors from universities, documented the ethno-historical land claims needed to formalize titling, which covered half of the region. Support from insider allies in the World Bank supported the ethnic land rights policy, funded the consultations, and then helped to offset bureaucratic obstacles.
At the same time, the civil war brought violent displacement to the region. Nonetheless, between 1996 and mid-2003, the Colombian government demarcated five million hectares, titling 122 black territories to councils that represented 270,000 people. In spite of repression of grassroots leaders in the region, the 210 community land councils survive, with permanent rights over millions of acres of the Colombian Pacific.