Research that we have conducted on how land reform affected insurgent activities at the municipal level from 1960-2000 indicates that in most areas of Colombia land reforms did not temper the insurgency. Instead they had the opposite effect, exacerbating disputes and grievances over plots. Only in a few key zones with massive amounts of titling and continuous state support were land disputes more resolutely settled and support for insurgents depressed. These successful zones only constituted about 5 percent of all of Colombia's municipalities. In other words, stealing the arguments of the insurgents will not be easy.
Colombian leaders are certainly aware that the restitution of land to so many victims will face a variety of technical, bureaucratic, and political obstacles. Even with recent security gains and successful operations against insurgent and criminal groups, threats to the land program are no secret. Several prominent land advocates have already been murdered by counter-reform criminal bands and large landholders.
Latin America's progress will be deservedly trumpeted at the summit. Yet key challenges remain in confronting a steep legacy of conflict, inequality, and entrenched elite interests. With the Victims Law, Colombia is striving to set an example of a path forward. A successful land policy has the potential to give common citizens a leg up and improve security in Colombians' daily lives. It may also have positive repercussions throughout the region both as a model of good governance and because it holds the promise of uprooting the drug problems that sow discord throughout the region. With so much at stake for the region and with billions of dollars of U.S. aid invested in Colombia, we hope that President Obama and his Latin American counterparts will provide strong support for Colombia's reform efforts.