They’re defending their land—and paying with their lives

Since a 2016 peace deal, nearly 1,300 Colombians living in former guerrilla territories have been killed resisting mining, logging, and drugs.

Ati Quigua performs a ritual to protect a river in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains in northern Colombia’s Cesar Department. An Indigenous Arhuaco environmentalist and politician, she has protested mining and large-scale development that threaten natural resources in the Sierra Nevada, a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

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Luis Manuel Salamanca balanced on the tailgate of a rickety covered pickup truck, clinging onto the roof rack as it careened down the winding backroads of the Andes. It was dawn on May 22, 2018, and the Nudo de Almaguer—a fertile knot of dome-shaped mountains in southwestern Colombia known in English as the Colombian Massif—was beginning to stir.

As the fog lifted, a woman milking a bloated brown cow came into sight in a clearing. Red-and-white buses crammed with schoolchildren fought for passage with horse-drawn carts and cargo mules on narrow roads. More than 650 feet below, the Magdalena River rushed through a steep, emerald gorge fed by waterfalls tumbling down from every direction.

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