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The people of Colombia were once persecuted under the guise of combating “communism” and later the “war on drugs and terrorism.” But the real reason for the violence has to do with acquiring and maintaining control of a plethora of resources in the region, such as gold, silver and copper, as well as the great expanses of oil, farm and grazing land, and the highly desired trees of the rainforest.
Known for its majestic beauty, abundant biodiversity and extensive rainforests indigenous leaders coined the region the "lungs of the world." Adding to these visual splendors is what lies below the surface. In addition to its acclaimed mineral deposits, Colombia has one of the largest oil reserves in our hemisphere and is among the top suppliers of oil to the United States. Belying what would appear to be paradise, is Colombia's infamous designation as one of the most violent countries in the world with about three million internal refugees — second only to Syria, with the indigenous population bearing a disproportionate share of the suffering.
Located in the jungles of Colombia, in the Darien region bordering Panama, this community has been violently and relentlessly persecuted by the Colombian security forces. The Darien region has some of greatest biodiversity of plant and animal life in the world and corporations are literally killing to get their hands on it. This particular community was forced to flee after nearly 100 members were massacred by a joint military and paramilitary operation. Though threatened with annihilation, hundreds of community members returned to the region to reclaim their land and way of life. They believe it is their duty to protect the biodiversity from being exploited and possibly obliterated.
They community recycles their sewage and cultivate beautiful plots of native vegetation to support their sustainable farming initiatives. The Idyllic and majestic surroundings shroud the reality of the daily threats of violence that affect this community. However, as one indigenous leader stated: “They are not only killing us, but they are killing themselves by destroying the ‘lungs’ of the world.”
The people of Altos de Florida, Soacha, on the outskirts of Bogota, are one of the most vulnerable populations in Colombia. These children, their families, and others in this community have been displaced by Colombia’s internal armed conflict, many fleeing persecution in the Chocó region. Young boys are at high risk of recruitment by guerillas, paramilitaries, and local gangs and many of the young girls are forced into prostitution.
Families displaced by war face violence and poverty that is often as traumatic as the massacres and death threats they’ve fled. Few have access to social services and most face severe discrimination in employment, housing, education, and healthcare.