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Opinion | Colombians Are Uniting Around Land Reform. Here’s Why.

Officially owning a piece of land gives a rural family wealth, which can be used as an inheritance or as collateral for a loan. Property owners are less likely to fall under the sway of revolutionary Marxist groups, such as FARC: “People with nothing to lose are trapped in the grubby basement of the precapitalist world,” de Soto wrote in 2001 in an article for the International Monetary Fund.

Plus, from the perspective of the government, land-titling allows it to collect property taxes and gives more leverage over illicit conduct. “Once someone who has an illegal activity is the owner of that plot of land, the incentive to do that illegal thing drastically reduces because it becomes their asset,” Botero told me.

To save time and money, the Dutch government is helping Colombians on a surveyor project along the lines of China’s storied barefoot doctors — health workers given basic training and then dispatched to areas without enough physicians. Here’s how the surveying project is described on the Land in Peace website:

The farmers themselves do much of the work: with a special app on smartphones or tablet they walk along the borders of their land to demarcate their plot. Also photos are made of documents (ID, tax bills, electricity bills), which relate the persons on this particular parcel to this land plot and are digitally combined with the GPS measurements of the polygons for a later communal Public Inspection. When farmers of the community mutually agree on the map they have made, land titling can be formalised.

Five years after the peace deal with FARC was signed, Colombia remains fragile. Violence continues, although at a slower pace than before the accord. According to the Financial Times, 71 percent of respondents to a recent poll said that implementation of the peace accord was going badly. So the stakes for the cadastre and land-titling are high.

During his visit to The Times, Duque related with a smile that Lawrence Sacks, the mission director of U.S.A.I.D. in Colombia, had tears in his eyes when the two of them attended a ceremony to mark a successful pilot of the cadastre program in the northern town of Ovejas. “It was a very emotional event,” Sacks told me today in a phone call from Colombia, where he was awaiting Blinken. “We believe that land is at the core of the Colombian conflict, so we’ve always thought it needed to be central to the solution.”

“This is dear to our hearts,” Botero, the head of Colombia’s planning department, told me. “We want to leave this as advanced as possible before we leave government next year.”

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