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Thu Nov 24, 2022, 03:40 AM

Petro Has a New Plan to Counter Deforestation in Colombia

Christoph Sponsel
Nov 21, 2022
November 21, 2022

The deforested land at an illegal gold mining operation targeted by Colombia’s National Police and armed forces, in Magui Payan, Colombia, April 20, 2021 (AP photo by Fernando Vergara).

MESETAS, Colombia—La Macarena, a national park in Colombia on the northern fringe of the Amazon rainforest, is known for its colorful rivers, whose water refracts like a rainbow. Until the government signed a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in 2016, the area’s dense canopy of trees provided the ideal terrain for rebels to conceal their movements. For this reason, the FARC limited deforestation in the region during its more than 50-year insurgency.

But deforestation has spiked since the peace accords were signed. In 2021 alone, 174,000 hectares were lost, with wide-reaching consequences for the environment, as well as for Indigenous and other rural communities, many of which had to flee.

As a result, the government of newly elected President Gustavo Petro listed countering deforestation as one of its top priorities. “We are going to confront the uncontrolled deforestation of our forests and promote the development of clean and renewable energies,” Petro proclaimed during his inauguration. But those efforts promise to raise tensions between the central government and local farmers, who in recent years have been on the receiving end of heavy-handed government efforts to counter deforestation. “No one here is in favor of deforestation,” Jennyfer Martinez, an environmental activist in Mesetas, a municipality near La Macarena’s edge, told me. “But for many small-scale farmers, this is the only option to make a living.”

Past Failures
Curbing deforestation is not a new objective in Colombia. With approximately 10 percent of the Amazon rainforest, Colombia ranks as the world’s second-most biodiverse country after Brazil. And the national government has long promised to preserve the forest, designating 30 percent of its national territory as a protected area.


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