Law 70 and the Pacifico

Skimming a recent Economist article on how change comes slowly for the people of the Pacifico, I saw the following quote:

“…as 84% of land in the Pacific region is subject to collective-title rights granted to black and indigenous groups. The introduction of such rights in 1993.” [1]

Having read several Colombian history books, I didn’t recall reading about this before so I looked it up and found out more.


From “The territorial turn: Making black territories in Pacific Colombia” [2]

As “ethnic communities” distinct from the national culture, many rural blacks who are able to demonstrate a history of customary tenure arrangements often emulate indigenous strategies for land recognition (Thorne 2001). The Pacific region of Colombia provides a case in point. In order to address calls for democratic reforms in a country torn apart by 40 years of civil war, Colombia elected a constituent assembly and changed its constitution in 1991.

Although the constitution did not set out to address ethnic issues per se, it redefined the country as multiethnic and pluricultural. Backing up rhetoric with deeds, the new constitution’s Transitory Article 55 (AT-55) required Congress to pass a law granting “black communities” (comunidades negras) of the “Pacific watershed” collective property titles to the rural and riparian areas that they occupy “in conformity with their traditional systems of production.

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As a result of AT55, Law 70 (PDF) was passed two years later. Law 70 guarantees black communities of the Pacific “territorial rights.” By 1995, procedural Decree 1745 required a multitude of governmental institutions and agencies to work together to demarcate and title black territories to representative community councils (consejos comunitarios). Required by law to receive a title, the councils were newly created ethno-territorial and political entities required to solicit and administer the new territories.

Between 1996 and May of 2003, the Colombian government demarcated and titled 122 black territories. These territories enclose over 4.5 million hectares, contain 1,250 black communities, and represent 270,000 people (Figure 1). Size and population vary dramatically; one territory contains as few as 30 people living in a single community, while the largest territory contains 30,000 people in 90 different communities and encompasses more than a half million hectares. Not yet complete, the project is already among the most ambitious and radical territorial reorderings ever attempted in Latin America (Table 1).

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