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Story Publication logo June 5, 2022

Deforesting the Colombian Amazon as a Way of Life (Spanish)


an armed soldier kneels in the middle of an open field while a helicopter flies away

With the Amazon in flames and deforestation on the rise, Colombia is grappling with record tree loss...

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This story excerpt was translated from Spanish. To read the original story in full, visit El País. You may also view the original story on the Rainforest Journalism Fund website here. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.

While the jungle is being burned, a farmer says that by burning this forest he will be able to raise cattle and feed his family. In this area there is no government presence, the community itself builds schools for their children to study and there are no health centers. Image by Andrés Cardona. Colombia, 2022.

In mid-February, at the height of the burning season in the Colombian Amazon, a 30-year-old man walked out onto his four-hectare plot of land with fuel in one hand and a lighter in the other. Much of the rainforest had already collapsed a few months earlier, and in its place were a few fallen logs and dense layers of dry leaves and shrubs, ready for burning. Fredy left a trail of flames wherever he stepped, which quickly got out of control. The young farmer took shelter at a safe distance from the heat of the burning. The fire continued to grow until a thick cloud of white smoke covered the entire view, even the summer-reddened sun. An apocalyptic landscape.

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For environmentalists, these fire scenes are terrifying. Seen from overflights, the smoke from the burns stretches for miles and destroys the Amazon's forested ecosystems, the very forests that absorb greenhouse gases and help slow climate change.

For farmers, fires are part of the agricultural cycle. For decades, the onset of the dry season in January has marked a new burning season, when farmers raze forests to introduce pasture for their cattle and, in some areas, coca plantations. "The cattle reproduce and one has to deforest to keep the cattle and sustain oneself," explains Fredy, who preferred to keep his last name confidential for security reasons.

Video by Andrés Cardona. Colombia, 2022.

A police officer guards the area where people are being arrested for living in a natural park area, in May 2022. Image by Andrés Cardona. Colombia.

A farmer is on his way to set fire to a forest he cut down three months ago, in the municipality of San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá department. Image by Andrés Cardona. Colombia, 2022.

Fernando Reyes, milking his cows. Image by Andrés Cardona. Colombia, 2022.

State agents carrying arrest warrants enter homes to search for their target. Image by Andrés Cardona. Colombia, 2022.

"Laura" is a young peasant woman who lives in the Colombian Amazon. She cooks while her husband burns the forest around the improvised house to start building their farm. Image by Andrés Cardona. Colombia, 2022.