Sat. May 25th, 2024

Colombian guerrilla fighters, known for their past use of kidnapping to gain leverage in negotiations, have taken the Amazon rainforest hostage in their ongoing peace talks with the Colombian government. The fighters, remnants of the now-defunct FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), are leveraging control over deforestation in regions under their influence to pressure the government.

By allowing or preventing logging activities in the Amazon, the dissident group known as the Central General Staff (EMC) is exerting control over the pace of deforestation. This strategy is a shift from traditional methods used by the FARC, as the rebels seek to influence the direction of peace talks that began in late 2023. The EMC’s control over deforestation is a critical point of contention, as forest loss has surged by approximately 40% year-on-year, according to Colombian Environment Minister Susana Muhamad.

During a recent press briefing, Minister Muhamad emphasized that the acceleration in deforestation coincided with a significant stalemate in peace talks. She attributed the increase to both the EMC’s activities and the effects of the El Niño weather phenomenon. The deforestation surge, occurring in the last quarter of 2023 and first quarter of 2024, has prompted international concern, with Minister Muhamad warning that “Nature is being put in the middle of the conflict,” a clear violation of international humanitarian law.

Compounding the complexity of the situation, the Colombian government recently announced that the EMC had split into two factions, which has further complicated peace negotiations. Only one faction remains at the negotiation table, raising uncertainty about the future of both the peace process and environmental conservation efforts in the Amazon. The split within the EMC may have implications for forest loss trends, particularly if one faction decides to pursue a more aggressive stance on logging and other exploitative activities.

President Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s first leftist president, who took office in August 2022, campaigned on a platform emphasizing environmental conservation and climate change action. This setback in the Amazon represents a significant blow to his administration’s efforts to promote “total peace” and environmental stewardship in one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. Petro’s challenge now lies in balancing the peace process with the need to protect the Amazon from further exploitation.

Analysts, including Bram Ebus from the Crisis Group think tank, suggest that the EMC’s actions are driven by economic motives. Ebus noted that the guerrillas make significant profits from taxing loggers and farmers, as well as from illegal mining activities. Additionally, the EMC imposes a percentage on the production of coca, the raw material for cocaine, which contributes to the group’s revenue streams. As the peace talks continue, the fate of the Amazon rainforest hangs in the balance, with the possibility that this critical ecosystem could fall further under guerrilla control.

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