Colombia’s brutal crackdown on environmental activists
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March 7, 2023
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Colombia’s brutal crackdown on environmental activists

Learn about Colombia's crackdown on environmental activists in our latest blog post. Find out what's happening why it matter.

A short history of suppression

Columbia is well known for its hostility to activists in general and climate activists or environmentalists in particular. A total of 322 activists have been killed in Colombia in the past decade alone. Powerful interests in Colombia have had no issue applying violence towards those who stand up to protest the destruction of Colombia’s natural resources and fossil fuel intensive industries. From the systemic violence used to silence indigenous and rural communities to the extrajudicial killings of environmental activists, the Colombian government has been complicit in the suppression of environmentalism.

Columbia has a long history of suppression towards environmental activists which stretches back to the middle of the 20th century. During an infamous period named “La violenca” environmental activists were massively hunted by the government as well as by some guerrilla groups because they challenged both of their interests. As the conflict continued, more and more activists were killed or disappeared, their deaths and disappearances uninvestigated and their voices silenced.

In the years since, the situation hasn’t changed. NGO Global Witness reported that 33 activists were killed in 2021 alone. The government does this through various ways, by criminalizing protests and silencing news media. They’ve also routinely been reported to harass and intimidate activists into silence. Last year would be record breaking, with 215 activists and social leaders (Not exclusively all environmental activists) killed in Colombia. In January last year, a 14-year-old indigenous activist was also killed, making the rounds in international media.

A threat to environment is a threat to democracy

This unchecked authoritarianism has had and is continuing to have devastating effects in the natural resources of Colombia which keep getting destroyed at an accelerating rate. Biodiversity has been catastrophically affected, magnifying the effects of climate change which on their turn negatively affect biodiversity. The killing of environmentalists has had a chilling effect in the rest of activists who are afraid to oppose fossil fuel and other environmentally damaging interests in the country. Without this opposition, the destruction of the local environment has become rampant.

Despite the efforts of the government for suppression, the environmental movement in Colombia has continued to grow. A number of organisations such as the Columbian Environmental Movement (CEM) and the Environmental Defenders Network (EDN) have been risking in an uphill battle against a tyrannical government in order to protect their environment. Organisations such as Amnesty international have voiced their support for Colombian environmentalists. Whilst Columbians need to applauded, they need international support more than ever. Geopolitical powers which accept exports which come from these environment-destroying industries need to put pressure on the Colombian government so that this path of destruction becomes economically unappealing. Internationals should also do more to provide legal support for the local activists.