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Colombian Amazon park rangers face violence, threats by illegal armed groups

  • In the last five years, at least 15 threats have been reported against the park rangers who guard the protected areas of the Colombian Amazon. Other issues include the transfer of personnel due to violence, the burning and looting of five control checkpoints and several deaths between 2008 and 2011.
  • By overlapping data from the organization Indepaz about the presence of illegal armed groups and the locations of protected areas in the Colombian Amazon, it was determined that these groups are present in 35 of the 39 municipalities that include protected areas. In some cases, FARC dissidents ordered park rangers to leave and declared them “military objectives.”
  • In four Amazonian protected areas, almost 2.5 tons of cocaine were seized between 2017 and 2022, after the signing of the peace agreement.

“In this park, there are many complications, because if an official begins environmental work with a community leader for some time, no one knows whether he will be able to continue because he might be murdered or have to leave the area,” said a local source who is very familiar with the work in the Amazon’s protected areas. In this article, the identity of this source is being kept anonymous for security reasons. Testimonies like this are repeated in many of the parks and reserves in the Colombian Amazon, where constant threats have caused the first line of defense of the country’s biodiversity to retreat from the territory.

In fact, the violent events make it impossible for the park rangers to travel through at least 21 national protected areas, including 14 in the Amazon. “The armed groups and illicit economies that promote and finance deforestation remain in the territory, which puts personnel at risk,” said the National Natural Parks System of Colombia to Mongabay Latam in response to a request for information.

The park rangers who protect the Colombian Amazon’s most emblematic ecosystems can only monitor very specific places. Dissidents from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group, split into different illegal armed groups that are in dispute, have declared several of these officials to be “military objectives.” This implies that if they set foot in the area where they operate, they will be killed.

One team of journalists that traveled to La Paya National Natural Park encountered an armed checkpoint held by the Comandos de la Frontera, or “Border Command,” along the Putumayo River. Dressed in green and armed with rifles and other military attire, members of the group were quick to leave a message: It is not they who are deforesting, but rather, those from the the Carolina Ramírez Front, another group of ex-FARC dissidents. This declaration is one bit of evidence of the illegal armed groups’ current fight for this territory. These disputes often occur in and around Indigenous reservations, with the forest as the only witness.

Panfleto de 2022 de las disidencias de las FARC-EP en el que prohíben el ingreso a la zona de La Macarena a los guardaparques y funcionarios ambientales. Crédito: imagen entregada por Parques Nacionales.
A 2022 pamphlet from FARC-EP dissidents prohibiting park rangers and environmental officials from entering the area around La Macarena. Image courtesy of the National Natural Parks System of Colombia.

“There are no guarantees for entering all sectors of the protected area. There is a risk of being murdered, just like what is emphasized in statements from the armed groups and in conversations with local individuals,” said a representative of the National Natural Parks System to Mongabay Latam. The representative added that “after Operation Artemis [a military initiative launched by former President Iván Duque’s administration in April 2019] three officials were seriously threatened, which caused two of them to resign, and the other person [remained] at great risk.”

Prohibiting the entry of park rangers into their place of work, as a consequence of the military actions of Operation Artemis, affected surveillance and monitoring in four Colombian parks: Tinigua, La Paya, Sierra de la Macarena and Serranía de Chiribiquete National Park.

The result of these restrictions and the sustained escalation of violence is visible in deforestation data. In 2022, 10,299 hectares (about 25,449 acres) of forest were lost inside the protected areas of the Colombian Amazon. This area corresponds to 82% of the total amount of deforestation recorded in protected areas nationally, according to data from the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM). Some experts who have analyzed the published data say they believe these figures could actually be higher.

How can the protected areas in the Colombian Amazon be safeguarded with so many movement bans and restrictions for these officials? Mongabay Latam, in an alliance with Rutas del Conflicto and La Silla Vacía, investigated the violent events, the entry restrictions for National Natural Parks officials and the dangers for biodiversity in the 14 protected areas in the Colombian Amazon. Using databases created for this series based on official requests for information, our alliance detected problems ranging from threats and the worsening of several environmental crimes to a lack of funding and logistics to take care of the country’s key ecosystems. Our journalists visited three parks that they found to be in serious danger: La Paya, Sierra de la Macarena and Amacayacu.

A warning at Amacayacu National Natural Park states that illegal logging and pollution are prohibited. However, illegal mining is affecting the northern part of the protected area, according to our reporters’ findings. Image by Juan Carlos Contreras.

Defending protected areas with their lives

The complexity and magnitude of the violence are evident in the fact that only FARC dissidents are present in 33 of the 39 municipalities and nonmunicipal areas where the 14 protected areas in the Colombian Amazon are located. According to the experts consulted for this article, these armed groups also drive the illegal economies that have deforested the protected areas.

In recent years, different academic studies have confirmed a significant increase in this deforestation after the signing of the Peace Agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC. Between 2015 and 2016, before the Peace Agreement, the annual amount of forest loss in Amazonian protected areas did not exceed 5,336 hectares (about 13,186 acres). However, beginning in 2017, the landscape began to change. The number of hectares deforested that year skyrocketed to 10,152 hectares (about 25,086 acres). One year later, this figure almost doubled to 19,553 hectares (about 48,317 acres).

The sum of the figures provided by IDEAM shows that the total amount of forest loss in the Colombian Amazon between 2015 and 2022 was 86,828 hectares (about 214,557 acres), an area larger than the size of Singapore.

Clara Solano, director of Fundación Natura (Nature Foundation) and president of the governing board of Parques Cómo Vamos, a civil organization that oversees protected areas in Colombia, explained that “the FARC’s exit meant a governance gap in some territories, and there were people ready to occupy those spaces.” In turn, although the existence of the armed conflict helped to conserve certain sites, according to Carlos Mauricio Herrera, protected areas specialist from WWF Colombia, the situation degenerated after the unexpected consequences of the peace agreement. “What is causing the violence now is the loss of governance of the areas, as well as an increase in illicit activities,” said Herrera.

Parches de deforestación en zona de la Macarena fotografiados desde un avión por los reporteros que visitaron el Parque Sierra de la Macarena. Crédito: Ana María Rodríguez Ortiz para Mongabay Latam y Rutas del Conflicto.
Patches of deforestation near La Macarena, photographed from a plane by the reporters who visited Sierra de la Macarena National Park. Image by Ana María Rodríguez Ortiz for Mongabay Latam and Rutas del Conflicto.

Currently, National Natural Parks officials can only visit very specific places.

In Sierra de la Macarena National Park, park rangers cannot enter the Cabra Yarumales, Café or Guayabero sectors due to threats and the presence of illegal armed groups involved in the cultivation of illicit crops.

In Tinigua National Natural Park, pamphlets distributed in the area stated that park rangers are prohibited from visiting the Uribe and La Macarena sectors. Meanwhile, in the Los Picachos mountain range, the areas of Platanillo and Uribe have been closed since 2018 due to threats.

Officials from the National Natural Parks System also cannot enter the northern part of Amacayacu National Natural Park, near the Cotuhé and Putumayo rivers, due to the presence of illegal armed groups. Officials can only enter one of the six sectors in Chiribiquete National Park, and there are also prohibited areas in La Paya and Serranía de los Churumbelos national natural parks.

This information, which was provided by authorities from the Colombian National Natural Parks System, confirms this patchy surveillance pattern. Many times, officials can only witness how the protected areas are being devastated. If they decide to intervene, the consequences can be fatal.

In 2008, José Martín Duarte from Sierra de la Macarena National Park was shot in the back and killed by an armed group. In 2011, park ranger Jaime Girón Portilla was killed by an antipersonnel mine in Serranía de los Churumbelos National Natural Park. Between 2011 and 2023, in Cordillera de los Picachos Natural National Park, at least three officials were transferred to other protected areas for safety reasons, and another official from Tinigua National Natural Park experienced the same outcome. The situation is similar in two other national parks: Seven officials have been transferred from Yaigojé Apaporis, and one from La Paya.

Gustavo Guerrero, Colombia’s environmental prosecutor, added that the government could do more to ensure the presence of park rangers. “Much more could be done to ensure the permanent return of personnel in parks like Tinigua, La Macarena and the Nukak National Natural Reserve, [which are] protected areas with a lot of importance in our country and for the Amazon in general, where there are major problems associated with deforestation and the communities living there.” Guerrero added that officials’ sporadic visits to protected areas are not sufficient for good management. He also added that their governance should be the result of the actions of the government, “not of the individuals in the margins of the law.”

The area around the Guayabero River has been affected by deforestation due to the construction of an illegal road, known as the Cattle Trail, by the FARC. Image by Ana María Rodríguez Ortiz.

Sources from the area around Sierra de la Macarena National Park told reporters that Operation Artemis increased the level of risk for the park rangers. They explained that the operations in the territory — during which at least 13 people presumed to be responsible for deforestation within the park were captured — were the trigger that caused FARC dissidents to label officials from the National Natural Parks System as “military objectives.” An anonymous source from the area explained that “they totally prohibited the entry of park rangers into Sierra de la Macarena. People did not want to hear from them again, and the dissidents declared the National Natural Parks authority their permanent enemy for supposedly supporting the operations of the Army. … It was also said that the dissidents were planning to plant a bomb beside the National Natural Parks headquarters, but because it was next to the school, they preferred not to.”

The National Natural Parks System confirmed that between 2019 and 2023, 12 threats against park rangers were recorded in the protected areas of the Colombian Amazon. All of these events were reported by the National Natural Parks System to the Office of the Attorney General for investigation. Five threats occurred in 2019, three in 2022, two in 2021 and two more in 2022. Officials from three parks — Sierra de la Macarena, Tinigua and La Paya — are threatened most frequently. In Sierra de la Macarena, the authority has recorded four cases; in Tinigua and La Paya, there were three cases in total. In addition to these violent threats, our team of journalists also collected evidence of three more cases while reporting in the field.

Los líderes indígenas de los resguardos que se superponen con el Parque La Paya rechazan la deforestación asociada al cultivo ilícito de coca. Crédito: Sergio Alejandro Melgarejo.
Indigenous leaders from the reservations that overlap with La Paya National Natural Park reject the deforestation associated with the illicit cultivation of coca. Image by Sergio Alejandro Melgarejo.

Burned checkpoints and a lack of infrastructure

Material losses also complicate monitoring work. Between 2017 and 2020, three control checkpoints were burned.

Threats, looting and robberies at checkpoints are additional problems reported by the National Natural Parks System. In 2019, the Naranjal cabin in La Paya National Natural Park in Putumayo was looted. A year later, in February 2020, unknown people broke into three cabins in Cahuinarí National Natural Park. The attackers claimed to be dissidents from FARC and prohibited the park rangers from continuing their work.

The lagoons at La Paya National Natural Park are part of its biodiverse ecosystem. Today, the protected area cannot be accessed by park rangers, with the exception of some Indigenous officials. Image by Sergio Alejandro Melgarejo

In the 11 protected areas, there are 33 headquarters managed by the Amazonian Territorial Directorate within the National Natural Parks System. Of these, only 22 are in operation, and there are many sectors that, for safety reasons, cannot rely on the permanent presence of park rangers.

In terms of transportation, the Amazonian Territorial Directorate does not have airplanes or helicopters, despite the fact that its 11 protected areas span more than 9.7 million hectares (about 24 million acres) and, according to data provided to Mongabay Latam, they have only paid for three flyovers to monitor the protected areas between 2021 and 2022, for a total cost of 70 million Colombian pesos ($17,499). “They should have a plane; they don’t have anything. These protected areas have millions of hectares to monitor,” said Solano from Fundación Natura and Parques Cómo Vamos.

Guerrero, the environmental prosecutor, added that the entire fleet of vehicles, technology and personnel in the protected areas should be improved. He said he believes this applies especially to protected areas in the Amazon that “need river transportation and are large.”

The Indigenous communities around the southern part of Amacayacu National Natural Park have done conservation work with the National Natural Parks System. This has allowed for the protection of wild animal species. Image by Juan Carlos Contreras.

Armed groups in Amazonian protected areas

Indepaz identified which armed groups are operating in the Colombian Amazon. Former FARC dissidents are most common, since they are present in 33 of the 35 municipalities that contain Amazonian protected areas. Of these ex-FARC groups, the Southeastern Bloc has the greatest presence, with operations in 20 municipalities. This is followed by its rival, the Second Marquetalia, which is present in seven municipalities. Another successor of the FARC, called the Western Command Coordinator, is present in three municipalities. According to Indepaz, the Southeastern Bloc and the Western Command Coordinator groups now make up one single group called the Estado Mayor Central, led by someone using the alias “Iván Mordisco.” The Estado Mayor Central is an enemy of the Second Marquetalia, commanded by the alias “Iván Márquez,” who was a negotiator of the peace agreement and a member of the secretariat of the FARC.

These 14 natural parks in the Colombian Amazon have at least one illegal armed group present. Sources: Indepaz, Amazon Underworld and Parques Cómo Vamos.

 

On the other hand, the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group is present in five municipalities, and the successors of the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) paramilitary group are found in nine municipalities. Manuel Rodríguez Becerra, Colombia’s former environment minister, said he does not believe the violent situation will change anytime soon. “Colombia has more territory than government, and that seems to be the case in the Amazonian protected areas,” said Rodríguez.

In the municipality of Puerto Leguízamo in Putumayo, where La Paya National Natural Park is, the Second Marquetalia and the Southeastern Bloc or Estado Mayor Central are in operation; the latter is connected to the Carolina Ramírez Front. Journalists from La Silla Vacía and Mongabay Latam, who traveled to the protected area to investigate the situation, confirmed firsthand the presence and control of the illegal armed group Comandos de la Frontera, which corresponds to the Second Marquetalia.

This distribution of the armed individuals in the territory was recently addressed in Amazon Underworld. This publication documented the presence of multiple armed individuals in the Colombian Amazon, including the Estado Mayor Central, the Carolina Ramírez Front and Comandos de la Frontera.

The illegal armed group Comandos de la Frontera appeared when reporters from La Silla Vacía and Mongabay Latam visited the area of La Paya National Natural Park. Image by Santiago Rodríguez.

The illegal economies associated with these armed groups are also present in protected areas in the Amazon. In 2022, 4,807 hectares (about 11,878 acres) of illicit coca crops were detected in Amazonian protected areas. This is a 45% increase compared with 2021, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Ministry of Justice. La Paya National Natural Park registered 1,840 hectares (about 4,547 acres) of coca crops, followed by the Nukak National Natural Reserve with 1,622 hectares (about 4,008 acres) and Sierra de la Macarena with 1,284 hectares (about 3,173 acres). Drug trafficking routes also cross through the protected areas. Between 2017 and 2022, after the peace agreement was signed, 2.4 tons of cocaine were confiscated in protected areas in the Amazon. The Ministry of Defense provided these data to Mongabay Latam after a request for information. The Nukak National Natural Reserve had the highest amount of confiscated cocaine, with 1,005 kilograms (about 2,216 pounds) in 2017, along with another 249 kg (about 549 lbs) in 2020. La Paya took second place, with 800 kg (about 1,764 lbs) seized in 2020, followed by Serranía de Chiribiquete, with 399 kg (about 880 lbs) seized in 2018, and Sierra de la Macarena, with 25 kg (about 55 lbs) seized in 2022.

These crops are in seven of 14 Amazonian parks and reserves, according to data from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Ministry of Justice. Sources: UNODC and the Ministry of Justice.

 

Regarding the presence of drug trafficking in the protected areas, Candice Welsch, a representative from the UNODC for the Andean Region and the Southern Cone, said that “illegal groups take advantage of the rules in special management areas, where the main interest is environmental protection and where there are restrictions on targeting crops, such as what happened at some point with aerial spraying.” The expert added that some key hotspots for the presence of coca crops are the Putumayo department and the border area, in addition to La Paya National Natural Park. Welsch added that the case of Putumayo is connected to the illegal crops in Peru and the drug trafficking routes that connect both countries. She said she believes “they are the same illegal groups that are doing exactly the same activity on both sides of the border, and they use the Putumayo River to facilitate their trafficking, passing through Ecuador to get to the ports.”

In a letter sent to Mongabay Latam, the Amazonian division of SINTRAMBIENTE National Parks declared that park rangers are the first people affected by this unsafe situation. “The people connected to [the] National Parks [System] are extremely vulnerable in the face of particular interests and illegal networks in the region,” said the division.

Herrera, from WWF, added that the armed conflict has lasted longer in certain protected areas, such as Sierra de la Macarena. “The places with the most biodiversity in our country often also coincide with the places in which the conflict has been more present and active,” said Herrera.


In Amacayacu National Natural Park, there are more than 5,000 plant species, 468 bird species and 150 mammal species. The area is also home to reptiles like caimans, anacondas, boa constrictors and turtles. Image by Juan Carlos Contreras for Rutas del Conflicto and Mongabay Latam.

Illegal mining and deforestation: Two enemies of protected areas

The most recent figures indicate there was a decrease in deforestation in Colombia and its protected areas in 2022. However, according to many experts, like Solano, “we must understand what is happening here; for example, to study whether the rules of illegal armed groups that penalize deforestation had to do [with it] or other factors.”

Rodríguez, the former environment minister, said it is not reasonable for President Gustavo Petro’s administration to take credit for all of the success of this reduction. This is because other factors may have disincentivized the slashing and burning of forests, like more intense rains due to La Niña. It is also not known “whether there really was a truce by the illegal armed groups to stop the deforestation,” added Rodríguez.

An increase, [in deforestation] however, was evident in four protected areas in the Colombian Amazon: Cahuinarí, Río Puré, Serranía de los Churumbelos and Yaigojé Apaporis. In Cahuinarí, the amount of deforested land increased from 3 hectares (about 7 acres) in 2021 to 101 hectares (about 250 acres) in 2022. Río Puré National Park, which did not even register a single deforested hectare in 2021, lost 24 hectares (about 59 acres) of forest in 2022. Serranía de los Churumbelos National Natural Park recorded 25 hectares (about 62 acres) of forest loss in 2021, which rose to 34 hectares (about 84 acres) in 2022. In Yaigojé Apaporis National Park, the amount of deforested land increased from 128 hectares (about 316 acres) in 2021 to 143 hectares (about 353 acres) in 2022.

An increase, [in deforestation] however, was evident in four protected areas in the Colombian Amazon: Cahuinarí, Río Puré, Serranía de los Churumbelos and Yaigojé Apaporis. In Cahuinarí, the amount of deforested land increased from 3 hectares (about 7 acres) in 2021 to 101 hectares (about 250 acres) in 2022. Río Puré National Park, which did not even register a single deforested hectare in 2021, lost 24 hectares (about 59 acres) of forest in 2022. Serranía de los Churumbelos National Natural Park recorded 25 hectares (about 62 acres) of forest loss in 2021, which rose to 34 hectares (about 84 acres) in 2022. In Yaigojé Apaporis National Park, the amount of deforested land increased from 128 hectares (about 316 acres) in 2021 to 143 hectares (about 353 acres) in 2022.

Aviso a la entrada de la vereda La Florida, cerca del Parque Nacional Sierra de la Macarena donde se advierte de no cazar con perros, no movilizar ganado entre las 6 p.m. y 6 a.m. Crédito: Ana María Rodríguez Ortiz.
A notice at the entrance to the community of La Florida near Sierra de la Macarena National Park. Visitors are warned not to hunt with dogs and not to move livestock between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Image by Ana María Rodríguez Ortiz.

In fact, a June 2023 study by the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development (FCDS) found that one of the central hotspots of illegal mining is the Purité River, right along the edge of Amacayacu National Natural Park. When experts from the Regional Alliance for the Reduction of the Impacts of Gold Mining in the Amazon conducted a flyover, they observed at least 13 dredges operating in the Purité River.

Illegal dredges in Amacayacu National Natural Park are affecting the Cotuhé and Purité rivers. Image courtesy of the Regional Alliance for the Reduction of the Impacts of Gold Mining in the Amazon.

An expert from the alliance told a journalist from Rutas del Conflicto that the miners often extract gold from a border area, which complicates a possible intervention. “If there is an operation in either of the two countries, [the illegal miners] just turn on the motor and move to the other,” said the expert.

According to Rodríguez, the former environment minister, “all the countries in the Amazon Basin have failed to control [illegal mining], not just Colombia.” He added that in an area with such a small amount of government control, “illegal economic interests end up prevailing.”

Since “there are illegal economies — like illicit crops and land-grabbing — that subsidize deforestation, and they are protected by armed groups, the governance of protected areas is made very difficult,” added Pablo Negret, a Colombian biologist and researcher from the University of Queensland in Australia. “[The] National Parks [System] cannot solve it all; they need support from the rest of the government,” added Negret.

Reporters documented illegal actions during their trip through the different protected areas. In Sierra de la Macarena National Park, for example, they gathered testimonies about the presence of coca and livestock, but these are the exact areas from which park rangers are barred from entering to verify the situation. “Personnel from [the National Natural] Parks [System] cannot go to the areas where this supposedly occurs,” said an anonymous source who was interviewed in the field.

In La Paya, Indigenous leaders who spoke with reporters from La Silla Vacía made it clear that the deforestation associated with criminal economies does not respect their world view or the protected area. “We Siona Indigenous [people] do not want there to be more deforestation. We get food [and] medicine from there, and we do not want any more of that in our reservation,” said Javier, a leader from the area whose real name is being protected.

Cattle walking on the Cattle Trail. Ranching is one of the main causes of deforestation in Sierra de la Macarena National Park. Image by Ana María Rodríguez Ortiz.

Conservation budget

Although some protected areas have lost larger amounts of forest, these are not necessarily the places that receive the most resources from the National Natural Parks System’s budget. This is the case with Tinigua National Natural Park, which has experienced the most deforestation between 2015 and 2022, with 37,840 hectares (about 93,505 acres). Between 2015 to 2022, Tinigua, which accounts for 43% of the forest loss across all 14 Amazonian protected areas, was ranked only eighth for funding. Chiribiquete National Park experienced the third-largest loss of forest, with 8,711 hectares (about 21,525 acres) but was fifth in terms of funding.

“If there is a park like Tinigua, which has lost more than 10% of its forest since 2000, but has the sixth or eighth [position in the] budget in the Amazon, then it is worth asking ‘What is the allocation based on?’” said Negret.

A representative from the National Natural Parks System explained that the allocation of resources to a protected area depends on its management plan, which involves the area’s main conservation goals and the most serious threats that it faces. The representative added that, unfortunately, this is also affected by the impossibility of carrying out all the necessary environmental care tasks due to Colombia’s public policy situation. “For the allocation of resources to Tinigua National Natural Park, the management plan and a review of territorial dynamics (scenarios of conflicts between illegal groups) have been used as tools with the goal of guaranteeing compliance with its institutional and social agreements in the territory,” said the representative from the National Natural Parks System. The representative added that territorial dynamics have played an important role, taking into account that “the officials’ entry is limited.” According to the representative, the budget conforms to the actions that “have been executed in coordination with social and institutional actors” to try to contain the pressures that affect the area.

The amount allocated, in U.S. dollars, for each of the protected areas in the Amazon between 2015 and 2022. Source: National Natural Parks System of Colombia.

 

According to Guerrero, the environmental prosecutor, deforestation must be confronted with effective control measures, but this cannot be achieved if “the budget for the parks in the Amazon is low.” Guerrero explained that although Colombia’s Supreme Court of Justice issued a ruling in 2018 that prohibits ranching in protected areas in the Amazon and requires more resources for parks, this has not happened.

Forest loss, measured in hectares, in protected areas in the Amazon, according to information from IDEAM. Source: Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM).

 

The Amazonian division of the National Union of Workers of the National Environmental System (SINTRAMBIENTE National Parks) confirmed that “the budget allocated for the country’s national natural parks is insufficient for all the actions that require the administration and management of the protected areas. They cover the minimum operation costs. In most cases, several parts of the management plans are underfunded.” The division also criticized the creation of new protected areas without the necessary funding to provide them with personnel and adequate management, which makes them “protected areas on paper.”

Deforestation near the Cattle Trail, part of the Guayabero sector near Sierra de la Macarena National Park. Image by Ana María Rodríguez Ortiz.

The Amazonian division of SINTRAMBIENTE also mentioned an issue that affects many of the protected areas in the Amazon Basin: the number of park rangers versus the number of hectares they must conserve. “In the country, the ratio went from being one park ranger for every 40,000 hectares [98,842 acres], when the international average is one park ranger for every 6,000 hectares [14,826 acres].”

Although the Colombian government maintains that deforestation has decreased in the country and in the Amazon, the safety situation for park rangers in the 14 protected areas in this ecosystem has yet to improve. The scenarios witnessed by our reporters, such as the Comandos de la Frontera members’ armed checkpoint in La Paya, demonstrate this. Another example is the area around Sierra de la Macarena National Park, where the road that connects the municipality of La Macarena with Vistahermosa has no members of Colombia’s Public Forces present but does have illegal groups. When a resident of La Macarena was asked who guards the road, the resident answered that “sometimes, the FARC dissidents appear. The majority are young; they are under 30 years old.”

 

This article is a journalistic collaboration between Mongabay Latam, Rutas del Conflicto and La Silla Vacía of Colombia.
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General editing: Alexa Vélez and María Isabel Torres. Editors: Michelle Carrere, Juanita León of La Silla Vacía, Óscar Parra of Rutas del Conflicto and David Tarazona. Journalism coordination: David Tarazona. Research and database analysis: Gabriela Quevedo, David Tarazona and Vanessa Romo. Geospatial analysis: Juan Julca. Journalism team: Pilar Puentes and Juan Carlos Granados of Rutas del Conflicto, and Santiago Rodríguez of La Silla Vacía. Montage and style correction: Mayra Castillo. Data visualization and graphic design: Richard Romero, Manuela Galvis of La Silla Vacía, Fernando Pano and David Tarazona. Video production: Richard Romero. Photography and videos: Ana Rodríguez Ortiz and Juan Carlos Contreras of Rutas del Conflicto, and Alejandro Melgarejo of Mongabay Latam. Programming: Alejandra Franco. Audiences and social networks: Dalia Medina Albarracin, Richard Romero and Kimberly Vega of Rutas del Conflicto.

*Editor’s note: This article is part of the project “The Rights of the Amazon in Sight: The Protection of Communities and Forests,” a series of investigative reports about the situation surrounding deforestation and environmental crimes in Colombia, funded by Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative. Editorial decisions are made on an independent basis and are not based on donor support.

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Latam team and first published here on our Latam site on Oct. 17, 2023.

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