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Narcotics plantations on indigenous Nasa territory in Caldono, Cauca, Colombia

The indigenous Nasa people have long been struggling against criminal encroachment on their territory for narcotrafficking plantations, mining, and other injustices. This has led to widespread violence and environmental degradation with impunity.


The indigenous Nasa people live on a reservation that is in a biologically rich ecosystem, which they rely upon to practice subsistence farming, flower cultivation, and small-scale livestock rearing [4].  Their territory encompasses forests, agroecosystems, natural parks, as well as Colombia’s most important water reservoir [7].  The Nasa have also long struggled against illegal operations on their territory including mining, but especially concerning coca crops. Various armed groups such as FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia People's Army) dissidents, National Liberation Army guerrillas, the Clan del Golfo, and other groups are responsible for the illegal operations in the area and causing a war over resources and territory [4]. The drug traffickers have overcome military and police forces, effectively seizing control of the region from the government. These syndicates are also suspected of having powerful political ties [7]. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Narcotics plantations on indigenous Nasa territory in Caldono, Cauca, Colombia
State or province:Cauca
Location of conflict:Caldono
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Specific commodities:Land
Narcotics; Coca leaf
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The FARC controls approximately 70,000 hectares of coca-growing territory across Cauca, situated within a country that produces half the world’s cocaine. Annual profits of anywhere between $500 million and $1 billion have attracted an array of armed actors, including the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) and the Ejercito de Liberación Nacional (ELN), two groups that had not previously operated in Cauca. Some villagers also do small-scale coca and coca paste production because even if they wanted to grow other cash crops, poor economic value, the pitiful state of rural roads, and the difficulty in bringing their produce to market make coca the only viable way to make a living. Over 1,000 tons of coca were produced in Cauca in 2019, which is a record-breaking amount that is flooding European markets and triggering the first rise in cocaine consumption in over a decade in the United States [9].

Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/08/2020
Relevant government actors:Ombudsman's office, Special Jurisdiction for Peace, National Army, Ministry of Defense
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), Espacio de Mujeres Diversas, Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Manual eradication of coca crops
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (undecided)
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Peña's assassination is another incident in a long continuing pattern of murders of indigenous rights defenders advocating against narcotrafficking plantations in Cauca, among many other injustices. Increased militarization to "protect" the indigenous communities has not helped the situation.
Sources & Materials
Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] RCN Radio. ¿Quién era Sandra Peña Chocué, la gobernadora indígena asesinada en el Cauca? (Quilindo 2021)
[click to view]

[2] Infobae. Grupo armado ataca minga indígena en Caldono, Cauca (2021)
[click to view]

[3] El Comercio. Más de 20 heridos en protesta indígena tras asesinato de lideresa colombiana (2021)
[click to view]

[4] Pressenza. Colombia: nuevo asesinato de una líder social (Cabrera 2021)
[click to view]

[5] El Tiempo. Ella era Sandra Peña Chocué, la gobernadora indígena asesinada (Popayan 2021)
[click to view]

[6] Periodico virtual. $200 millones de recompensa por información que permita esclarecer el crimen de Sandra Liliana Peña (2021)
[click to view]

[7] Proclama. El Cauca es víctima de la codicia y la politiquería (2021)
[click to view]

[9] UNODC. Informe de Monitoreo de Territorios Afectados por Cultivos Ilícitos en Colombia (2020)
[click to view]

[8] La tutela, estrategia contra erradicación forzada de hoja de coca
[click to view]

[10]The New Humanitarian. Record coca, record murders: the flipside of “peace” in southern Colombia (2018)
[click to view]

[11] ¿Cuál es la situación por cuenta de los cultivos de uso ilícito en Caldono, Cauca?
[click to view]

[12] Pese a los ataques, indígenas del Cauca seguirán erradicando cultivos ilícitos
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA-UAB, [email protected]
Last update30/04/2021
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