Resguardo, a Colombian institution regulating indigenous landholdings. The resguardo is a territorial unit comprising communal and inalienable lands administered by native authorities and legitimized by colonial titles granted to indigenous communities. Resguardos were carved out of more extensive aboriginal territories by the colonial administration in order to isolate indigenous populations from surrounding ethnic groups and to free remaining aboriginal lands for exploitation by non-Indians. By the eighteenth century, however, the resguardo served as a vehicle for expanding native holdings and for legitimizing new forms of indigenous authority.
During the Republican period, the Colombian state enacted legislation to privatize resguardo lands but was only partially successful; alliances between regional elites and indigenous communities under the federalist system succeeded in maintaining the institution, especially in the southern highlands. A return to centralized political authority in the last decade of the nineteenth century brought a more protectionist Indian policy that codified the existence of the resguardo as a small and politically weak unit dependent upon municipal authorities.
Notwithstanding protectionist legislation, state policy in the twentieth century continued to foster the privatization of resguardo lands. Some extinguished resguardos, however, succeeded in revalidating their communal status during the 1980s, and existing ones expanded their territorial base by occupying usurped lands. Indigenous communal landholdings received more extensive protection under the 1991 Constitution, which transcended existing resguardo legislation, granting native communities the right to define modes of territorial organization.
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