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Green Or Gone

Colombia's Illegal Mystery Road Destroying The Amazon

A new surge in deforestation can be traced to an unauthorized road connecting La Macarena to San Jose del Guaviare. What is the origin? What will be done?

On the Amazon near La Macarena
On the Amazon near La Macarena
Sergio Silva Numa

LA MACARENA — Flying over the northwestern stretches of Colombia's Meta department, near the border with neighboring Guaviare, you see two national parks: Tinigua Park and Serrania de la Macarena Park. From the air, they look densely packed with huge trees, but from time to time deforested segments appear. These bare patches pop up more frequently as the limits of these protected areas are often encroached upon by ranching or other makeshift trails.

But recently, officials noted a similar scenario while carrying out an aerial tour of the forest that separates the two departments bordering Serrania de la Macarena Park. They were there to investigate what local media had condemned with some trepidation: Farmers in the area had reported unprecedented deforestation in the area. On both sides of the road, they said, trees more than three meters in diameter had been cut down and no one had been able to stop it, not even after the concerns were published by the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies of Colombia (IDEAM).

"They ordered deforestation of 80 meters on both sides of the road, and nobody could stop them," says one local resident. Mind you, no one seems to know exactly who "they" are. "They are destorying trees that are part of the primary forest. It's an attack on the forest. They are threatening several lagoons and rivers."

The resident says that the bulldozers and chainsaws have been destroying about 20 kilometers of Amazon rainforest. Data show a corridor of rainforest 60 kilometers long once existed, but today it's just 15 kilometers.

It's difficult to estimate accurately how much forest has been destroyed in northern Guaviare so far. But as officers of the Corporation for Sustainable Development and the Amazon North East (CDA) have said, what's happening in that area is serious. Although residents have always had to cope with illegal logging, the latest destruction has created widespread alarm.

Promised roads

The promise of creating limited jungle routes is one that southeastern regions were given during Ernesto Samper's presidency back in the 1990s. It has slowly become reality for some districts, and today, after nearly 20 years, it is still among the plans of current President Juan Manuel Santos, though remaining unfinished.

But the case of the Guaviare deforestation is different. No construction there is official, and there is so far no environmental license authorizing the project. But another resident says the projects provide poor people with access to roads that the guerrillas constructed with machetes decades ago.

"But what's worse is that it has triggered a cascading effect," one CDA official says. "Many villages begin to clear forest to break through and connect to the main route. In addition to data recorded by the IDEAM, there are other very alarming cases."

Although the mayors of San José del Guaviare and El Return declined to talk with El Espectador, some say insurgents are forcing peasants to chop down the forest.

Beyond these charges and the lack of investigation, there is a complex environmental problem caused by the road's construction. The route stretches over a district of integrated area meant to buffer protected national parks. The construction threatens an ecosystem that connects, on the one hand, the Serrania de la Macarena Park and the National Park Chiribiquete, and on the other, the Amazon with the Andean forests.

Juan Carlos Clavijo, head of the Natural Tinigua National Park, warned a few months ago that all of this territory is important because it allows for genetic connectivity among thousands of species of different microclimates. Tinigua, for example, lost 1,096 hectares in one year, and the Serrania de la Macarena Park another 1,300.

This situation seems to render impossible the goal for Colombia that was set during December's global climate summit in Paris: to achieve, within five years, a rate of zero Amazon deforestation in exchange for $100 million in funding by Germany, the UK and Norway. Global targets are one thing, local realities are another.

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Geopolitics

Patronage Or Politics? What's Driving Qatar And Egypt Grand Rapprochement

For Cairo, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil,” with anger directed at Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, and others critical of Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood ouster. But the vitriol is now gone, with the first ever visit by Egyptian President al-Sisi to Doha.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with the Emir of Qatar in June 2022 in Cairo

Beesan Kassab, Daniel O'Connell, Ehsan Salah, Hazem Tharwat and Najih Dawoud

For the first time since coming to power in 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi traveled to Doha last month on an official visit, a capstone in a steadily building rapprochement between the two countries in the last year.

Not long ago, however, the photo-op capturing the two heads of state smiling at one another in Doha would have seemed impossible. In the wake of the Armed Forces’ ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, Qatar and Egypt traded barbs.

In the lexicon of the intelligence-controlled Egyptian press landscape, Qatar had been part of an “axis of evil” working to undermine Egypt’s stability. Al Jazeera, the main Qatari outlet, was banned from Egypt, but, from its social media accounts and television broadcast, it regularly published salacious and insulting details about the Egyptian administration.

But all of that vitriol is now gone.

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