Colombia’s indigenous activists protect the environment. Now they too are under threat A rise in violence is threatening the lives of activists with other indigenous groups as well Colombia’s indigenous advocacy has long struggled for recognition and respect, but what’s unfolding now is a return to the 1950s
Despite having its own borders, Colombia is increasingly split by an intricate web of internal conflict. So it’s perhaps not surprising that more and more indigenous groups are being drawn into the skirmishes that have lately intensified in the country’s south.
From the Andes highlands to Amazon rainforest communities and poachers who prey on animals in the Panamanian rainforest, indigenous people have long struggled for recognition and respect. But what’s unfolding now is a return to the 1950s, when Colombia’s indigenous advocacy bodies were further and further sidelined in the militarised society of the Farc guerrilla organisation.
Indigenous groups have, for years, argued that multinational mining and energy firms are draining rivers and forests of their biodiversity and the precious fuel that they contain. Most of the approximately 2,500 environmental lawsuits filed by indigenous groups in Colombia last year targeted natural resource extraction and the excessive use of herbicides to combat insects and weeds. In 2016, the UN’s biological diversity treaty reiterated this claim in a recommendation that “all damage caused by agricultural and forestry activities is caused by the commercial exploitation of land and trees that cannot be compensated or compensate appropriately”.
But despite years of calling for indigenous and minority groups to be recognised, protected and incorporated into Colombia’s officially modern state, they are increasingly at risk of becoming an integral part of Colombia’s political and social problems.
On Monday, at least one indigenous human rights activist was shot dead in a Bogotá slum after participating in a meeting with a mayoral candidate. Iván Luciano Figueroa Ortega, a leader of Quechua-speaking peoples in the country’s west, was killed by a shot fired through his car window.