The region of Magdalena Medio, home to 6% of Colombia’s armed conflict victims, has historically suffered serious impacts from the extractivist economic model. Today, once again, its environmental leaders and human rights defenders are under serious threat and at risk of displacement. For more than a century, communities have been victims of the expropriation of their lands, the expansion of agribusiness and the exploitation of hydrocarbons, severely affecting the region’sdiverse fauna and flora within the countless water sources, rivers and marshes. Oil extraction has caused irreparable environmental damage, and has seriously affected communities’ ancestral fishing economies. Moreover, the enclave economy of the Magdalena Medio region has not generated benefits for the communities that protect it, where communities suffer limited access to clean drinking water and energy services.
Recently, through their constant denouncement of serious human rights violations, human rights and environmental organizations such as the Regional Corporation for the Defense of Human Rights (CREDHOS) have succeeded in getting the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) to turn its attention to the region and to prioritize the investigation of crimes committed by the security forces during the armed conflict. In spite of the importance of this recent decision by the JEP to prioritize the Magdalena Medio region in relation to the severe impacts suffered by the population within the context of the armed conflict, members ofCREDHOS and allied organizations such as the Committee for the Defense of Water, Life and Territory (AGUAWIL) and the Federation of Artisanal, Environmental and Tourist Fishermen of Santander (Fedepesán)continue to be exposed to alarmingly high levels of risk. It is essential that these serious allegations are investigated and clarified to ensure true guarantees of non-repetition in one of the regions most affected by the armed conflict. Continue reading DEATH THREATS PERSIST AGAINST ENVIRONMENTALISTS IN MAGDALENA MEDIO→
“Land of Joy” or So Bia Drua, in Embera, are the words used by the Indigenous communities of the Uradá-Jiguamiandó Humanitarian and Ecological Reservation to refer to their territory, located in the municipality of Carmen del Darién, department of Chocó.
The reservation has two separate plots of land and is home to eight Ember Indigenous communities. The first lot is inhabited by the communities of Alto Guayabal (125 families with 365 individuals), Bidόkera Ancadía (26 families with 90 individuals), and Jaibía Coredocito (24 families with 75 individuals). The second is inhabited by the Dearadé (18 families with 59 individuals), Ibudó (25 families with 107 individuals), Padadó (12 families with 43 individuals), Chansodo (31 families with 128 individuals), and Urada (60 families with 230 individuals).
The reservation’s main bodies of water are the Ancadía, Jiguamiandó, Urada, and Tamboral rivers, all of which are tributaries of the Atrato River which flows through the department of Chocó in the Pacific region of Colombia. The rivers are an important source of livelihood for the communities of the Uradá-Jiguamiandó Reservation, as they fish and use the fresh water for their daily activities.
The communities of the Urada-Jiguamiandó Reservation have a close and harmonic relationship with the natural world that surrounds them, collecting the medicinal plants they need to cure illnesses, fishing in the river, and taking care of their surroundings, which they have kept free of pollution.
In reality, the Indigenous communities are the only protectors of the land and environment. Even though they coexist in harmony with their natural surroundings, there are other interests in their territory that continue to prevent them from living in peace on their ancestral lands.
The threats faced by the Embera people, victims of numerous human rights violations in the context of the armed conflict, also include mining megaprojects. The communities—who have opposed the extractive projects for decades—know that mining will damage the aquifers, pollute the soil, water, and air, in addition to destroying the biodiversity. As a result of all this, there is a serious risk of displacement and cultural uprooting.
The communities who live in So Bia Drua are represented by the Embera Major Council – CAMERUJ. Argemiro Bailarín is a member of the Major Council, the Indigenous authority and an emblematic leader from the Uradá-Jiguaminadó Reservation.
Argemiro is well known for his defense of the territory, peace, and the protection of their culture and cosmovision. In November 2021, for the fifth anniversary of the signature of the Peace Agreement between the Government and the FARC-EP, the Embera leader participated in the radio program “Voces de la Tierra.” During the program the Indigenous leader highlighted that the communities continue to experience violence due to the armed conflict, while living amid the actions of large-scale mining and agribusiness projects, which see their territory as a business opportunity.
With support from the Justice and Peace Commission (JyP), since March 2020 the communities of Jiguamiandó, along with many others from different areas of Colombia, have been calling for a Global Humanitarian Agreement, which signifies a ceasefire amid an intensification of the conflict and an increase in combat operations. To date, there has been no government response to the 42 letters sent by over 150 communities.
1“Voces de la Tierra” led by the journalist Laura Casielles, in collaboration with Peace Brigades International, is a spot of the online radio program “Carne Cruda,” where defenders, social and Indigenous leaders talk about their reality from the territory.
The 17th of December 2021, social leader Huber Velásquez was murdered in the rural community of La Balsa, township of San José. The incident occurred in “La Batea,” a place that is just a few meters from what was at one point his brother Iván Velásquez’s estuary. Iván was murdered on 2 January 2002 after refusing to participate in a food blockade imposed by the army as a strategy to pressure the Peace Community.
Just like his brother, Huber sympathized with and had a close relationship with the Community, supporting its cacao commercialization. He also belonged to the peasant oversight board in his municipality and at the time of his death was participating in the inspection process for the paving project for the road between Apartadó and the township of San José. This project has generated major protests from the population due to delays in its execution and the damages caused to the surrounding homes and roads, among other issues. This situation led him to make several public complaints against the municipal administration, laying out how they were not taking steps concerning the irregularities.
For years, Huber had been attacked because of his role as a community leader and he underwent an attempt to expel him from his land. However, in recent months, and due to his complaints about the paving project, he had mentioned a significant increase, to the point of receiving death threats from the paramilitaries at his house. It should be noted that in addition to the intensification of violence and reconfiguration of the armed conflict that occurred nationally after the signing of the Peace Agreement, Otoniel’s capture has also marked an increase in the paramilitary presence and actions in the region and the township of San José. This has been reflected in denouncements made by the Peace Community with their public statements, which refer to an increase in practices such as the forced recruitment of minors, death threats, murders, and territorial and social control, all amid a strong presence from the state security forces.
According to data from Indepaz, including Huber, 165 leaders and human rights defenders have been murdered in 2021 and 1,280 since the Peace Agreement’s signature. The Ombuds Office had warned of of systematic human rights violations and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) infringements in its December 2020 Early Alert. Within this complex context of insecurity, the members of the Peace Community have decided to once again show the bravery and dignity with which they have been characterized throughout their history, convening peasants from all corners of San José to firmly condemn Huber’s murder. Thus, early in the morning on 23 December, dozens of people congregated in front of the Community to walk to the home of social leader Huber Velásquez, in a march for life and the defense of the territory.
People of all ages attended: children, youth, adults, and seniors, some on foot and others by mule. Everyone demanded respect for life in honor of the murdered gentleman, but they also marched as one more example of active resistance to those who today continue attempting, in vain, to silence their voices with violence. And they did this by filling the morning with colorful posters of protest, which they showed to neighbors along the way and then placed at the entrance of the house where Huber was murdered.
Despite the pain, there were also words of hope and fraternal solidarity because, as was stated by those who spoke at the event, even though today it is a place of emptiness and desolation, it was always a house inhabited by a smiling family that believes in the possibility of building a more just world, and there is no greater tribute than “continuing this journey to defend life, to fight against the silencing of truth, and for the memory of those who dared to defend the principles of justice and solidarity.”
December 08, 2017. Hernán Bedoya, was returning to his farm in the Mi Tierra Humanitarian Zone in the Bajo Atrato region of Chocó, when he was assassinated with 14 shots. Along with him, they intended to kill his clear and firm voice,  with which he denounced the progress and impacts of the palm oil and banana agribusinesses that looked to extend into the collective territory of Pedeguita y Mancilla. Hernán wanted to talk about what was happening in the territory from which he had been displaced, and to which he had managed to return despite the presence of paramilitaries. This is how we at PBI came to know him, fighting for his land and dignity, when we accompanied the Justice and Peace Commission (JyP) in Bajo Atrato.