Recent investigations in Colombia have found that government leaders and landowners in Colombia's department of Guaviare have teamed up to illegally deforest the Amazon in quest of mutual profit.
Last December, the former mayors of Calamar and Miraflores, Pedro Pablo Novoa and Jhonivar Cumbe, were arrested after it was revealed that during their time in office, they had encouraged illegal deforestation in Guaviare in order to build a 138-kilometer highway between their towns.
The Attorney General’s Office issued whopping fines to the two mayors and former Guaviare governor, Nebio Echeverry, who is also implicated in the deforestation, the magazine Semana revealed.
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In addition, the TV program Zona Franca recently exposed accelerated deforestation in Guaviare related to illicit crops, palm oil plantations and extensive ranching in territories like the savanna La Fuga. It also revealed Guaviare has the second-highest rate of deforestation in Colombia.
“What is happening is an illegal appropriation of the country’s uncultivated lands by individuals that have a lot of capital and are able to cut down 100 or 200 hectares of forest (at a time),” said Rodrigo Botero, an environmental expert that recently visited the zone.
Despite 90 percent of the department being protected, the environmental institute Institute for Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (Instituto de Hidrología, Meteorología y Estudios Ambientales – IDEAM) reported a rise in deforestation of at least 23.071 hectares between 2015 and 2018 with no end in sight.
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Guaviare is exemplary of how local interests can share a slice of the pie when it comes to deforestations. Criminal groups, entrepreneurs and politicians, everyone appears to benefit from the logging which is slowly destroying the Amazon rainforest.
Former governor Echeverry has been accused of being at the heart of a lot of it. According to documents from the Attorney General's Office quoted by Semana, the highway he supported had "neither permits nor environmental licenses."
Additionally, the continuous passage of heavy vehicles and illegal logging have only further damaged the protected land and water resources in the area. As a result, the governor's office of Guaviare was fined over 1 billion pesos ($300,000).
Echeverry was included on the Clinton List between 2010 and 2015 and is believed to be close to businessmen Jorge Gaitán, Ramón Rojas and Saúl Aguirre, who all benefited from lucrative contracts, according to official records from Echeverry's time in office.
In a document from the Attorney General's Office presented by Zona Franca, these individuals were able to appropriate huge tracts of land for their agro-industrial projects, in exchange for endorsing the former governor.
According to the document, large areas of land were appropriated to these individuals for high-impact agro-industrial projects that required deforesting the natural forest, in exchange for their endorsement of the former governor.
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And government leaders are not the only ones guilty of profiting from deforestation. While the FARC used to have codes of conduct regarding deforestation, illegal logging and mining have soared since their 2016 demobilization.
And their successors, the ex-FARC Mafia, are all too happy to participate in deforestation, encouraging local farmers to do so, and extorting fees from large landowners, according to non-governmental organization Amazonia Socio Ambiental. The ex-FARC 7th Front and 40th Front were named as particular culprits.