Colombia: Court suspends eco-tourism project in Tayrona National Park

Colombia: Court suspends eco-tourism project in Tayrona National Park

Photo: el espectador
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February 18, 2013

A controversial eco-tourism project was halted last week in Colombia’s Tayrona National Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona) for threatening sites that are sacred to the Kankuamo, one of four Indigenous Peoples who live the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, where the national park is situated.

In its Tuesday ruling, the administrative court in the Department of Magdalena suspended the “Los Ciruelos” eco-tourism project until such time that the opinions of the indigenous peoples have been considered and the project itself is seen to meet the “social, cultural and economic integrity of the communities.”

The court stated that the Indigenous Peoples should have been consulted before Colombia’s environmental licensing authority granted a license to the Thailand-based eco-tourism company, Six Senses.

This is the second time in less than three years that the “Los Ciruelos” project has been formally suspended. In November 2011, construction was brought to a halt after a group of wells were drilled in violation of the project’s environmental license. The company was only permitted to resume construction on January 8, 2013.

In addition to the need for consultation, the court stated unequivocally that development projects should not encroach on sacred sites or inhabited areas of indigenous peoples within the National Park, without their prior informed consent.

According to the Kankuamo, the resort project is being built on top of sacred grounds. A spokesperson from the Kankuamo stated last October that their position is “untouchable and nonnegotiable of the sacred sites, they are our true Mamos [sacred law] and therefore support everything that exists in mother nature,” as reported in Semana Newspaper.

The Kankuamo also stood strong against another development project by Six Senses: the “Dávila tourism complex”.

Before the Los Ciruelos project came into focus in November 2011, the Dávila complex was being promoted as an environmentally-friendly project that would promote eco-tourism. It was a mega hotel that threatened sacred land.

The Dávila project took the Kogi, Wiwa, Arhuaco and Kankuamo by complete surprise. In fact, they only learned about it after an attorney uncovered a letter from the Ministry of the Interior which described the project area as being empty of any permanent human settlements, which was not the case. Ultimately, the Dávila project was cancelled, thanks in no small part to a group of politicians who wanted to preserve the sanctity of the National Park, whichis home to numerous endemic species.

Six Senses, however, refused to walk away from Tayrona Park. Instead, they focused their attention on something that would be more palatable to the government and the Indigenous Peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, even though they ignored the latter.

Now, with this second suspension, the future of Los Ciruelos is looking more and more grim.

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