we'll occupy seized estate, say homeless families [Columbia] FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 14 Apr 1998 19:36:27 -0700 (PDT)

FWD http://news.bbc.co.uk:80/hi/english/despatches/newsid_77000/77675.stm
    BBC Despatches - April 12, 1998



In Colombia, thousands of properties bought with drug profits have been
taken over by the authorities in the past 10 years. But so far, none have
had their ownership legally passed to the government. In the latest case,
refugees from the political violence want to start farming on the Napoles
estate of the legendary drug baron Pablo Escobar, and this is triggering a
new dispute. From Bogota, Timothy Ross reports.

A quarter of a million families are refugees from the civil war in the
countryside, and President Ernesto Samper has promised that they'll be
given new homes and land taken from the drug traffickers who own more than
a third of Colombia's best farmland.

The security forces have taken over thousands of companies, apartment
blocks, houses, cattle ranches, vehicles. But despite a law for ownership
to pass to the state for the benefit of the most needy, so far, not one has
actually been legally transferred.

Pablo's hippo running amok

The 2,000-acre Napoles farm and zoo of the emperor of cocaine Pablo Escobar
was taken over nearly ten years ago. But after his death, relatives tried
to reclaim it through the courts.

While the luxurious buildings are crumbling, the lakes have dried up and
most of the animals have died or been sent to zoos, except for a stray
hippotamus which sometimes terrifies nearby villages.

Now 15 refugee families say they'll move on Tuesday to live and work there,
even though there is no land title.

"The government has promised us if we do not get titles, they'll find us
other land," claims Luis Fernando Vargas. But the local authorities say
it's not suitable for farming and want the estate instead turned into a
tourist complex providing work for hundreds of families and income for the
whole region.

Ivonne Alcala, the director of the National Drugs Board responsible for
assigning trafficker possessions to charities, admits her office doesn't
know how many properties have been taken over, and claims the asset
confiscation law was deliberately drawn up to make it impossible to apply.

One foundation that rehabilitates abused children last month asked for a
confiscated vehicle, only to be told "There are none."

The police however say 63 vehicles were confiscated since January and sent
to the drugs board, but they all seem to have already disappeared.


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