By Anna Rossi
Amado Villafaña Chaparro (Arhuaco Environmental Leader and Filmmaker), Clemencia Carabalí (Colombian Human Rights Leader and Winner of Colombia's National Human Rights Award 2020) and Ubencel Duque Rojas (Director of the Development and Peace Program of the Magdalena Medio Region) discussed the challenges and violence facing Colombia environmental defenders in this third installment of the "Colombia Arc" series. They highlight the responsibility of indigenous leaders, often forced against the government and international parties, to advocate for the rights of nature. Of note was the increase of development on indigenous territories and the fight to maintain ancestral practices and lands.
This event was the third installment of the Road to Geneva's Colombia Arc, a series of dialogues on Environmental Peacebuilding in Colombia. The webinar was organized by the Environmental Peacebuilding Association (EnPAx), the Duke University Center for International and Global Studies/Rethinking Diplomacy Program (DUCIGS/RDP), the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), and the Environmental Law Institute (ELI).
Watch the full webinar:
Excerpts from the webinar:
ON THE PEACE ACCORDS
The lack of the implementation of the peace accords, effectively, efficiently, and comprehensively on behalf of the Colombian Government... There’s been a proliferation of armed groups. And the arrival of many coca crops in our territories, mainly promoted by foreigners. We don’t know why they can’t control it. But the government has come to spray, which kills coca crops but also our traditional crops - corn, sugar cane, coffee, cocoa.... This situation has caused threats to leaders. "If these actions are not punished and criminalized effectively – the message being sent is that they can continue doing it....Somehow, they want us to stay here, in our territories. And we feel sometimes that peace accord wasn’t for us." For those of us who support the peace accords – this is the only way to save lives. Supporting the agreement is the way to ending over 50 years of violence that we have had to put up with. However, this is not the interest of many of those who lead this country – the government – and so we face big challenges.... We know its not a perfect agreement but it was an important pathway to implement it as it was approved.
Ubencel Duque Rojas:
But another big hope in our region has been the final Peace Accords.This has been a region with peace, many initiatives have started here based on our own efforts and they evolved progressively, regionally, and nationally. We believe the agreement of the Peace Accords to be the big summary of all these efforts and it would allow for better ways of life in our territory.... We continue to fight and defend this hope and to make all our possible efforts so that the reintegration process and justice, truth, and reparation system continues to be a reality in our territory; to guarantee peacebuilding in our region and at the same time we can express trust, to understand other processes that need to take place with ELN [National Liberation Army] and other armed groups that are present in this region. To be able to progress to comprehensive peace, towards complete peace.
ON DEVELOPMENT ON INDIGENOUS LAND
As a matter of fact, the work we have done (in the last 30 years in North Cauca) has to do with a lot of things – the Salvajina reservoir, built in 1985, to generate electricity for the region. Today we see many nearby villages still don’t have energy. It was supposed to control the flow of the river, to produce the conditions needed by sugar cane in the flatlands. Similarly, there was great interest in producing energy to sell...not necessarily in our local region but to export it...That’s generating. some conflict which is very severe. Violations of human rights, for example, the attachment of lands to families – these families that used to own their land, farms, and their cultural life – there’s definitely a questions of displacement and detachment.
Amado Villafaña Chaparro:
Society decided that its not part of the indigenous community. They have been destroying this with what they call development, a better quality of life. But what it does is that it destroys these expressions and that’s when they release these diseases and then we suffer humanity suffers, nature suffers....Something Colombia did with indigenous peoples needs to be asked – before any project is developed - anything that could impact us environmentally, spiritually, or in general - we had the expectation to do this prior consultation but we realize it does not guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples. The meeting ends up being just a legitimate way to confirm projects - we haven’t seen that there are any real guarantees for us to defend our territory.
Ubencel Duque Rojas:
Seen from a comprehensive and territorial viewpoint here, it’s a constant struggle with the palm and cattle raising industry and hydrocarbon exploitation. Today... theres a deep concern about fracking. The Magdelena Medio is one of the zones maybe defined as the main center for fracking. It is believed that now, in November, they will be granting a license for a pilot project So in these places, all these dynamics impact fisherman but also anything that has to do with the community – anyone who lives and contributes to the sustainability of the river and that water is being threatened, that’s an important element.
ON ETHNIC, INDIGENOUS, AND NATURE RIGHTS
Ubencel Duque Rojas:
When the program started, we took the environmental perspective. We started to work with fisherman and fishing communities that also work with peasant farmers. We started to work with these communities...to recover the ancestral practices and to protect the territory and all the processes that had been gaining momentum to have a greater clarity on understanding human rights. To place as human rights that right to territory, and the territory itself as an institution as a subject of rights. We have about 45-50 processes of farmer communities in theses territories who are looking for a way to have land restored and recognized as a farmer community. They’ve been there for years – they have been working and fighting and struggling, they require their territory to be able to continue to produce life, the necessary life and the life they love in this region.
With the presence of foreigners - attracted by gold in the basin of the Cauce River... there were cases of sexual violence, domestic slavery, and theft of natural resources. Some years later, a multinational organization restrated the projects and once again we had to gather colleagues of the national black community association, the indigenous communities. We led this struggle to keep the river as a space of life, where black people and indigenous people can be, do, and stay. All these problems with ethnic rights... Sometimes you feel like there isn’t much to do. We need to insist. We need to preserve. We need to find a way to turn this violent page our country has lived. We need to find a way to turn that page of stigmatization, discrimination, not just the historical one but institutionally.
Amado Villafaña Chaparro:
Once again, we had to gather colleagues of the national black community association, the indigenous communities. We led this struggle to keep the river as a space of life, where black people and indigenous people can be, do, and stay. All these problems with ethnic rights... Sometimes you feel like there isn’t much to do. We need to insist. We need to preserve. We need to find a way to turn this violent page our country has lived. We need to find a way to turn that page of stigmatization, discrimination, not just the historical one but institutionally.