Living Rivers

“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” Mahatma Gandhi

Recently we accompanied Isabel Cristina Zuleta a spokeswoman for “Ríos Vivos” (Living Rivers) an environmental and social activist movement during a protest in Valdivia in northern Antioquia. Although relatively young, Ms Zuleta is a committed and experienced human rights defender, she is also charismatic, strong and energetic, a force to be reckoned with and a privilege to accompany.

Sarah Cates, volunteer field worker from New Zealand, accompanying the march.

Approximately 400 fishermen, traditional river miners and peasant farmers from nearby areas participated in the protest to gain the attention of central and local Government to discuss the negative effects on traditional agricultural and mining activities of a dam currently being built on the majestic Cauca River.  The life and economic stability of the small-scale and independent miners, fishermen and the farmers depend heavily on this river and its natural flow.

During, what ended up being a 20-day protest, members of Ríos Vivos received multiple threats from people including suspected paramilitaries. Owing to the gravity of these threats and the Ms Zuleta´s concern about the fate of protesters upon returning to their homes, we travelled to the town of Valdivia to accompany her and Ríos Vivos during the final days of the protest and during a goodbye-thank you march to the community of Valdivia.

By the time we arrived the protesters had been camping out for 17 days. The conditions were rough, many had become sick and others were visibly tired, despite this they remained jovial, committed to the cause and still had the energy to share stories, make jokes, and dance with us. We found the sense of community generated and the protesters’ dedication hugely inspiring.

Protesters await breakfast being prepared in the street by supportive locals.
Protesters await breakfast being prepared in the street by supportive locals.

The protesters are now safe in their villages, but in northern Antioquia region the tension continues between the diverse interests of the local communities, guerrilla groups, paramilitary groups and mega-infrastructure projects.

Photo gallery

Sarah Cates, a lawyer from New Zealand, was a human rights field volunteer in PBI – Colombia from June 2015 until June 2016. Sarah visited Colombia as a tourist for three months in 2002, an experience which strengthened her social conscience and motivated to become involved in PBI – Colombia.

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