Colombia threatens to destroy indigenous land, residents want to fight back

The members of the Granjas Negras community are determined to protect their land in the Meta region of Colombia. But Colombia’s government is threatening to destroy their homes, with 3,000 hectares of ancestral land ready to be appropriated.

The nine indigenous families of the Granjas Negras live off of rainforest ecosystems in the Meta region of Colombia. They hope that God takes care of them, and would like to live with dignity in the indigenous settlement of San Jose where their ancestors from Ecuador have lived for 500 years. But after locals in the San Jose community demonstrated against the purchase of the Ollietto, a private residence, and then their unannounced proposal to purchase 3,000 hectares of ancestral land from Valle del Cauca de Valle del Cauca state, they received threats and even bomb threats.

“We have seen the urgency of the countryside people of Granjas Negras to defend their territory, and that’s when we were attacked,” Andres Nisbet, president of the Granjas Negras, said in an interview with The Korea Times. “It’s extremely important that the fight for the territory and the land continues. It’s even more necessary now. We have seen an increase in violence and threats.”

Before this case, the indigenous people of the Granjas Negras signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ecuadorean government to recognize their descendants as the first Ecuadorian community in its territory. They intend to protect the land and others like it for their children and grandchildren.

An indigenous community has submitted a claim to claim 3,000 hectares of indigenous land, which is made up of ancestral homes of indigenous people from Ecuador. https://t.co/pLvzj6sIN8 #WorldEarthDay pic.twitter.com/1eX3y3ZrFW — World Wildlife Fund (@WWF) March 5, 2018

One reason for this increase in threats is the passage of the Implementing Decree Order 9814, which was signed in September 2017 to put in place measures aimed at “peaceful coexistence” in the mountainous areas of Colombia, and provides the Ecuadorean government with the authority to accept expressions of indigenous land title claims.

Of the 3,000 hectares, one is available to the government to manage. The other two are property of Jorge Sanchez Velez, a former mayor of San Jose and the sole owner of the property where he lived. Nisbet said this negates the the legitimacy of the Granjas Negras property claim because the property is controlled by Velez’s relatives. Velez’s brother Jaime Velez Antunes and two nephews Antonio Humberto Velez Martinez and Carlos Alberto Velez Reyes are opposing the claim and demanding that the government reject it.

The indigenous people also don’t trust the government because it lacks the capacity to administer such a vast area. The government is asking for some money up front for the land, and Granjas Negras believes it is the only way that they can protect their land.

The government is asking for some money up front for the land, and Granjas Negras believes it is the only way that they can protect their land.

“We have no alternative but to demand money,” Nisbet said. “The government has signed something that creates enormous social injustice. They can keep the land, if they give us money. How can you spend money when you don’t even know where it comes from?”

Although the plot of land has been waiting for a number of years to be claimed, it is situated just above the highest known forest line in Colombia. The Meta region is located on the border between Colombia and Ecuador, and the tribe’s land is among the poorest in Colombia. It is the only place where the Granjas Negras live out of the water and it is located in a community where the access to water is severely restricted.

That is why it was essential for them to file a case for their territory. They need a strong partner to resolve their situation. In time, they will get that partner, and their legal case will be able to legally secure their right to the land. But in the meantime, it has only intensified the threat to their rights.

Read the full story at The Korea Times.

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