Source: El Espectador

The Asociaciòn Ambiente y Sociedad confirms that the National Development Plan, PND in Spanish, is simultaneously promoting two incompatible development models. On the one hand, it seeks to foment sustainable growth and fight climate change, while on the other hand, it continues to prioritize mining, the extraction of hydrocarbons, and infrastructure.

The intervention lines for the Amazon, included in the National Development Plan discussed in Congress, seem contradictory, as was revealed by Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad. The reason: the PND foments and promotes two incompatible development models at the same time. On one hand, it recognizes that the region’s growth must be sustainable; on the other hand, it continues prioritizing mining, the extraction of hydrocarbons, an expansion of the agricultural frontier, and infrastructure projects.

“The PND proposes a pact for the Amazon’s sustainability, closely tied to tourism, caring for the forests, and restructuring agriculture. This is a pact that is aimed at helping the Colombian government fulfill its climate change commitments. Nevertheless, the PND also promotes an expansion of hydrocarbon extractions. This situation incarnates the deep-seated contradictions that affect the Amazon’s peasants and indigenous peoples,” affirms Karla Díaz Parra, a researcher at Ambiente y Sociedad.

According to Díaz, if the Amazon wants to be a sustainable region there is no reason for the government to allow an expansion of mineral or oil extraction projects. “One of the river basins with the most hydrocarbon projections, says Díaz, is the Caguán-Putumayo river basin. If you look at a map of the area, almost the whole Caquetá and Putumayo territory has concessions on it or is in the process of awarding concessions, and this is very serious.” (See infographic)

These contradictions become even more evident when you compare the PND with the Development Programs with a Territorial Approach (PDETs, in Spanish) for counties in the region or with the Territorial Land Use Model for the Amazon (MOTRA, in Spanish).

For example, the PDETs for Caquetá and Putumayo don’t contemplate extractive activities as alternative development. “People do not want that; they want family farming, productive chains, a transformation of their agricultural products, tertiary roads. They want what they have always wanted and what, to some extent, is included the peace agreement,” says Díaz.

Another contradiction between the PND and the territorial planning instruments has to do with who is in charge of leading the region’s development process. In the National Plan, this task corresponds to the institutions, international cooperation mechanisms, and NGOs. Meanwhile, in the amazon it is the families, the indigenous, peasant, and Afro-descendant communities who have taken historically taken the lead in these processes.

“We cannot talk about sustainable development and at the same time promote an expansion of the agricultural frontier and an expansion of the hydrocarbon model. They aren’t compatible. The land is limited, we can’t have both things on the same square kilometer,” insists Díaz.

According to, Ambiente y Sociedad, more and more, land use instruments from the central government force counties to adopt specific development models. “In particular in the Amazon, there is a process of re-centralizing power to determine land use. According to the constitution this corresponds to the counties, but more and more it is being defined centrally,” adds the researcher. The local referendums (consultas populares) over the last few years, which proliferated across the national territory, are a clear example.

For Karla Díaz, what the Development Plan proposes is even more delicate. “The prior consultation process with indigenous peoples was not included in the PND, or, well, it was included, but resources were not allocated, which is the same as not including it.” The researcher stated that even though “the government met with representatives of indigenous people for several weeks, in the end the ethnic chapter wasn’t allocated a budget.”

Ambiente y Sociedad’s analysis reveals that the PND has other grave contradictions. “While the environmental licenses for hydrocarbon extraction are granted very quickly and with very low standards, the declaration or expansion of indigenous reserves takes many years. The entire institutional structure is designed to make the process more agile, to favor and facilitate an expansion of the hydrocarbon development model.”

For quite some time, the country has been talking about expanding the extractive model, with all its modalities: mining, oil, or monocrops, and at the same time it wants to move ahead with a strategic focus to fight climate change. “That is two-faced discourse. The two models are incompatible. They will clash. And it is the people in the countryside who suffer the consequences of this contradiction.”

Vanessa Torres, Deputy Director of Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad, adds another element to the discussion. “In addition to promoting the extractive model, the PND recognizes the infrastructure sector as one of the principal growth drivers for the region and this is also incompatible with a sustainable development model.”

In particular, it refers to two megaprojects that, if reinitiated, would affect not only the amazon ecosystem, but also the quality of life for communities that live in the area. “Construction of the Marginal de la Selva (Jungle Border Highway), which seeks to integrate Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, would affect three Amazon departments: Putumayo, Caquetá, and Guaviare, in addition to the departments of Meta, Casanare, and Arauca. And the most serious element: the environmental impact assessments for the project are incomplete and there hasn’t been an adequate prior consultation process.”

Even though one of the last decisions of Juan Manuel Santos government was to stop construction on this highway, everything seems to indicate that President Iván Duque seeks to promote and execute the project. The project’s approximate cost, according to Torres, is three trillion pesos, of which over one trillion have already been spent.

“We are watching this highway closely because it directly affects different indigenous peoples, including the Inga people, in the Yurayaco reserve, in Caquetá” assures Torres. And she recognizes that for the last three years Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad has been accompanying this indigenous group and providing them with technical information on the consequences of this kind of megaproject in their territories.

“We have promoted citizen participation spaces and international spaces to raise visibility around the problems of executing this project. The highway would pass through the middle of the reserve and it would affect a very important indigenous school for the amazon peoples. It is an announced tragedy, and that is why the communities don’t want the highway,” states Torres.

The other project that Ambiente y Sociedad has been studying for a long time is the Pasto-Mocoa Highway. This 4G project is on pause and incomplete, regardless of a 52 million dollar investment from the Inter-American Development Bank. If this project isn’t carried out in compliance with the required environmental protection standards it could affect several indigenous reserves and protected areas.

“Our concerns arise around the project’s utility. Everyone is focusing on economic development. It isn’t new that the majority of 4G highways are close to a large mine or oil wells and that they don’t take into account the well-being and needs of the indigenous peoples and peasant communities that have lived in these territories for centuries.”

Additionally, these projects don’t take into account their environmental impacts. Infrastructure projects, in one way or another, increase deforestation and expand the agricultural frontier. And these are very serious problems in the Amazon.

According to Torres, the infrastructure directives from the new National Development Plan show that there isn’t in-depth territorial planning that includes the collective action of communities in relation to project execution. “They continue promoting public-private projects where the risk is assumed, by and large, by the public sector and the profit by the private sector. This model affects communities.”

Nevertheless, for Torres, the most serious element of the PND is that its infrastructure portfolio doesn’t even include a sustainability approach. “Even though the Plan cites the IDEAM and MinAmbiente, and recognizes that the infrastructure sector is partially responsible for deforestation on a national level, it doesn’t propose a sustainable approach.”

*This article was written with support from the Coalición para la promoción de los derechos territoriales de pueblos indígenas amazónicas (The Coalition to Promote the Territorial Rights of Amazonian Indigenous Peoples), conformed by OPIAC, Ambiente y Sociedad, and Tierra Digna, and with support from the Rainforest Foundation Norway.