By Juan Ramiro Artehortúa Gutiérrez, Colombia+20, EL ESPECTADOR, August 3, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Operation Artemis was the grand strategy of the Duque administration to fight deforestation, but the campesinos insist that only the small settlers are pursued, while the large landowners continue in impunity.
Statute 2111 of 2021, the Environmental Crimes Law, provides tools for punishing deforestation, but it creates five other environmental offenses and applies the already existing penalties and sanctions more rigorously. That is the legal support for “Operation Artemis”, a strategy that was ordered by President Duque as a permanent regulation. According to the Ministry of Defense, thanks to this program, 107 individuals accused of ecocide have been arrested, and 27,043 hectares of forest have been affected. Officials of the Attorney General’s Office, the Mobile Squadron of Carabineros, the Police, the Colombian Army, and the Ministries of Defense and of Environment and Sustainable Development have participated in Operation Artemis.
The operations have been concentrated in departments at the foot of the Monte Amazónico, such as Meta, Caquetá, and Guaviare, with tension and clashes with the communities and violent confrontations. Those have also happened during forced eradication of coca plantings, which have even left campesinos with serious injuries. This happened to Manuel Ayala and Pedro Mosquera, who were shot in the legs and suffered amputations in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Even though they have not been prosecuted, public complaints identify several names of those allegedly responsible for deforestation in Guaviare, including Ex-Governor Nebio Echeverry. To understand the opinion of the communities about Operation Artemis, we talked with Édgar Ariza Cubides, a leader in the Municipality of El Retorno, the former President of the Community Action Board in the town (vereda) of La Paz, and a member of the South Meta-Guaviare Campesino Strike group. Here is his testimony:
“I was born in Landazuri, Santander. We moved to Guaviare 36 years ago, searching for a future for the family. We founded a small school in the town of La Paz, and we paid the teacher with our own money. We have no place to go; that’s why we are fighting for our communities. The problem that causes us the most trouble here, not only in La Paz, but for all of the people living near the Inírida River, has to do with the Artemis plan, because every day it gets worse, and it’s a real problem for all of us. We always have the reprisals from the Colombian government. We’re campesinos here that have been in our region for 35 or 40 years, with children and grandchildren that were born here, and every day we get another abuse from the Armed Forces and from the government.”
“First, when the paramilitaries were in control, we couldn’t go to the nearby towns because they accused us of being guerrillas and they almost killed us, so that the children could not go out or else they would be killed by the Army, just boys twenty and thirty years old that were not familiar with the city. Now with Artemis, they are trying to displace us.”
“Looking at this problem, what’s left for us is to fight to have the Colombian government take its heart in its hands and think about the campesinos. Stop displacing us and bring us some productive projects. Consider that the few trails we have, we built with our own hands, without help from anyone. Meanwhile Artemis is coming and burning down our houses, dynamiting our roads and our trails, and bombing the bridges. We aren’t the ones doing the deforestation; campesinos don’t have the money to deforest huge expanses of land. It’s the big landowners that are coming here and hiring people to cut down the trees in 500, even 800 hectares.”
“The Army and the government know who it is, but in order to show “positives”, they purposely harm the poor campesinos, and that’s how they show the world that they’re doing their jobs. They don’t care that they’re killing human beings or leaving them without legs, which has happened in our towns.”
“And what happens to the big land owners and big deforesters? They are never prosecuted; it’s us, the poor campesinos. They don’t do anything to the big landowners that have been here four or five years and have already cut down the trees in as much as a thousand hectares of forest. We live in terror that at any moment they will come and we’ll be prosecuted for nothing. We aren’t criminals to be handcuffed and taken away in a helicopter to face the judges. We are workers that are trying to support our families. The Artemis plan is gruesome for the campesinos, the people that produce food, the yuca, plantain, fruit, peach-palm, and even milk. We don’t know what’s going to happen to us; we don’t have money to pay a lawyer. When the time comes for Artemis to come and take us away, to burn down our houses, we have to sign, so that the judge can displace us while taking us and our families away to suffer hunger in the city.”
*A journalist for Juventud Estero