The Engines of Deforestation and Investments in the Colombian Amazon

Source : DEDISE (Colectivo Derechos, Diversidad y Selvas)

(Translated by Noel Gonzalez, a CSN Volunteer Translator and Edited by John I. Laun)

The economic interests underlying the Colombian Amazon have grown more acute in recent years. Each day spaces of great cultural and biological importance are cleared or resized. The projects in each of these regions acquire characteristics and special developments generated by international powers to advance ambitious economic interests while the emerging South American countries face the commercial growth of Asian countries. As a result, a great attraction is created between biological and cultural diversity, catalogued as a global strategic resource for the development of great technologies (biotechnology, nanotechnology, and electroinformation).
The proper order of the Amazonian territories, built from the traditional and ancestral practices of its villages, are now being substituted with new forms of investments. Notions like subsoil, soil, and topsoil are the center of discussion of legal framework at a national level. Meanwhile the governance of the towns and communities that live in those regions of the Amazon are reconfigured to preserve identity, autonomy, and human rights that are collectively fundamental and territorial.

Some information about the Colombian Amazon
The Colombian Amazon region is an area of extreme environmental, biological, and cultural importance. It represents 40% of Colombia’s territory and 6% of the overall Amazon region. In administrative terms, the region is formed by the areas of the Amazon. Caqueta, Putumayo, Guainia, Guaviare, and Vaupes Departments contain the majority of the natural forests within Colombia. The natural forests of Colombia cover 35,184,675 hectares, which represents approximately 50% of the total national amount.
The Colombian Amazon houses a considerable number of indigenous towns that the United States has legally recognized as indigenous reservations. In the Amazon, the reservations possess an extension of approximately 24.6 million hectares. But in reality seven parks are found overlapping with 25 indigenous reservations in 3.15 million hectares in the Departments of Putumayo, Amazon, Guainia, and Guaviare.
According to official records, in the period from 1990-2000 the country lost 3,227,570 hectares of woods, especially in the Amazon region. According to this information, the annual average amount of deforestation is 322,705 hectares. The area with the most evidence of deforestation is the Amazonian foothills in which the sectors are: Lozada-Guayabero, Guejar-Ariari; and San Jose del Guaviare (IDEAM 2011).

Aspects on the exploitation of hydrocarbons
The global demand for petroleum has accelerated considerably in the last decades. This has obligated countries that use hydrocarbons as their main source of income as well as those that do not possess the cherished resource to find new forms of production to supply internal and external demands regardless of the economical state of each country. For example: in the last few decades the United States has not been able to supply its domestic consumption due to low production, so it has obtained the petroleum from foreign hands. The U.S. currently consumes 25% of the global petroleum. In the case of China and other Asian countries, they are projected to be the top consumers on the planet in 10 years with a third of global consumption. At this moment these countries are some of the main consumers of crude oil and their work has led them to exploit the reserves of other countries.
Framing this dynamic, Colombia has adjusted its strategies in the politics of petroleum since its hydrocarbons fuel more than 25% in royalties collected by national governments in three stages: 1) Changing their legal frameworks in hiring, environmental licenses, and rules. 2) Allowing controversial forms of extraction of crude oil due to its negative impact on the environment (non-conventional petroleum). 3) The amplification of the oil frontier reaching badlands, forests, high plains, and sea beds; places that for the most part are strategic for their formation of healthy environment.
The Colombian Amazon is within sight of this expansion of the petroleum frontier as companies are ready for the race to occupy these jungles. Companies wait as governments place in practice the strategies that grant security and permission for companies to exploit at maximum capacity. Just recently, the impenetrable Amazonian jungle of Colombia has given way to two petroleum basins (of the 23 discovered sedimentary basins in the country) of great importance for the government.
The CUENCA VAUPES – AMAZONAS: According to studies from the national university, the region would have prospective resources of 2.34 billion barrels; a number that is in no way negated by the ANH, since the prospective studies are mainly calculated by the conventional deposits. If early suspicions are confirmed then these basins are regarded with great importance for the government since they can duplicate the national reserve.
The CUENCA CAGUAN – PUTUMAYO: This is a veteran in terms of exploitation and is one of the most active in the country with approximately 200 million hectares, eight areas of production and 11 currently under exploration (approximately 250 million hectares. ANH 2014) where local indigenous and black communities can be found.
This region has been positioned as one of the main basins of petroleum-based exploitation as it has generated for the country a considerable sum of 56,600 barrels of petroleum daily (BPD), which places it in third place in production; it is superseded by the exploitations of crude oil from the eastern plains and the region of the Magdalena Medio. This basin also registers a good amount of exploration blocks, mainly in the lower Putumayo on the border with Ecuador and the Amazonian jungle.
According to reports from the ANH, by the middle of the year, the region developed 46 contracts of exploration and two in technical evaluation (TEA) of more than one dozen companies. The results of the 2014 round closed with three consolidated deposits discovered: YD PUT 1, of which the Mompos Oil Company is in charge; and the exploratory blocks PUT-30 and PUT 31. These areas were awarded to Talisman and the partnership of Petroamerica and Gran Tierra, respectively. (Other companies that exploit crude oil in the Putumayo are: Tayectoria Oil and Gas S.A. of Panama,; Talisman Colombia Oil and Gas LTD; Consorcio Grantierra – petroamerica of the USA – CANADA,; Emerald Energy, bought by Sinoshem for China from England; Gran tierra Energy S.A. de Canada; RAM Petroleum Limited; Union Temporal II and B of Barbados and Canada; Operaciones Andinas S.A.; Vetra Venezolana y Española; Amerisur Exploracion Colombia; Petrominerales Colombia y Canada,; INGENIERIA Y SERVICIOS PETROLETOS (ISP) LTDA; and Canacol Energy refinanced by Sinoshem.)
This oil breakthrough over the Amazon is leaving footprints of territorial marks, spills, exacerbation of conflict, militarization, deforestation, and displacement in these jungle areas.

Aspects of mining
In the region of the Colombian Amazon the statistics are alarming. Such is the case of the Department of Guainia that possesses the highest number of projects. In 2013 nearly 3 million hectares were registered as titles of concession. The same year the Department of Vaupes registered applications for close to 4.4 million hectares.
The national government’s Resolution 0045 in 2012 declared Strategic Mining Areas (AEM) of more than 22 million hectares throughout the country, basically comprising the Departments of Amazonas and Choco. According to studies, 70 indigenous reservations are within an Amazon region layered with minerals like gold, coltan, iron, and uranium, among others. The government has authorized mining for businesses that comply with the technical conditions set by the government to demonstrate that these businesses can supply the multinational corporations.
The AEM is a form of evidence of how the politics of mining in Colombia has been modified to comply with the necessities of companies. The changes are substantial; as a consequence it can be established that this extractive activity has been beating the “obstacles.” One of the fundamentals was the reduction of paperwork in the State that received exclusive directions for the regulation of the private activity.
The changes are manifested not only in the concession contracts and a tax regime established for foreign investors, but also in a profound institutional and legal reform that requires the extractive industry to be in correspondence with the global demand of energy resources. The recommendations are generated by international financial institutions, such as the World Bank.

Aspects of the projects of mitigation for climate change: “the promotion of Pay for Environmental Services – PSA”
At present the Colombian Amazon has been assigned the development of 10 projects, REDD+, called “notes of idea of the project” that covers approximately 11 million hectares. The mega-project called, “Heart of the Amazon,” covers an area of nearly 9 million hectares in the following Departments: Vichada, Guainia, Caqueta, Amazonas, Guaviare, and mainly Putumayo. A large part of these projects are being undertaken in forests that are part of collective ancestral territories of indigenous communities; regions that have been protected and used throughout their history thanks to proper practices of respect for nature. Nevertheless, the arrival of projects for pay by environmental services brings new economic interests and pressures over the possession and permanence of the communities in these lands.
This mode of intervention for conservation projects in these regions forms part of a modern dynamic to obtain earnings through the amplification of figures of conservation like the “Heart of the Amazon” project, and projects of reduction of emissions generated by deforestation and degradation of the forests (REDD+). These types of projects are focused on the means that can be generated for the financial market of carbon.
These initiatives of business are promoted and financed by the World Bank; aside from other bilateral donors that intervene in national politics like the Estrategia Nacional REDD+ (ENREDD+, financed by the Funds for Carbon, (also known as FCPF) by the World Bank. The effects over the territories and the collective rights of the towns are not yet clear, which indicates that it is a fundamental theme for the territorial order of the indigenous villages. The regulations and case law of the collective rights, among them the previously mentioned, are free and informed to the indigenous towns that are affected by the forests in these types of projects.

Aspects of the road projects for regional integration
In the Colombian Amazon there are two major road infrastructure projects of record. Both of these projects seek to generate viable conditions appropriate for the access of free trade; for which they need colossal financial intervention over territories of great cultural and natural diversity that would imply multiple negative social and environmental effects.

The Marginal Jungle Highway was born through an agreement of international integration between Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. It involves the Departments of Putumayo, Caqueta, Meta, Casanare, and Arauca. Its development is north-south; it has a longitudinal coverage of approximately 1,650 kilometers. The estimated cost of its construction is 2.5 billion pesos.

The multimodal Corridor (Co) of Tumaco-Pasto-Mocoa-Belem do Para (Br), developed as east-west, is catalogued as an “anchor” project. It forms part of the Amazon Axis of Integration and Development of the IIRSA and is now placed under the agenda of UNASUR. The objective is to resolve the bottleneck for the transport of heavy cargo between the coasts of the Pacific through the port of Tumaco and the Atlantic. This includes the waterways of the rivers Putumayo and Amazon. The Intermodal Corridor in the Colombian section has a total longitude of 2.804 kilometers, of which 2.292 correspond to the rivers Putumayo and Amazon. Of the remaining kilometers, 512 are the section for the road. This impacts three regions in the south of the country: Andean, Pacific, and Amazon. Its approximate cost is estimated at 800 billion pesos, by the Colombian government’s road-building authority “Invias.”

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