Indigenous communities living along the lower Apaporis River, in the heart of the Colombian Amazon, have been carrying a legal battle for more than 3 years to protect their ancestral lands – more than 1,000,000 hectares of pristine rainforest – from gold-mining.
Yaigoje Apaporis, threatened by gold mining
The lower Apaporis River, an area of pristine tropical forest in the eastern Colombian Amazon, is home to some of Colombia’s most traditional indigenous groups, including the Makuna, Tanimuka, Tuyuca, Cabiyari and Letuama.
Yaigoje Apaporis, the name of their ancestral territory, stretches over more than 1,000,000 hectares. And since 1988 the communities have been legally established as collective owners of the territory, along with their Constitutional rights to self-determination. Aside from the rich biological diversity, including endangered mammals (giant ant-eater, squirrel monkey, jaguar, manatee, pink dolphin), it includes one especially sacred place, Yuisi, also known as La Libertad, where the river cascades over rocks, forming rapids.
In Colombia – in the Amazon region and elsewhere – the floodgates have opened for mining concessions since 2007. Although Yaigoje Apaporis is a legally recognized indigenous territory (known as a “resguardo”), the communities do not have rights to the sub-soil, a loophole that was quickly exploited by a Canadian-owned mining company, COSIGO.
“We have collective ownership [of our ancestral territory]… but that only protects a metre below the ground – what we use to grow – and not deep underground. And when the disease comes from the white world, as with mining, medicine is to be found right there. So we sought an alliance that could safeguard the territory, and that was how the national park was born.”
Gerardo Macuna, Centro Providencia, Lower Apaporis
The response of the indigenous communities was to request that a National Park is established over their territory – under a special management regime so that their autonomy and traditional practices for safeguarding the forest and their sacred natural sites, would remain unaffected. The idea came from the communities, and was negotiated by their traditional indigenous authorities, who form ACIYA (the association of indigenous leaders of Yaigojé Apaporis).
Yaigojé Apaporis became Colombia’s 55th, and third largest, national protected area in October 2009. And yet, just two days after the official announcement, COSIGO was granted a mining title – and soon after began attempting to revoke the “protected area” status. The same mining company is also alleged to be behind over 20 more applications for mining exploration around Yaigojé Apaporis.
Julia Miranda Londoño, Director of Colombia’s National Parks, is firm that “the national park should take priority over the private interest of an international mining company that has used indigenous people.”
The case is in the hands of the country’s Constitutional Court. And in a dramatic twist to the story, three members of the Constitutional Court made a special trip to the Amazon, in January 2014, to listen to the indigenous communities of Yaigojé Apaporis who are directly affected.
This case could set an alarming precedent – the dissolution of a National Park, orchestrated by a mining company. It would be a fatal blow for the indigenous communities, their rich shamanistic traditions, and the achievements in Colombia – especially over the last 20 years – in protecting the Amazon forest.
The UNDP (United Nations Development Program) honored the indigenous organsiation ACIYA, with an Equator Initiative Prize, in September 2014, and a special award in recognition of their community research and efforts to revive their traditional knowledge and safeguard their Amazon territory. Meanwhile, Colombia’s Constitutional Court is still reviewing the case, and COSIGO along with other mining companies accelerate their efforts in obtaining mining rights and permits across the Colombian Amazon.
For more information:
· Judges travel to the Amazon for public hearing on Yaigoje Apaporis and gold mining
· Multimedia presentation (Spanish only) by Semana magazine – Un parque por una mina
Search the ‘Yaigoije’ tag for more news and information as this resistance process continues