The sheer size of Colombia’s reserves makes them a target for the illegal clearing, appropriation and sale of protected land.
Just over 15 percent of Colombia’s national territory is classed as “protected,” with its national parks accounting for over 14 million hectares in total. Land grabbers illegally clear these remote forest reserves, after which they set up agricultural activities and plant illicit coca crops during its occupation.
InSight Crime has teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to investigate the criminal activities driving deforestation, forest degradation and biodiversity loss in Colombia. The project – titled “Transparent Governance of Natural Resources” and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – unpacks the dynamics of land grabbing across Colombia’s northwestern Amazon.
Also partnering on the project are Transparency for Colombia (Transparencia por Colombia), a branch of Transparency International, and the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development (Fundación para la Conservación y el Desarrollo Sostenible – FCDS), a conservation organization focused on Colombia’s Amazon region.
Land grabbing is often orchestrated by “invisible” criminal actors, who employ local communities to cut and burn down forest cover to illegally appropriate lands. Such actors rely on deeply entrenched corruption and the use of violence by criminal groups to occupy remote regions and obtain land titles. Valuable agricultural operations are then set up, such as cattle rearing and African palm oil cultivation, among other activities. Coca crops are also cultivated in some cases. The land may then be legally commercialized, if roads are constructed nearby.
The departments of Guaviare, Caquetá and Meta have been deeply affected by soaring deforestation sparked by land grabbing in recent years. Colombia’s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (Instituto de Hidrología, Meteorología y Estudios Ambientales — IDEAM) reported that between January and March of 2020, 64,000 hectares of forest had been destroyed in the three departments, an increase of over 80 percent compared to the same period in 2019.
This video shares how protected territories in Colombia have been targeted for land grabs, along with the impact this trade is having on the country’s northwestern Amazon arc. It also explains what can be done to counter land grabbing targeting protected zones.