Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Does Nature Lose if Peace Wins?

Deforestation leaves only an island of jungle. 
This thought-provoking opinion piece by Manuel Rodriguez Becerra in El Tiempo asks whether an end to Colombia's long armed conflict will trigger a huge ecocide.

In fact, Becerra's fears are already coming true, and will accelerate without firm government control.

For many years, guerrilla presence placed huge swaths of Colombia's territory were off limits to industrial extraction of resources such as gold, coal and petroleum. Of course, that wasn't because there was anything green about the FARC and ELN except for their uniforms. It was because guerrilla violence, kidnappings, bombings, land-mines and extortion made it too dangerous and unprofitable for companies to operate in many regions. (But illegal small-scale mining, which is often even more destructive, still went on.)

As Colombia's government has extended its control over more of the country, oil companies and other resource extractors have followed. The government is now offering huge tracts of mega-diverse territory, in the Amazon and other areas, for lease.

If the guerrillas go away, suddenly nearly all of the country's territory will be available.

This is no argument for the guerrillas or for armed conflict, which has brought tremendous horrors upon Colombia, its people and even its environment. After all, the guerrillas have generally protected plantations of coca leaves, which are a huge cause of deforestation. (The cocaine-making process causes lots more environmental damage.) And the guerrillas make lots of money off of illegal mining, which by definition has no environmental standards.

Colombia has until now been less than a great guardian of its biodiversity. If the guerrillas leave Colombia's mountains and jungles, industrial pressure on Colombia's biodiversity will multiply.

But, at least, then Colombia will have more resources and fewer excuses for not protecting its natural resources.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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