Hundreds of years ago as Spanish and other Europeans invaded and conquered what today is known as America, it was a common practice to forbid traditional spirituality, festivals and rituals. One of the many festivities forbidden is what Western society knows today as the summer solstice, the Festival of the Sun, the year´s longest day. For many of Original Peoples across the Andes, while this date had many different names it marks the beginning of the New Year and it holds widespread importance. In Huila and in other places where the Catholic Church attempted to replace this celebration with John the Baptist, or San Juan, it has always been the Sek Buy for the Nasa, or Inti Raymi for the Quechua-Yanacona and Wüñol Tripantü for the Mapuche farther South in what is occupied by Chile and Argentina. This year, campesino and indigenous members of the Movement for the Defense and Liberation of Mother Earth are looking back to their origins as they keep their word by walking it forward for the territory and river.
“It is vital that we rescue our indigenous identity”, expressed Harold Segura a member of the Association of Affected by the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project-Asoquimbo, in a meeting in La Jagua, one of the stops for the Festival of the Sun. “We were originally an indigenous resguardo (Colombian equivalent of Native Reservation), the second oldest in the department after Timaná and we have slowly lost sense of who we are. We still have such a rich culture and territory but with the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project on the river, petroleum company Emerald Energy in the Eastern Mountains and the Special Energy and Transportation Batallion 'José María Tello' next to us we are about to lose it all forever.”
For this Inti Raymi the Yanacona Nation will be holding ceremonies in the Laguna of Buey in the Páramo of Papas, the birth place of the Guacahayo-Yuma-Magdalena River in the Colombian Macizo (Highlands). From there a march and then caravan will descend down the River Valley in accompaniment of Quechua and Aymara peoples from Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru; other indigenous peoples such as the Nasa and Misak from the Regional Indigenous Council of Huila-CRIHU and the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca-CRIC, and the campesinos, fisher-people, youth, and others from Asoquimbo and the other organizations from the Movement for the Defense and Liberation for Mother Earth.
The Festival of the Sun of the Movement for the Defense and Liberation of Mother Earth will make stops in different locations throughout the Macizo Colombiano and the Upper Guacahayo-Yuma-Magdalena River Valley to pay ceremonies and rituals for the river and territory, hold public forums in urban centers and the affected areas, and finish on June 26 at the Paso del Colegio Bridge where there will be a ritual for the liberation of the river, a forum about the experiences of the Campesino Reserve el Pato in Caqueta and the screening of the documentary film about the movement against the Quimbo Dam, “el Gigante” – the Giant.
Asoquimbo and other members of the Movement have been using the recent relative quiet to prepare in their communities for the liberation of the river and territory as part of the Festival of the Sun. On April 29, members of Asoquimbo went to the Enel´s shareholders meeting in Rome, Italy along with members from 60 organizations from around the globe impacted by Enel´s energy mega-projects. While confronting the company directly and arguing against its imposed view of progress and development, the organizations formed and released their first declaration as the International Campaign against Enel´s Energy Model. Member organizations of this movement from Italy, Russia, Guatemala, Chile and elsewhere will hold simultaneous liberation actions at rivers in their respective territories during the Festival of the Sun.
In Germany this past May the organization Salva la Selva presented a petition with 38,500 signatures to the Colombian Ambassador Juan Mayr Maldonado against the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project and for the Campesino Agro-Nutritional Reserve. Ambassador Mayr Maldonado agreed that Minister of the Environment Pearl needs to be stricter with the environmental licenses for projects such as the Quimbo. Through these different actions Asoquimbo has been weaving relations of solidarity and mutual aid with other communities facing off Enel-Endesa as well as other resource extraction projects. Asoquimbo member Miller Dussán traveled to La Guajira to participate in the Forum on Impacts of Mega-Coal-Mining on the Guajira and Colombia that was held as the Cerrejon Coal Mine attempts to gain approval to divert the desert peninsula´s most important river, the Rancheria, 26 km from its natural course.
In Paicol, Huila on June 6, Monseñor Jaime Tovar, an outspoken critic of the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project, invited members of Asoquimbo to meet with the 14 Parishes of the Vicaria of San Sebastian who share Asoquimbo´s critiques and are supporting the Festival of the Sun. Also from their own gathering in Lima, Peru in mid-June the Latin American Episcopalian Council-CELAM released a declaration against the extractive industries of mining and hydrocarbons and the problems of so-called renewable resources in Latin America, while also praising the Churches role in supporting affected communities.
Earlier this month there was a second massive die off of fish in the Guacahayo-Yuma-Magdalena River in Domingo Arias the Quimbo Dam construction area, when more than 540 fish from 13 different species were reportedly found dead. At the most recent assembly of Asoquimbo in Rioloro, fisher-people from the area confirmed that the fish they were fishing from the area could no longer be eaten because they were covered with white sores. Meanwhile, Luz Helena Sarmiento, the Ministry of Environment’s director of environmental licenses, continues to refuse to correct herself from a television interview with Noticias Uno when she claimed that not a single fish has died in the building of the Quimbo. She went onto claim that the project has been such a success that they hope to export it elsewhere.
In efforts to visualize the non-human impact of the Quimbo Hydroelectric Projects, members of Asoquimbo have created a mission through the National Geographic-backed internet platform for crowdsourcing ecological data, Project Noah. Through the mission called “Biodiversity Threatened by the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project”, local wildlife photographers are registering the biodiversity footprint that the dam is leaving, by uploading photographs of species taken and geo-referenced to the affected area. The mission is approaching its 100th entry, while it still has yet to scratch the surface of some of the region´s more critical species such as pacarana, neotropical river otter, gray-handed night monkey and the endemic Velvet-fronted Euphonia.
With sadness, though, Asoquimbo holds in memory and commemorates Luis Humberto Tapiero Trujillo, a forty year old father, husband, worker, a mechanic employed by Impregillo at the Quimbo Dam who passed away on June 17 when heavy machinery fell on him in the rock pulverizing area of the construction site. Tapiero Trujillo is the first worker, but unfortunately not the first casualty of the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project. Asoquimbo is currently demanding an investigation of the circumstances of his death and that his family be compensated.
Earlier this month, another photograph was taken, this time by the local journalist Albatros, giving evidence once again that the Guacahayo-Yuma-Magdalena River refuses to be diverted and continues down its natural path. The region´s inhabitants, the territory and the river itself continue to resist.