Ecocide in Colombia

As featured in Edition 40, available here.


BY MARTA FRANQUES (3rd year - French and Theatre - London, UK)


Colombia’s peace deal has reached the five year mark, and the nation is running out of time for achieving peace. Despite the 2016 peace pact with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) being one of the most extensive in modern history, awarding a Nobel Peace Prize for the president at the time, this great attempt at peace is withering in rural Colombia.


Mass killings, mass displacements, and the murders of Indigenous leaders have increased since 2016 according to the United Nations, exacerbated through lack of state intervention. The arrival of COVID-19 in the Colombian Amazon has additionally prompted an escalation in the conflict between armed forces and Indigenous communities. This cycle of violence is expected to worsen in 2022, which raises concerns of a civil ecocide.


Members of the Indigenous Nasa community of Las Delicias, entered the new year in a month of mourning for 14-year-old Breiner David Cucuname, who died in a conflict between FARC rebel dissidents and the region's ancestral organisation, Indigenous Guard. Juan Carlos Chindicué, a member of Indigenous Guard -- or Kiwe Thegnas in the Nasa Yuwe language -- explains the organisation as, “a collective and voluntary effort to defend life through the administration of their own law, peaceful resistance, the use of Indigenous legislation, the defence of human rights and the promotion of peace in territories marked by violence.” Their main threat today comes from associations of dissident FARC, who disagree with the 2016 peace deal and are destroying Indigenous ancestral landscapes through illicit gold mining and cultivation of coca - the raw ingredient for cocaine.


However, the death of Cucuname is not a singular accident, rather a fateful tragedy for many Indigenous Peoples in Colombia. In the midst of the 2020 lockdown, the Indigenous community Emberá fled gunfire and deadly fighting by canoe, from the northeastern town of Catrú in Chocó -- a region that has commonly faced clashes from armed groups aiming to secure control of its profitable coca trade and gold mining industry.


The continuous lockdowns have placed many Indigenous communities throughout Colombia, who were already vulnerable to organised attacks and land encroachment from illegal establishments and paramilitary groups, at a greater risk. Indigenous leaders fear that their situation has worsened in the past year, as illegal miners and land grabbers take advantage of the lockdowns to facilitate their attacks on Indigenous territories and communities.


The Indigenous communities of Colombia are not only fighting for social peace, but also for Pachamama, or Mother Nature. Ancestral communities that live in areas such as Las Delicias and Chocó, are among the least damaging to the planet, yet they have become the most vulnerable victims to climate change. Members of Indigenous communities are being murdered for protecting their land, which their identity and culture are heavily interconnected with. Activist Elena Teresa informed UN News, “You can’t solve the climate crisis without including Indigenous Peoples and without protecting their territories.”


These Colombian landscapes are sacred and should be protected for environmental conservation, however, it is clear that the peace pact isn’t enough. Even if certain regions are being recognised as endangered, they are not being treated in the appropriate way. Indigenous activist Daniela Balaguera has reported to UN News that climate change is a matter of life and death: “We are being threatened with the second extinction of our cultural practises, which is extremely worrying because it would be the second massacre, the second annihilation of our people.”


Indigenous Peoples are being killed for protecting their planet, but nobody faces consequences for killing the planet. Hindou Oumarou, an Indigenous environmental activist from Chad, claims that ecocide being regarded as a crime would act as a catalyst for environmental protection. The human rights organisation, Global Witness, reports that as the climate emergency exacerbates, violence against communities protecting their land and our planet worsens.


The acknowledgement and implementation of laws against ecocide is not an immediate solution to the destruction of land and Indigenous communities, but a necessary step towards changing attitudes.


It is vital to recognise that Indigenous wellbeing is strongly tied to environmental concerns. We have seen a change in attitude towards environmental matters in the Colombian Supreme Court, where the Colombian Amazon was recognised as a ‘subject of rights’ in April 2018. The court acknowledged that the “fundamental rights of life, health, the minimum subsistence, freedom, and human dignity are substantially linked and determined by the environment and the ecosystem”.


Progress such as this provides hope that the necessary precautions will be implemented to prevent the mass killings of Indigenous Peoples and the land they are protecting, however further action is desperately required.



Image - Flickr (Filth Filler)