What’s Happening in Colombia:
The Siona People’s Fight for Environmental Justice
Written by Alejandra Tolley
In Colombia, we have seen bloodshed and violence caused by their police force for the past few weeks. In the city of Cali, thousands of people marched and demanded action for empty promises made by their government. Colombia’s tax reform planned to weaken access to essential foods and raised taxes on gas and utilities to the lower and middle class, leaving them to fend for themselves during a pandemic. With aid across the country already being scarce, this tax bill will have further degraded their day-to-day living.
Along with a ruinous bill proposal withdrawn four days later, the president of Colombia, Iván Duque, keeps his plans to reinstate aerial fumigation with toxic herbicide in the Amazon. The Siona People march in solidarity among other protestors to protect their territory that continues to be terrorized by their government.
The indigenous communities of Putumayo, Colombia, are one of the protectors of the Amazon, and it’s a brutal fight for their land to be protected from toxic gases and internal coca production. The Siona people have called out the issues in the contradictory plans to curb cocaine supply. Intending to remove farming fields with toxic herbicide, it’s causing an increase in coca plant farming. Crisis Group reports that a more effective approach is to fund the rural communities that depend on the land for its resources and focus on crop substitution.
According to Cultural Survival, the eradication of current farming fields causes relocation of the plants, leading to more deforestation and health-related issues as the fumes significantly alter their breathing. The effects of aerial fumigation are disastrous to their biodiversity and their people. It’s reported that these toxic gases would lead to the displacement of multiple groups that are recognized under the Organization of Indigenous People of the Putumayo Zone (OZIP). Some of these groups include the Siona, Koreguajes, and Kofanes people. The spraying of toxic gas began in lower Putumayo and slowly started to make its way up North, killing their crops and causing environmental devastation, impacting their access to their food and medicine.
Communities in Putumayo use the coca plant for medicinal purposes, a tradition that has been carried on for thousands of years. Due to the continuing rise of narco-trafficking, the tie to their medicine and sacred resources is slowly severing. According to Culture Trip, the coca plant is used as a painkiller, a remedy for nausea, a good source of nutrients, and a reliever of flu symptoms.
Amid the social unrest, we stand in solidarity with the people of Colombia who are courageously demanding action from their government for social equity. This is not only a humanitarian issue but an environmental issue that can significantly impact our planet. The Amazon plays a significant role in maintaining our biodiversity and we stand with The Siona Peoples’ fight to protect the land that provides them with nourishment and life.
Deeply Rooted: Coca Eradication and Violence in Colombia
A Perfect Storm: What’s Behind the Colombia Protests?
Colombia: Indigenous Peoples of Putumayo Oppose the Aerial Spraying of Coca Plants
The Battle for Putumayo
Koreguaje Tribe: Threatened Guardians of The Northwest Amazon
Los Kofanes: Guardianes Del Bosque
Health and Wellness The Potential Health Benefits of the Coca Plant
Indigenous Led Conservation in The Amazon: A Win-Win-Win Solution