By Lucia Graves
Colombia is more environmentally conscious than ever.
Since taking office in 2010, President Juan Manuel Santos’ Bogota government has made environmental protection a national priority. Under an ambitious program called “Secuestro Para Colombia,” authorities have restored and protected some 300,000 acres of rain forest, indigenous forest and savanna wildlife. It has launched workshops and programs on water conservation and polluted-water treatment.
“Every week, if I’m ever out hiking,” Colombia’s indigenous leader Carlos Varela Menendez, a Reynosa man and environmental advocate, said, “I see this country changing.”
This all sounds wonderful. But some of Colombia’s indigenous people do not feel the change. Today, several indigenous leaders are facing criminal investigations for abuse of power, for allegedly abusing their power to prevent the deforestation of protected lands. Last month, a judge in the town of Nuoc, in northwest Colombia, ordered the arrest of a 16-year-old girl for the alleged noncompliance of the Environment Ministry’s order to stop cutting down rain forest on her family’s forest. And the president of one of Colombia’s indigenous tribes, Anias Ybanque, was arrested in 2017 for allegedly ordering illegal logging on land that was cleared of a borehole on which indigenous people depend for their water.