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The environment is protected by indigenous activists from Colombia. They are also under threat
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The environment is protected by indigenous activists from Colombia. They are also under threat

The indigenous guards are a non-armed, voluntary organization that manages the community’s access and administers local justice. They are located in Colombia’s southwestern region of Cauca.

These guards are armed only with sticks or machetes and are called “guards”. kiwe thegnas In the Nasa Yuwe language — confront paramilitary groups and guerrillas who attempt to penetrate the community Nasa native people, who have lived across these mountains since the Spanish colony.

They are now mainly involved in the drug trade. In Tacuey, they control the cultivation and distribution of illegal crops like marijuana and coca. This is the source of cocaine’s raw material. The guerrillas are ex-left-wing fighters who opposed the landmark 2016 peace agreement signed by the government with the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The conflict between the indigenous guards of the guerrillas here concerns pristine waters sources: Tacuey is located at more than 10,000 feet above sea level. The mountain range that overlooks Tacuey has water sources at the top of the mountains, which feed streams and rivers down the valley, and on to the major rivers in Colombia.

In a forest frailejonesMountain sunflowers six feet tall that capture water vapour from clouds and release it to earth creating water springs. Nora Taquinas (one of the leaders of Nasa) oversees the kiwe gnas on patrol.

CNN reporter, She pointed out the local vegetation, and the streams that flow into Colombia. “If there wasn’t more water here there would be none all over Colombia. The whole country would become desert.”

They want to preserve this area as a natural sanctuary covering more than 350 hectares of wilderness — but drug trafficking groups see the same mountain range as a strategic location to control and a valuable outpost to shelter them in their fight against the government.

The clash between the two is turning deadly.

The death threat

Nora Taquinas, one of the leaders of the Nasa community.

Colombia is dangerous for protecting the environment. According to Global Witness, Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists. Global Witness identified 117 indigenous environmental murders in Colombia over the past decade.

Tacuey is home to the scars of the struggle. A large signboard commemorates Cristina Bautista (indian leader) and four kiwes who were killed in their car in an ambush along the main road on October 29, 2019.

CNN spoke with eyewitnesses as well as authorities, who blamed the attack upon Dagoberto RAMOS, the local guerrilla organization. In June 2020 Colombian army units claimed that they had captured the alleged guerrilla fighter behind it.

Taquinas, a single mother with two children in her 30s, survived the attack. When she visited the spot where her fellow guards were ambushed, Taquinas said that she was “just there”, behind the turn of the road. “I crawled behind a car’s engine, which stopped the bullets,” she stated.

227 people were killed defending the environment last year, a new report shows. That's a record.

Bautista was replaced by her. However, she was also given a lot of responsibility. She was threatened by various criminal organizations and her name was added to a 2018 list of leaders that had a bounty placed on her head.

Such lists are often published by criminal groups as a way to control a territory or to target their most vocal opponents. Bautista was Nora’s leader, who was assassinated on January 19, 2019.

Taquinas shrugs at these threats. “Of course, fear can sometimes push you away from the struggle. When that happens, you feel abandoned and alone. Then you look at the fights that others have started, people who have been murdered and their murders have become an inspiration for younger generations to rise. So you join and fight again,” she said to CNN.

Her environmental activism blends with social issues in her local community. Taquinas is responsible for projects that promote sustainable development of water resources, such as a trout farm, to sustain the local economy. This will also create jobs to stop more people joining the guerrilla and coca farms.

The trout farm in Tacuey.

Also, projects to develop Tacuey into a sustainable tourism destination were launched. This puts her further in conflict with the Guerrillas, who do not control Tacuey but are present every day. Juan Peteche and Carmenza Cuchillo, who manage the trout farm for the community, said that they were approached several times by guerrillas to demand payment of a “protection charge” for the farm.

“The number of these groups has increased steadily since 2018, now there is a lot of them. They don’t care much about ideology; my predecessor quit the job due to the threats. Peteche stated that they aren’t ideological and only care about the money.

CNN spoke with several Taquinas young guards, who said they were also approached for employment.

Armed only with sticks and machetes, indigenous guards patrol for guerrillas and paramilitary groups.

What the government is doing to address it

The rising violence in the countryside has brought down the Colombian government in recent months.

Human rights NGOs have reported more than 88 massacres in Colombia this year. A massacre is defined in Colombia as three or more unarmed victims killed in an attack. Due to the presence criminal armed groups as well as the production of illegal drugs, Cauca, where Taquinas is from, is one of the most affected areas in Colombia.

Recently, President Ivan Duque spoke out in defense of his administration’s security record. He pointed out that homicides are down and kidnappings are at a low rate over the past 50 years. Critics and analysts urge the government to do more for rural areas like Cauca where narcotics production and massacres are more prevalent.

The United States is now paying more attention to the issue. In Bogota, Secretary of State Blinken from the United States urged the Duque government to “increase the presence of the state within rural areas”. Democratic Rep. Jim McCGovern visited Cauca in October specifically to meet with social leaders and environmentalists facing violence threats.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers a speech, as he visits the "Jose Celestino Mutis Botanical Garden" in Bogota, Colombia on October 21, 2021.

Duque’s administration has made loud statements about its commitment to combat climate change. However, more could be done to protect our environment by increasing government surveillance and protection in areas that are under threat such as Tacuey.

Louis Wilson, Global Witness, says that protecting activists is almost a shortcut for climate action. “If you are able to uphold the rights and dignity of indigenous activists, or the rights and dignity of land activists, traditional communities, then they’ll do the job for you.”

She adds, “These people are already fighting the climate crisis because it is in the immediate interests of their livelihoods or survival.”

Taquinas was threatened by the Colombian state. She is now protected by the Colombian State, who provides her with an armored car as well as two minders to help her leave home.

The rest of her community is left to face criminals without protection or join them.

Taquina’s most recent project is a school for the next generation kiwe danngas, located in a farmhouse along the road to the mountain.

She then draws big plans on a whiteboard for the reservation, encouraging her team to carry on the fight. Twenty-five hectares of the reservation have been rewilded. However, 350 more are still needed. Only 11 of the 37 water sources within the reservation are monitored and protected.

She smiled at CNN and said, “I’m fine with my time on the earth being cut short.”

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