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The Forest Law of Colombia, an idea in reverse

The Forest Law of Colombia, an idea in reverse

By Omar Zapata A.

The human, physical and political geography of the country's forested regions seems to indicate that it would not withstand modern conventional development. The new development proposals for such regions must open the space to the self-determination of the peoples.

The Forest Law of Colombia, an idea in reverse

According to Bonfil Batalla (1982), ethnodevelopment is the social capacity of a people to build its future, taking advantage of the teachings of its historical experience and the real and potential resources of its culture, in accordance with a project that is defined according to its own values ​​and aspirations. According to this definition, there are legal, political and social organization requirements for ethnodevelopment to take place.


But first, it is necessary to clarify the concept of own culture because from two extreme positions it is affirmed, on the one hand –ethnographic position- that all the cultural features present in the life of a human community are part of its culture, and on the other –historical criterion. - that only its original features belong to it. The common element to both is that culture appears as a descriptive category.

Bonfil, proposes a different dimension through the notion of cultural control, which consists of the social decision-making capacity over cultural resources, that is, over all those components of a culture that must be brought into play to identify the needs, problems and needs. aspirations of society itself, and try to satisfy, solve and fulfill them. There are two extreme situations: absolute control in which society decides autonomously on all areas of its culture, and zero control. In reality, cultural control is a dynamic process but for descriptive purposes it can be seen as a moment in history. Four situations can be distinguished:

own resources, own decisions: autonomous culture
Own resources, other people's decisions: alienated culture
external resources, own decisions: appropriate culture
external resources, external decisions: imposed culture

With these clarifications, any ethnodevelopment project will consist of an expansion and consolidation of the spheres of own culture, that is, in increasing the decision-making capacity of the social group itself, both on its own resources and on the resources of others. that you can appropriate. Ethnodevelopment will then consist in the reduction of the alienated and imposed components. The problem is therefore planned on a political level: promoting or creating the conditions for ethnodevelopment implies strengthening and expanding the autonomous decision-making capacity. For this, there are two possible lines of action: increasing decision-making capacity by recovering resources that are now alienated and strengthening cultural control; and increase the availability of external resources that may be under the social control of the group (new technologies, skills and knowledge). In this last process, a real adaptation between the contents of the autonomous culture and the new resources that are incorporated is essential (Bonfil Batalla, 1982).

In accordance with the foregoing, if a thorough review of other strategies of the past leading to the plundering of the natural heritage of Colombians in general and indigenous, Afro-American and peasant peoples in particular is made, it is necessary to remember that these strategies have obeyed to a logic based on economic criteria of particular benefit, above social, cultural and ecological criteria.

This has had consequences that are obvious: the empowerment of large logging companies, many of them with transnational capital that have no positive internal impact, on the one hand; the impoverishment of the offer of the natural environment that is reverted to the communities, especially black and indigenous, who ostensibly depend on the resource base of their traditional territories and the transformations of the base of criteria of relationship with the territories by the different ethnic groups towards a gradual loss in terms of the historically constructed ethical assumption, on the other hand.

In this regard, it is necessary to mention processes such as land legislation, which, like that of the early 1960s, pushed large conglomerates of peasant families disinherited from the best lands in the national territory, to occupy and drastically transform an important a set of fragile and strategic ecosystems in the regions, such as high Andean forests and tropical forests, among others, fundamental suppliers of water and biodiversity. All this, to reduce and as far as possible silence the agrarian struggles for equitable access of the population to the best lands of our geography, always in the hands of those who have held economic and political power and that even, as is repeated in In recent decades, they have resorted to weapons backed by the government's military apparatus to continue the plunder.

It is necessary to mention again the so-called Forest Action Plan for Colombia, from the beginning of the 90s, in which the multilateral organizations of world planning (UNDP, UNEP, among others), together with the turnaround governments of poor countries and With the incessant stalking of the multilateral timber trade organizations (ITTO) and their industrial counterparts in each country, appropriate to the conservationist discourse, which they take and distort, they tried to make of vast regions of Colombia, such as the region of the Pacífico or Chocó Biogeoráfico, another bastion for plunder and private usufruct.

All the previous attempts were imposed from false context precepts, since the population living in the forests was put as the main culprits of the destruction processes, from the erroneous idea of ​​poverty as a fundamental cause of the grave and exploitation, leaving aside any indication to large companies, such as Cartón Colombia (Smurfith), Pizano and its subsidiary Maderas del Darién, among many others, passed with impunity over the territories collectively owned by peasant, black and indigenous peoples. Under the assumption that such programs and such companies constituted the front for the redemption of the forests of the Neotropics, a new neocolonial phase is brewing where the business community assumes the executive role of exploitation policies, while the communities return to their historical role as modern slaves , from the idea that the timber industrial development was in turn social community development, by way of job creation. Nothing is more alien to the precepts of sovereignty, respect and community appropriation of the resource base of their territories, of sustainable development and conservation of biodiversity approved in the political constitution of 91.

The results are evident, a contrast between the looted territories, today showing symptoms of extreme degradation and the prey of oil palm monocultures, while the black, indigenous and peasant communities that still hold sovereignty over their collective territories, can show us with worthy evidence As such territories continue to be fundamental bastions of national biodiversity, even with their situations of absolute marginalization and violent parastatal onslaught.

Projects such as the forestry law, the water law, along with other norms to strengthen the privatization of the life of the Colombian people, as well as the laws to consolidate the impunity of paramilitary actions and those that seek to repeal the rights historically won with the agrarian and ethnic struggles, constitute a profound denial of ancestral, customary rights, of socio-cultural identity, finally propose the ignorance of equality and cultural diversity enshrined in the Constitution. This is where the discourse of power masks itself as extreme nobility, with conservationist hair, with assumptions of sustainable social development, with washers for deception, that is, with the falsification of both traditional conservation instruments and those developed by ecology and conservation biology.

It is evident that in the process of processing the law, the right to consultation contemplated in the international treaties ratified by Colombia has been denied, and private rights and interests are prioritized over collective ones. International standards such as ILO Convention 169, which establishes the rights of peoples, ratified by the Colombian rulers, goes to the background and a new legislation is chosen, which, like the Forestry Law, seeks to definitively accommodate the great Capital in its desire to accumulate, since the establishment of logging complexes in the natural forests that still remain in our geography and which must be repeated over and over again, belong to the peoples who have ancestrally inhabited and conserved them. The agreements that emerged and signed in world events on development and the environment are also being put aside, which, like the one in Rio de Janeiro, intended to lay the foundations to advance in a more ethical position in the relationship between society and nature at a global level. , with great responsibilities in terms of conservation resting in poor countries, many of them having the most important areas of forests and therefore of global biodiversity. It is a responsibility from which the vast majority of indigenous and black communities should be exempted, who, on the contrary, with the new law, run severe risks of impairment of their territories, their resources for use and management, until a situation of accentuation in the cultural degradation that today is already significant in some regions. A law of forest exploitation will also be a law of cultural destruction.

Embera indigenous, Chocó

Then the historical questions arise again that until now have not been answered:
Are there real possibilities of selective extraction with renewable resources and lower environmental impacts, if we take into account that the profitability of timber extraction processes is very low in tropical forests, where the diversity of species predominates and therefore the proliferation of species that are they not commercially important? An initial response is that even in homogeneous forests, such as the catival forests of the Bajo Atrato region of Chocó, exploitation processes have never been evident that have not generated transformation and extreme degradation of the territories, until the definitive phases of potrerization. In this regard, companies that always have to wash their hands, argue that renewability had not been possible because colonization breaks the possibilities of recovery, forgetting that regeneration is not possible because the exploitation of the forest alters the living populations and therefore it alters the relationships between them, making the processes of genetic exchange, dispersion and succession more complicated. Little attention is paid to the approved law, of the studies of the Universidad Nacional Seccional Medellín and other academic centers in Colombia, which categorically conclude that the only viable possibility of sustainable use of the forests is the one historically carried out by peasant communities and indigenous to this, as in other regions of the country.

With the approval of the law, precisely an imposition practice, if we take into account the absence of consultation and therefore, the absence of decision-making possibilities of the directly affected community, the legalization of existing business practices is sought, as well as fostering under the figure of concessions, supposed conditions of equality with indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants, until they become a new tool of impunity for the continuous violations of the norms on the environment and national and international development, which have been committed so much in our national geography , under centralized ideals of development, alien to the current thought and reflection efforts of ethnic groups on their Ethnodevelopment, efforts for which government institutions have not made significant contributions and, on the contrary, the idea persists in imposing planners, of the millenary cultures of our country as expressions of archaicism, which do not provide capital for the accumulative efforts, that is, the "modern" version of development.

It is a law that has a background of terror, if we take into account that the main local usufructuaries have already made progress in the task of promoting fear and social demobilization of blacks and indigenous people, so that territorial militarization advances with a new ingredient , such as the conversion of large parastatal groups turned into civilians with a great desire to become the new entrepreneurs of natural resources, a task in which they are already showing their first results, such as oil palm monocultures, deforestation, dispossession of properties and territorial privatization, legitimized with speeches of "reconciliation", "peace", "sustainable development", "job creation", that is, a new farce that will be covered up with the legislative act called the Forestry Law.

It is not a secret that, in order to understand the dynamics of famine and displacement, it is necessary to understand that these are not exclusive consequences of the crisis, but rather a deliberate objective, provoked by some social forces, with particular interests, starting from a pre-existing situation of vulnerability, a process of pauperization of some sectors and the enrichment of others is generated. The forced depopulation of certain areas to access the resources of the displaced, be these natural resources (land, minerals or oil, forests), the purchase of their properties at bargain prices, their exploitation as cheap labor, constitute the practices more effective for the achievement of such nefarious purposes.


For this reason, in current armed conflicts, civilians are the first and main victim, not only due to the effects of weapons, but also to the economic and social disruption caused by the genocide, in the midst of which communities lose the ability to ensure their basic needs, including food. If hunger (as we have been able to observe in our country through economic blockades and forced displacements), continues to be a widespread phenomenon, it is because it has become a weapon to conquer lands and resources and eliminate populations. opponents, who in a process of flight towards local urban centers and cities, have to leave their lands at the expense of the counter-reforms programmed by the different power groups, tending to the territorial appropriation for the assembly or development of economic megaprojects, or simply to continue generating concentration processes.

That has been the history of Colombian fields for a long time, as can be seen in the analysis of the implementation cycles of the different economic projects, either through legislation in the hands of the holders of political and economic power, or through the generation of conflict situations through which the peasants have to place themselves between the risk of death and the abandonment of their lands, to finally leave them in the hands of the established power, the sole beneficiary of the spoils of the battles. It has been a history also marked by the claims of the great world capital, which through a process of imposition especially throughout the last century, which is accentuated during the beginning of this new century, continue to take steps towards the formation of the great global village , where there will be no room but only for the absolute loss of self-determination, so that the distribution of wealth, that is, of all resources, will be dictated outside the interests and rights of the marginalized population, for the sole benefit of world capital and, of course, of the national capital, in its double condition of bridge and receiver of said benefits.

With an effectively reduced and decimated territory, a process of five centuries of continuous extraction of natural resources, with cultures highly vulnerable to changes and the impositions of other world views, it is currently intended to definitively create the conditions for the Capital and science operate harmoniously in order to redefine landscapes, money, land and work in the forested regions of Colombia. The scale and shape of the new forces of capital will make the long-term adaptive strategies traditionally implemented by the natives unsustainable. The new enclave strategies will be developed on the lands of the indigenous and black settlers, now proletarianized by meager sums and in deplorable conditions.

The crisis cycle is intended to close from the new paradigm of sustainable development and biodiversity conservation, so that the forested territories of Colombia are repositioned in terms of their importance in the new world economic order, in the sense that forests They become genetic and timber reserves, the people who inhabit them, guardians of nature and cheap labor. From a dialectical position, it is the apparent visibility of the forested territories and their people, to make room for new and tougher phases of invisibility.

Returning to quote Bonfil Batalla (1982), now it is a question of seeing what are the political, legal and social organization premises to achieve ethnodevelopment.

The first is the recognition of the various ethnic groups as political units within the national states of which today they are undifferentiated parts. An old liberal tradition denied the political personality of the Indian peoples because it was believed that the assignment of citizen status to each individual guaranteed the realization of a democratic project. Cultural plurality was considered contrary to justice, freedom and democracy. The results of this conception were catastrophic for the Indian and Afro-American population, by legitimizing the privatization of their lands and the destructuring of their forms of organization and their social identities, since the territory, more than an economic resource, is a linked dimension to each town for history and culture.

By political recognition is understood self-management. The capacity for self-management is related to the existence of proper forms of social organization, that is, of forms of social organization that are under the cultural control of the group in question. It is from these instances that ethnodevelopment must be promoted, legitimizing, consolidating and progressively expanding its fields of cultural control, favoring the creation of more complex levels of organization.

Here it should be noted that innovation and tradition are not opposite trends. The tradition has consisted of an incessant process of adjustments, adaptations and innovations that have made the survival of a people possible. This culture is the result of the ancestral struggle of the Indian and black peoples to resist domination. Supporting ethnodevelopment does not mean rejecting innovation or privileging “tradition”. On the contrary, every culture is dynamic and in the process of ethnodevelopment it is sought to generate the conditions that allow creativity and innovation. The convenience of starting the process by supporting the legitimation of existing forms of organization is a way of providing an element of confidence in endogenous capacities (Bonfil Batalla, 1982).

All the above premises are based on a wide set of documents worked by both the indigenous, black and peasant peoples of the country, many of them in the form of life plans, which should be consulted, reflected on and considered as foundations at the time of define the laws and the plans associated with them. It is no secret that in order to deal with environmental problems related to management systems in the forested regions of Colombia, we must have the closest references in the millennial history of the peoples of these regions. The proto-agrarian is not simply a set of practices arising from the whim of some peoples to take advantage of the natural environment, but on the contrary, a proposal built from a criterion of relationship and respect for it, framed in a deep knowledge of its constitutive elements and functional, which has implied a systemic approach, which western science has come to call cosmovision. These worldviews are precisely the starting points for new deconstructions and constructions of other strategies for territorial management, with social, cultural and ecological criteria.

The human, physical and political geography of the country's forested regions seems to indicate that it would not withstand modern conventional development. The new development proposals for such regions must open the space to the self-determination of the peoples. The multiethnic and multicultural character that we now recognize in the nation, demands a new conception of development as an impulse from the cultures, interests and ways of doing of the communities; a redefinition of the roles of the different actors in local, national and international settings, as well as conditions of security over resources, democracy in decisions and justice in distribution, that is, what ethnic-territorial organizations have been proposing since their own concept of autonomy.

This self-determination should lead the peoples themselves to analyze, re-evaluate and propose alternatives within the framework of their territorial management systems, so that, after 500 years, these systems are allowed to continue their process of evolution and overcome the long era of the resistance. What should be sought is to decide on projects of personal life and social construction, on economic projects for cultural and territorial conservation, since as proposed by René Passet, at a time of triumph of neoliberalism, at a time when thinking is reduced to single thinking, we have to return to the value system and political options. In fact, what has to be felt is that people are the purpose of the economy and not the other way around. The Forestry Law is an idea in reverse.

* Omar Zapata A.

Cited bibliography.
BONFIL BATALLA, G. (1982) "Ethnodevelopment: its legal, political and organizational premises", in F. ROJAS ARAVENA (Ed.): Latin America: ethnodevelopment and ethnocide. San José de Costa Rica, FLACSO, pp. 131-145.


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