Isolated Indigenous Communities and the Mining Industry

Original article appears in El Espectador. Written by Juan Pablo Ruiz Soto.

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Colombian society is wonderful and yet violent, contradictory and uneven. Every day, we are amazed by stories, events and realities that make Macondo just one of multiple fantastic realities.

Within a week, many more amazing events occur here than in half a century in Sweden. One of those wonderful and amazing stories of our current society was presented to us by Roberto Franco on August 21st in the Bogotá Botanical Garden. His book—Cariba Malo: Episodes of resistance of an isolated tribe in the Amazon—tells the story of an isolated indigenous group that now lives in the Colombian Amazon and that, as he tells us, is not an indigenous people living in voluntary isolation or an uncontacted people: it, and others like it, is an indigenous group that has had previous contact with the dominant society and that has isolated itself as its only available strategy for resistance and survival.

Franco, with the support of the National University of Colombia, the Imani Institute, the Ministry of the Environment, the National Parks Service and the Amazon Conservation Team, tells the story of the group that inhabits the Puré River National Park, the Yuri. The Yuri, known locally as "Caraballos", are an indigenous group living in isolation.

The National Government—in the National Development Plan, Annex IV C 1-1, when referring to agreements with indigenous groups—is committed to the development of "a protocol of attention to and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples that respects the voluntary isolation of the communities." Accordingly, Decree 4633 of 2011, Article 17, states: "The State shall guarantee the right of uncontacted tribes living in voluntary isolation to remain in that condition and to live freely according to their cultures on their ancestral territories. Therefore, as a subject of special protection, they in no case may be stripped of their territories, nor will they be subject to policies, programs and actions, private or public, that promote contact or interventions in their territories for any purpose." Article 71 of the same decree states that the necessary measures will be taken to guarantee their right to their ancestral lands, prioritizing the creation of reserves for these isolated communities. Colombia, after Brazil and Peru, is the country in the world with the third-most isolated communities: between 10 and 14. Today, the big question is: how to reconcile the protection of the rights of isolated peoples with Resolution 0045 of 2012, which announces and delimits strategic mining areas, which in some cases coincide with the ancestral territories of these groups? Resolution 0045 is intended to identify and promote, within a period not to exceed 10 years, mining projects in 17 million hectares located in the departments of Amazonas, Guainía, Guaviare, Vaupés, Vichada and Choco.

Mr. President: We expect you to reach agreement with your people, because cultural heritage is worth more than any natural resource. We cannot repeat the brutal history of expropriation perpetrated by the rubber plantations, led by the Casa Arana at the beginning of the last century, and the recent displacement of the Nukak. Without a doubt: we must demonstrate a greater degree of civilization and effective governance.

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