24 May 2023

“Colombian government’s fight against deforestation has been a failure,” NGOs say


Operation Artemis, launched by the Colombian government to combat deforestation, has benefited a minimal share of the affected areas, argue NGOs Mongabay and Cuestión Pública. Abuses to indigenous communities have been reported

by Matteo Cavallito


Launched in 2019 by the Colombian government to fight deforestation, Operación Artemisa (Operation Artemis) has reportedly produced highly unsatisfactory results. It also fueled significant criticism regarding its treatment of native peoples in protected areas. This is argued by the Latin American branch of the U.S.-based NGO Mongabay and the association Cuestión Pública, highlighting how the initiative taken at the time by former President Iván Duque had negligible impact in protecting the territories.

“If one looks at Operation Artemis relative to deforestation rates, forest loss did not decrease; instead, it increased,” admitted former Bogotá Environment Minister Manuel Rodríguez Becerra. “From that point of view,” he added, “it was a failure.” The opinion is shared by the associations that recall how the annual loss of forested land has risen from almost 159,000 hectares in 2019 to more than 174,000 in 2021.

Restoration has affected only 3 percent of the affected area

Activists note how between 2019 and 2022 the initiative resulted in some 20 military operations conducted almost exclusively in national natural parks and forest reserve areas in the Colombian Amazon, particularly in the departments of Guaviare, Meta, Caquetá, Putumayo, and Amazonas. In June last year, outlining a comprehensive balance sheet, the government claimed to have diverted some 27,000 hectares from illegal deforestation.

“All of these results,” Mongabay writes, “were obtained in just 3% of the total deforested area in Colombia between 2019 and 2021. According to IDEAM (Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies in Bogotá) data, in that period, Colombia lost 504,682 ha (about 1.2 million acres) of forests.”

Operation Artemis, moreover, led to the arrest of 113 people and 13 convictions handed down later by the courts. The measures, however, activists claim, have mainly affected some residents of the territories. These individuals are largely unrelated to the exploitative activities of the real perpetrators of deforestation. According to Rodrigo Botero Garcia, director of the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development (FCDS), “The military component, instead of recovering the deforested lands from the big land-grabbers, was used for the weakest part of the chain. He was unable to hold responsible those big deforesters, neither with the law nor with the Army.”

Attack on local communities

Not surprisingly, in this regard, activists have denounced abuses against local communities. The organization Dejusticia, in particular, has spoken openly of “human rights abuses” asking the Colombian Supreme Court of Justice to intervene in the matter. “Considering the various options available in combating deforestation and judging the state’s military and criminal treatment of the communities that now inhabit the national parks,” the NGO said, “Artemis has turned out to be an operation against the peasants, unjust and unnecessary.”

Carlos Castaño, community leader of the Zona de Reserva Campesina de Losada, located near the departments of Meta and Caquetá in the central area of the country, also spoke out on the issue. Authorities, he explained, “issued arrest warrants then placed the people captured facing the choice of going to jail or being removed from the territory.” Arrested people, he added, agreed to leave the territory in order to avoid going to jail.

Indigenous communities are a bulwark against deforestation

In contrast to the government’s strategy, the organization recalls, cooperation between authorities and local communities could ensure effective protection of territories. The idea is not new. In late 2021, research by the University of Shieffield showed that around the world, areas managed by indigenous peoples experience lower deforestation rates when compared with other tropical expanses.

The investigation, published in the journal Nature, focused on several territories in Asia, Latin America and Africa where the conservation work of native communities proved, on the whole, to be no less effective than that of the authorities in charge of controlling areas placed under protection.

Using satellite data and comparing areas similar in morphological and geographical characteristics, researchers have been able to gather unequivocal data. In fact, there was less deforestation in areas under the control of native populations. With between 17 percent and 26 percent reduction compared to the global average recorded in the other areas.