Colombia’s indigenous activists fight for environmental protection, They too are now in danger


It’s frequently a question of who has control of the land when fighting climate change. The indigenous guards, a volunteer, unarmed group that controls entrance to the community and executes local justice in place of the regular police, play this duty in the indigenous reserve of Tacueyó in Colombia’s southern department of Cauca.

Armed only with batons and knives, these guards, known as kiwe thegnas in the Nasa yuwe language, face off against insurgents and paramilitary organizations attempting to infiltrate the Nasa indigenous population, which has been in the place since before the Spanish colonization. The guerrillas are now primarily involved in the drug trade. They have authority over the growth of illicit products such as marijuana and coca, the raw material for cocaine, in Tacueyó. Former left-wing militants, the rebels rejected a major peace pact struck in 2016 by the administration and the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The conflict between indigenous guards and guerrillas here is over new water sources: a mountain range that overlooks Tacueyó rises to over 10,000 feet above sea level, and the water sources at the top of the mountains feed creeks and rivers that flow down the valley, eventually reaching Colombia’s major rivers.

Nora Taquinas, one of the Nasa community’s leaders, supervises the kiwe thegnas on patrol amid a grove of frailejones. These 6-foot tall mountain sunflowers absorb water vapor from clouds and release it to the earth, forming water springs. “If there were no more water here, there would be no water everywhere in Colombia, and the entire nation would turn into a desert,” she told CNN, pointing to the local foliage and nearby streams. They are attempting to conserve this region as a natural sanctuary of over 350 hectares of wild terrain. Yet, the same mountain range is a binding site to dominate, a functional outpost to protect their struggle against the state for drug trafficking gangs.

And the battle between the two is becoming lethal, Death is a danger

In Colombia, environmental protection is a risky job. According to the global NGO Global Witness, Colombia was the world’s most hazardous country for environmental campaigners last year. In Colombia, 117 of the 290 ecological murders reported by Global Witness in the previous decade were committed by indigenous people.

The wounds of this fight are apparent to everyone approaching Tacueyó: a massive signboard commemorates Cristina Bautista, an indigenous leader, and four kiwes killed in their automobile in an ambush on the significant route on October 29, 2019. The incident was blamed on the local guerrilla organization Dagoberto Ramos by authorities and eyewitnesses who talked with CNN, and Colombian army forces claimed to have apprehended the putative guerrilla fighter behind the killing in June 2020.
She has subsequently surpassed Bautista as one of the community’s most prominent leaders.

Her name was put in the list of leaders with a bounty on her head by one of Colombia’s largest paramilitary groups in 2018. In addition, she has received threats from various criminal organizations. Her name was added to a list of leaders with a bounty on her head by one of Colombia’s largest paramilitary groups in 2018. Her environmental work intersects with local socioeconomic concerns. Taquinas is in charge of initiatives including sustainable water supplies like a trout farm to keep the local economy afloat and provide jobs, preventing additional people from joining the guerrilla or cultivating coca plants.

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