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Colombian Environmental Official Assassinated in Southern Meta Department
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=57393"><span class="small">Antonio José Paz Cardona and Genevieve Belmaker, Mongabay</span></a>   
Wednesday, 09 December 2020 13:29

Excerpt: "December 3, 2020 was a fateful day for the defense of the environment in Colombia."

Javier Francisco Parra was one of the officials who visited the location of a serious fire in Caño Cristales, La Macarena, in February 2020. (photo: Cormacarena)
Javier Francisco Parra was one of the officials who visited the location of a serious fire in Caño Cristales, La Macarena, in February 2020. (photo: Cormacarena)

Colombian Environmental Official Assassinated in Southern Meta Department

By Antonio José Paz Cardona and Genevieve Belmaker, Mongabay

09 December 20


ecember 3, 2020 was a fateful day for the defense of the environment in Colombia. Javier Francisco Parra Cubillos, an official from regional environmental authority Cormacarena in the department of Meta – was shot several times while traveling through the municipality of La Macarena, in the department’s southern region.

According to information from Cormacarena (La Macarena Regional Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the La Macarena Special Management Area) a couple on a motorcycle ambushed him and left him for dead before fleeing. Gravely injured but still alive, Parra was taken to the municipal hospital. He was going to be transferred in a Colombian Air Force helicopter to Villavicencio, in the capital of Meta, to receive continued specialized care.

However, he died from his before he could be transferred.

This murder occurs only two months after three others working with Cormacarena were attacked on the road. The three individuals were moving from the La Julia sector to the El Divisó village, in the rural area of the Uribe municipality in Meta, and were approached by armed individuals who they stole their belongings and burned the truck they were traveling in. They survived with their lives after the police and army intervened.

Another environmental defender sentenced to death

Javier Francisco Parra Cubillos, or ‘Pacho’ as his friends and colleagues called him, worked as regional coordinator of the Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the La Macarena Special Management Area (Cormacarena).

Parra was 47 years old and had been working with the environmental authority for 20 years. He was known in the area for his defense of the ecosystems of the municipality and he became a true promoter and defender of natural resources. Even at the beginning of this year, he was one of the officials who was in charge of the control of a great fire that threatened to destroy Caño Cristales, one of the most representative ecotourism sites in Meta and Colombia.

The director of Cormacarena, Andrés Felipe García Céspedes, said he deeply regrets the death of “this exemplary and hard-working man, who more than being an official became a true promoter and staunch defender of the department’s natural resources.” García also sent a message of condolence to Parra’s wife, their two children and other relatives.

“This is an affront against the National Environmental System [SINA], it is painful to know these types of events that attack the officials and collaborators of the corporations that defend the environment and work for the sustainable development of the country,” said Ramón Leal, director of ASOCARS, the association that brings together all the regional autonomous corporations of Colombia.

Leal noted that the community, institutions, and area authorities that work alongside the institutions, such as the CARs, “are present in the territory, and are the entities that report the most environmental achievements to the country.” He called the murder “sad” and added that others continue to “risk their lives to protect nature every day.”

Parra’s death is another name on the growing list of social, environmental and Indigenous leaders murdered in Colombia. According to the latest figures from the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz ), between January 1 and December 6, 2020, a jaw-dropping 284 such leaders have been assassinated in Colombia.

In addition, the last annual report of Global Witness noted that, in 2019, Colombia not only ranked first in the number of murders of environmental leaders in the region – with 64 homicides – but was also the most dangerous country in the world for environmental defenders.

This is not the first time this year that an official from the environmental sector has been assassinated in Colombia.

Yamid Silva Torres, park ranger of the El Cocuy National Natural Park, was assassinated in the La Cueva village of the Güicán municipality, Boyacá, on February 4. This led to the Colombia’s national parks department deciding, at the end of that month, to withdraw officials from ten protected areas from the territory. The entity’s director, Julia Miranda, confirmed there had been more than 20 officials threatened.

Mongabay has long reported on the risk to which park rangers, officials of environmental authorities and social leaders are exposed in municipalities such as La Macarena, Uribe or Vistahermosa.

In the south of Meta and northeast of Caquetá Andean, Amazonian and Orinocean ecosystems converge that make this region a biodiversity hotspot and an area of great ecological importance. However, this sector that was previously dominated by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) is also an important corridor for drug trafficking and for land grabbers who deforest even in national parks such as Sierra de La Macarena, Tinigua and Cordillera of the Picachos.

In a report published by Mongabay Latam in September this year, an environmental leader in the area who preferred not to reveal his name confirmed that the situation in the south of Meta had become more complicated. “As I understand the [FARC] dissidents have banned all environmental entities from entering, they are threatened,” he said.

They ask for justice

The murder of Javier Francisco Parra Cubillos set off alarms. Hours after his death, an extraordinary Security Council meeting was held in the city of Villavicencio, where the Minister of National Defense, Carlos Holmes Trujillo García, announced a reward of up to 300 million pesos (about $86,000) for whoever provides information that allows the capture of those responsible for the murder of the Cormacarena official.

“We are going to persecute those criminals wherever they are, we must tell those criminals that they are going to fall, because life always prevails over death […] the state exists to defend life and fight those who live by death, violence and crime, because criminality never wins the battle against the State, which is always accompanied by good citizens,” said Holmes Trujillo.

Jairo Andrés Becerra Acosta, a Villavicencio official, asked the police and prosecutor’s office to carry out investigations to find the whereabouts of those responsible for the murder.

“We cannot allow this type of tragedy to continue to occur, we call for justice to be done and the criminals respond to the judicial authorities for what happened in the municipality of La Macarena […] we must protect the right to life of the citizens,” Becerra said.

The Minister of Environment, Carlos Eduardo Correa, expressed his solidarity with the relatives and colleagues of Parra. The Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute expressed its concern about the violence against officials and environmental defenders, and joined the call made by Cormacarena to prioritize investigation work that leads to the capture of those responsible for the homicide.

For now, Defense Minister Holmes Trujillo announced that two platoons of the National Army to La Macarena would be dispatched, and new controls put in place before entering the municipality. Going forward, army soldiers and national police will now accompany environmental conservation officials activities from Cormacarena in the field.

Parra’s murder occurs shortly after the Ministry of Defense and the National Police revealed a list of nine people who would make up the cartel of those most wanted for deforestation and land grabbing in the department of Meta and in much of the region.

The authorities had just offered up to 20 million pesos (about $ 5,800) for anyone who provides information that allows the capture of one of those people.

This article was originally published on Mongabay your social media marketing partner
Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 December 2020 13:44