(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN volunteer translator)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Last July 5, 2013, the Superior Court for the Mocoa Judicial District issued a decision in favor of the survival and permanence of the Camentsá indigenous people, located for millennia in the Ancestral Tamabioy Territory in upper Putumayo Province.

The decision required the managers of the Paul VI – Yellow Bridge sewerage project to initiate a free and informed prior consultation process with the community.  It ordered Construction Consortium 2011 to suspend work immediately and notified the other agencies taking part in the project, such as the Interior Ministry, the Office of the Mayor of Sibundoy, and Corpoamazonía (Corporation for the Sustainable Development of Southern Amazonia).

The civil rights action was filed in order to avoid irreparable harm and to seek protection of the fundamental rights of the Camentsá indigenous people to participate in the decisions that affect them, to ethnic, social, cultural and religious diversity, to autonomy and to due process.

The Project’s Violations

Work on the sewerage project began in November 2011.  The construction is intended to gather and discharge wastewater in the ancestral – millennial territory of the Camentsá indigenous people and the Camentsá colonial indigenous reservation at Sibundoy, recognized by the Colombian government in Resolution 173   (November 1979) and Decree 1414 of 1956.

The sewerage project required the government to make an environmental impact study (EIA is the Spanish acronym.)  in order to comply with the Plan for Environmental Management and the Plan for Environmental Compensation Measures.  The project planners never presented these studies to the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of Southern Amazonia (Corpoamazonía).  In spite of that, this regional agency, by Resolution No. 0280 in September 2012, granted the Sibundoy municipal administration permission to discharge wastewater into the Sinsayaco Creek for five (5) years.

Taita Alfonso Jamioy, the current governor of the Camentsá and Inga Council of the San Francisco municipality, has concluded that this project, as well as others that are being carried out in the ancestral territory are all very worrisome for the indigenous people, since they exacerbate the contamination of Mother Earth or “Batsana Mama” for the Camentsá and  because the majority of the community is located in rural areas, which were seriously affected by the initiation of this project.

Taita Julio Martínez, vice president of the community action committee of the town of Las Cochas, has stated that “the project damaged areas sacred to the Camentsá people such as rivers and creeks that are a fundamental part of the culture of the indigenous peoples for carrying out the ceremonies of payment and cure.  Besides that, these waters are a necessity for the food supply of the indigenous communities to sustain their people.”

In spite of the community’s formal protests against the planning and construction of the project, the activities of the Construction Consortium 2011 continued, as can be verified by Resolution 001 issued in 2012 by the Camentsá Biyá Peoples Council.  There the community demanded “the prohibition of all execution of broad impact projects when the Camentsá People in a full assembly and through the Traditional Authorities have not been informed.”  It informed governmental agencies that the project would cause “environmental, social, and cultural injury and damage, and damage to farmers, ranchers and the members of the Camentsá people who live in the rural sector and to the other campesinos who share the territory.”

All of these instances of serious violations of human and collective rights brought the indigenous people significant dissatisfaction with the planners and the managers of the project.  This led to abuse of the indigenous people, as was described by Papa Salvador Juagibioy, president of the community action committee in the town of Las Cochas.  “In March 2013 the Camentsá indigenous people demanded our rights and, in actions of peaceful protest, we stood next to the machines, in order not to let them come and destroy our roads, roads that allow us access to indigenous territory.  Those actions generated fierce attacks and threats against the indigenous people by the Armed Forces.”

The community, through the community action committees in Las Cochas, has concluded that the advancing construction in 2012 has affected the town roads.  They have deteriorated and that has created damage to the sewer system that belongs to the indigenous community. The construction has made it difficult to get access to places that are part of their culture, such as the Tamabioy Cultural Center, the health center in Las Planadas, and the Baseteming Beyebna Children’s Home.

The institutional disregard for the indigenous people

In the case of the sewerage construction, the Office of Prior Consultation in the Interior Ministry issued two certifications declaring “None Found” for indigenous communities in the project’s area of direct influence, as shown in Publication No. 11-31611-GSP-0201 and Official Letter No. 11-0404-DCP-0201.  Later that was contradicted in Certification No. 1065, where it was determined that the Camentsá colonial indigenous reservation at Sibundoy did exist and that it included people of Camentsá ethnicity.  But it determined that for the case related to the sewerage construction project connecting the Paul VI area of the town of  Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (Sacred Heart of Jesus) and the town of Las Cochas (Puente Amarillo)(Yellow Bridge), “The exhaustion of prior consultation is not necessary.”

As Tez, a Carmentsá indigenous leader, has determined, “This is not the first time that the Interior Ministry has issued contradictory certifications in order to say that we do not exist as indigenous people in the territory, or that we have no right to free and informed prior consultation.  This has been happening ever since they started the project of the alternate route connecting San Francisco and Mocoa. That project was financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (BID), and is part of the South American regional integration strategy of IIRSA (Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure), now known as UNASUR (Union of South American Nations).”

For Carlina Tez and Wilson Chicunque, indigenous lawyers for the Camentsá people, “these contradictions in the certifications, coming from the Office of Prior Consultation of the Interior Ministry with respect to the existence of the Camentsá indigenous people, violated the rights of the indigenous people to autonomy, to participation, to due process and to social, cultural and economic integrity.”

As Taita Florentino Agreda, president of the town of Cabuyayaco and Juan Carlos Muchavisoy, a member of the Camentsá community stated, “It is not possible that in the 21st century the institutions of the Colombian government continue to ignore our fundamental rights and that the indigenous people have to endure such violations of our fundamental and collective rights.” “We won’t endure it”.

The results of the decision

For the indigenous people of Putumayo the verdict of the Superior Court of the Mocoa Judicial District is an important step to give continuity to the process of defending their territory and their physical and cultural existence, faced with other projects that put at risk their physical and cultural existence as indigenous people.

Among the principal points in the decision are the following:  i) It upholds the civil rights action by the Camentsá indigenous people, ii) It provides that the free and informed prior consultation must be initiated by the Ministry of the Interior, the municipality of Sibundoy and by Construction Consortium 2011, and iii) It orders the suspension of the project.

According to the communities, the civil rights decision in favor of the indigenous people avoids irreparable harm beyond that already caused to the fundamental rights of the Camentsá indigenous people in the Sibundoy Valley by the project known as “Sewerage construction Paul VI to Puente Amarillo (Yellow Bridge).”  But they also say that achieving their fundamental and collective right to free and informed prior consultation represents a major challenge for all of the indigenous people in Putumayo Province because this project does not just affect the Camentsá people but all of the indigenous people who live downstream from the streams that flow into the great Putumayo River.  For them, the integral consultation in a territory is part of the effective protection of the fundamental rights of the indigenous people.

The indigenous citizens in the community action committees in the towns of Las Cochas and Leandro Agreda believe that for a project so far advanced in construction, there is a lack of action by government agencies to do justice to the indigenous people, since the construction already done has had a negative effect on a large part of the community.  That is why they are requesting the following of the disciplinary and the justice systems:

1)  Initiate disciplinary investigations of the public officials in the Interior Ministry, the Sibundoy municipal administration, the Sibundoy municipal council and the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of Southern Amazonia – Corpoamazonía –whose administrative and regulatory actions on the “Sewerage construction Paul VI – Puente Amarillo (Yellow Bridge)” project violated the fundamental rights of the Camentsá indigenous people.

2)  Initiate civil and criminal investigations of Construction Consortium 2011 for the violation of fundamental rights and for excesses committed against the Camentsá indigenous people  of the Sibundoy Valley.

3) Initiate actions for complete reparation for the effects on the Camentsá indigenous people.

NOTE ; Taita is an honorary title to an elder or a community leader

(This translation may be reprinted as long as its content remains unaltered and the source, author and translator are cited.)

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