Indian Forests: The Last Refuge

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It’s pretty easy to find something to be angry about in this world — we are living in a “time of exploitation, brutality and environmental horrors,” to quote King Hu Jintao. But sometimes the anger turns to fear.

On February 7, more than 50 thousand indigenous members will protect a greater than five-kilometer (3.1-mile) stretch of the Sila River in Colombia. That is the largest, most active native-rights protest in Latin America.

And yet, they are under threat. The country’s government is cracking down.

If you watch the video above, I’ve replayed it three times to give it the effect you might get while walking through a forest, so that it will feel like you are in the place. The hope is that you can still see the rangers who show such great care to protect the environment — with ropes, ropes and more ropes.

Their concerns are great. The authorities’ actions to detain them and to even take them into the jungle are another cause for concern. But our hope for them is that they will continue to do what they do best: protect the environment, which they see as being both for their own wellbeing and for the wellbeing of future generations.

But these environmental issues aren’t restricted to the indigenous community — they are increasingly a concern for environmentalists everywhere. Human rights activists are rightly concerned. In our culture, being disrespectful and provocative can cost one’s life, as it has in recent months with Mauricio Ramos, the forest protection coordinator for Colombia’s largest environmentalist organization, EcoMoro, who was assassinated on December 28 in Las Palmas del Sol, in the south of Colombia.

In December 2018, some environmentalists — including Lopez Loja of the Smithsonian Institute in New York — were arrested and detained by the Colombian government. And the situation isn’t any better now for activists in Venezuela, with people like Néstor Porras and Polina Barrán often in detention. The authorities there don’t seem to regard the human rights issues as an important enough priority. Last year, the Venezuelan National Assembly observed that 13 people were in prison for merely being from “nations with Indian origins.”

Now Colombia is at risk.

Activists can’t find jobs or have difficulty in finding independence and security, while the eco-parks ministry, the closest agency to indigenous issues, is in a dead end and back in March 2018 there was another attempt to kill Lopez Loja. When he was released by authorities, he stated: “This really hurts because I worked my whole life to protect our rights.” So much for climate change being real and human rights being respected.

To add to all of this turmoil and uncertainty, U.S. President Donald Trump has reduced funding to Colombia for many of its most vulnerable inhabitants. There is a possible counter-response, however. One that comes straight from nature.

In February, 1,400 volunteers in Bolivia will send an electric shock by car into the forest and they will vote on sending an Amazonian pygmy named Fuga to an Amazon reserve. Why? She was named after the Brazilian scientist Antonio da Fuga, who did the first biological census of the Amazon.

Fuga said that if human rights weren’t respected there could be no safe Amazon river. So that is what our environmental defenders in Colombia and elsewhere want and they will continue to peacefully campaign for it. They are safe: The entire country is quite literally one big big nature reserve. And as Ferdinand Tariq, the Forests and Wildlife director of Eco-Moro, is often quoted as saying: “We must keep the Amazon as a place for both animals and people, so we don’t have to worry about wild animals.”

Environmental peace is easier said than done, but when we do the right thing the reason becomes more apparent.

Please, join the scouts of Peru, Bolivia and Colombia.

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