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Reclaiming the Rainforest in Colombia

An interview with Martin von Hildebrand, founder at head of Gaia Amazonas describes his work with indigenous groups in Colombia, and their quest towards the reclamation of over 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest.

“Indigenous groups in the Colombian Amazon have long suffered deprivations at the hands of outsiders. First came the diseases brought by the European Conquest, then came abuses under colonial rule. In modern times, some Amazonian communities were virtually enslaved by the debt-bondage system run by rubber traders: Indians could work their entire lives without ever escaping the cycle of debt. Later, periodic invasions by gold miners, oil companies, colonists, and illegal coca-growers took a heavy toll on remaining indigenous populations. Without title to their land, organization, or representation, indigenous Colombians in the Amazon seemed destined to be exploited and abused.

But new hope would emerge in the 1980s, thanks partly to the efforts of Martin von Hildebrand, an ethnologist who would help indigenous Colombians eventually win control over 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of Amazon rainforest—an area larger than the United Kingdom.

Von Hildebrand first visited the Colombian Amazon in 1970, spending four months living amongst remote indigenous communities. He found them exploited by rubber traders and deprived of basic human rights. Indigenous communities were in decline as youths abandoned their homeland for towns and traditional knowledge was lost with each passing elder.

Living with tribes during the 1970s, von Hildebrand learned of the traditional land management practices of indigenous societies as well as their philosophies of co-existing with the rainforest. He helped free communities from the tyranny of rubber and started developing an education system for the indigenous. Inspired to help them win title to their territory and therefore greater autonomy, von Hildebrand joined the Colombian government in 1986, as Head of Indigenous Affairs and adviser to President Virgilio Barco Vargas. In government von Hildebrand helped push through legislation that would lead to the establishment of 20 million hectares of collective indigenous territory—a move that would become a fundamental part of the country’s 1991 constitution.

Winning recognition of land rights however was only a first step towards autonomy so in 1990 von Hildebrand founded Fundacion Gaia Amazonas to establish a governance structure that would allow indigenous to have greater control over their health and education systems, and the fate of their rainforest environment. Today von Hildebrand serves as head of both Gaia Amazonas and the COAMA Program, a coalition of NGOs that aims to strengthen ties between indigenous groups across Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela to help them develop sustainable livelihoods and approaches to self-governance. The alliance includes 250 indigenous communities across 22 tribes. Some 70 million hectares (270,000 square miles) have been recognized as Indigenous collective property, but tribes are looking to double that amount. Gaia Amazonas is working with several NGOs, the Ministry of Environment and National Parks on a strategy to conserve 80 percent of the Colombian Amazon.”

Read the  interview here .

1 Comment

  1. Scott says

    Let’s just cut to the Heart of the Matter!. None of us created Land but it is something that we all need in order to secure the basic necessities of Life – Food and Materials for Clothing and Shelter. Indeed, Land is The Foundational Element for Individual Autonomy – Freedom – Liberty – Life. Every single creature in Nature freely finds a place for securing its basic needs. It is THE Inherent Law of Life. Although animals can be territorial we as Human Beings have the ability to morally follow the Golden Rule of do unto others as we would have them do unto us and thereby respect the space of others. The simple way to satisfy the equal distribution of Land ( Land Rights ) while maintaining the integrity of the infrastructure and the ecosystem and create an atmosphere of personal responsibility is to:

    1. Remove taxes of any kind.

    2. Move the current “value” of Land onto the Improvements.

    3. Remove Land from its distorted position as a commodity and return it to its Natural function as the Foundational Support for Life. As we are all First and Foremost Living Souls, Land used for securing the basic necessities of Life trumps the use of Land for commercial gain.

    4. Charge leases based on the current market value of all Land in use on a local (a county is small enough that local individuals can maintain the integrity of this system) level. Take 100% of the proceeds from the lease fees and redistribute them EQUALLY to every Man, Woman and Child in the form of a yearly Land Dividend payment. In this manner, the yearly Land Dividend payment is nearly equal to the lease fee on the average piece of Land (minus the payment to the children which can be placed into a trust fund for future home purchase). This allows each of us to be secure in Land and Home when we reach adulthood and opens up the Enormous World of possibility and opportunity.

    5. To maintain the infrastructure charge use fees which directly tie the use of the service, system or facility to the user. Roads for example can be funded either through a gas tax or when license plates are renewed or both. Funding of Libraries are paid by those who use the Library. Same with schools – use the school you pay, don’t use the school you don’t pay. All infrastructure costs are born by those who use it. Use fees create personal responsibility for the burdens we each place on society and those burdens are shouldered by those who demand/use them.

    6. Institute a Sales Tax (also on a local level) using the current SIC/NAICS coding system, which is already used to define industrial classification, as well using a modified bar code system that would contain detailed information on the resources used to produce each product. This tax can be applied at the checkout and used to directly encourage or discourage certain resource usage as well as for maintaining ecosystems. For example when the bar code is scanned and wood is part of the product a tax can be applied right at the checkout that in turn goes to funding the replanting of the forest. Both producers and consumers are responsible for the resources used. Supply and demand go hand in hand as you can’t have one without the other. This creates personal responsibility for the resources we each choose to consume. Barter systems are already self regulating.

    I welcome your feedback.


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