At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, President Iván Duque of Colombia carried out a charm offensive to convince the world he is an environmental champion who would protect his nation’s vast forests. He promised Colombia would be carbon neutral by 2050 and that, by next year, 30 percent of the country’s land and waters would be protected areas.
But back in Colombia, armed gangs are threatening and murdering community leaders and environmental activists who have been trying to protect Colombia’s forest from destruction by mining, lumber and oil companies. Morbidly, Colombia has emerged as the world’s deadliest place for environmentalists and others defending land rights. Global Witness documented at least 65 killings in 2020.
In the Putumayo region, members of the Border Command, an illegal armed group dedicated to controlling drug production along the border with Ecuador, told residents that they have negotiated with Nueva Amerisur, owned by the multinational oil company GeoPark, to ensure that the company’s work would not be impeded and warned the residents not to interfere. The criminal enterprise declared environmental defender and Amnesty International priority case Jani Silva to be persona non grata. Facing the threat of assassination for her work to protect the water sources and forest from oil exploration, she has been forced to continually move to escape these killers.
Such attacks and threats are rising as deforestation in the Colombian Amazon has surged, surpassing 250,000 acres in three of the last four years. Rainforest sheltering a spectacular biodiversity is being razed for cattle ranching and corporate farms, oil palm production, fossil fuel extraction, illegal gold mining and logging. Leaders of local communities, whose water is being poisoned and whose land has been devastated, have provided the last line of defense against this destruction by organizing and bringing attention to the problem through legal action and publicity campaigns.