Colombia: Indigenous peoples ‘betrayed’ by President’s backing of seven-star hotel on sacred land

Colombia: Indigenous peoples ‘betrayed’ by President’s backing of seven-star hotel on sacred land

Photo by Camila Rivera (on flickr). Some rights reserved.
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October 20, 2011

The Elder “Mamos” or Spiritual leaders of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, have expressed profound concern over plans to build a new seven-star hotel on their ancestral territory within the Tayrona National Park in northern Colombia.

The Mamos only learned about the proposed “Dávila tourism complex” after an attorney, Samario Alejandro Aria, uncovered a letter from the Ministry of the Interior which described the project area as being empty of any permanent human settlements*.

Strictly speaking, the comment is true; however, the Mamos point out that there are four Kogi families who are living there today.

They also point out that the project area is, unquestionably, a part of their ancestral territory.

What’s more, the Mamos warn that the proposed site is located on sacred lands that are supposed to be held inviolate. In the Mamos’ own words “…In these sites one must take care not to touch the mother of earth, water, and sun called Taiyuna.”

Since learning about the risk of destruction last week, the Mamos were confronted with another unpleasant shock: President Juan Manuel Santos has decided to endorse the mega hotel as an environmentally-friendly project that would promote eco-tourism.

During his inauguration, President Santos took part in a “unprecedented” ceremony that was conducted by Mamos from all four Indigenous Peoples in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta–the Kogi, Wiwa, Arhuaco and Kankuamo. During the ceremony, Santos was presented with a sacred staff as a symbol of universal balance.

As a result of the president’s decision to endorse the project, the Mamos say that the Universe has now been thrown off balance; and now, the only way that balance can be restored is for the President to shift his position, as Ati Quigua, the indigenous representative on Bogota’s city council, states, “… to reconsider this decision and return the park.”

In an earlier interview with Noticias Uno, Quigua observed that, “Permission is being given to a company that has committed many crimes against nature; the Dávila family has used the name of the Kogis to sell coffee throughout the world and have nothing to do with the Kogis.” Elsewhere, the Davila Abondano family has dispossessed Campesinos and Indigenous Peoples of their lands.

Fortunately, at this point, the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development hasn’t received an environmental permit application, which means the project still can’t move ahead. The Ministry also says that if it does receive an application, it will review all relevant social, spiritual, cultural and environmental aspects of the project; and it will carry out a consultation process with the Indigenous Peoples.

As far as the needs and rights of the Indigenous Peoples go, it surely doesn’t need to come to that.

Update: According to Colombia Reports, a senator has now proposed a meeting to discuss the rejection of the mega hotel. Speaking about the project,”Senator Robledo stated that “Tayrona National Park is one of the most important natural resources on the planet. Those who have travelled the world say it is the most beautiful place in the universe.” Members of Colombia’s Congress have also expressed a desire to open discussions.

*Note: There has been some confusion over what the Ministry actually meant by that statement and what the Mamos actually meant in their response to it. Various reporters have suggested that the Ministry was officially denying the existence of the Indigenous Peoples; but that does not appear to be the case. Rather, the Ministry was pointing out, however unsympathetically, that there aren’t any indigenous communities in the area. The Mamos, in turn, felt like the Ministry was denying their existence.

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