MISAK: Make visible the indigenous struggle to preserve the Colombian historical memory | 3,500 Million | future planet | The USA Print

“I am convinced that all of us who come into this world have something to contribute. Each one from their professions, from the different things we dedicate ourselves to ”, proudly declares César Quiroz (Barranquilla, 31 years old), a communicator from the Colombian North Atlantic, referring to what motivated him to become a photojournalist. For two years, Quiroz has been the director of the documentary MISAK, take back the land to take it all back (in the post-production stage), which narrates the struggle of the indigenous communities of the municipality of Cajibío (in the southwest of the country) against the giant paper and cardboard producer Smurfit Kappawhose headquarters are in Ireland.

Although he is trained as an industrial technician, Quiroz decided four years ago to dedicate himself to his true vocation, photography. “I started with landscape photography, visiting different very beautiful places in the south of Colombia, but I also began to see social and environmental problems. This is how the idea of ​​starting to portray that reality was born ”, he comments by video call.

In this project, Quiroz documents the conflict between the indigenous Misak population and the Smurfit Kappa. For several decades, this Irish transnational has been exploiting the lands of the municipality of Cajibío for the monoculture of pine and eucalyptus (non-native species), destined to the production of raw material for the paper industry. The company, as mentioned on its website, custody 67,000 hectares of forest in the country, of which 64% (43,000 hectares) are used for trade, while the rest are protected natural forests.

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However, the acquisition of land by Smurfit Kappa is related to a historical conflict in which indigenous populations (especially the Misak and Nasa peoples), peasants and Afro-descendants have been harmed. A report of the Observatory of Multinationals in Latin America (OMAL), SumOfUs and the Latin America Solidarity Center (LASC) details the socio-ecological impacts of Smurfit Kappa’s operations in Colombia and the negative effects that eucalyptus and pine plantations have on soil, water and biodiversity. “They denounce that their rivers have dried up and we were able to clearly demonstrate it on those tours. We witnessed how a lagoon dried up in just two months”, highlights Quiroz, who shares the concerns of the communities in this project.

The Community Interethnic and Intercultural Process.

This problem has attracted the attention of some media, where Quiroz published a report in its printed version in July 2022. However, so far the situation does not seem to be advancing. “Right now it has been decided to establish a dialogue process in which the Irish embassy in Colombia, the company and other institutions are involved to talk about the difficulties and problems of the municipality, but very little is said about the situation. In Colombia, the problem of war and conflict has come from the concentration of land in a few hands”, he affirms.

Making the voice of those who need it heard

The indigenous communities decided to demonstrate against the operations of Smurfit Kappa through the felling of non-native trees, in order to plant those that are indeed part of the Cauca area. That has led to the narrative of the multinational only condemn the felling of these trees, without acknowledging the negative impact that the introduction of pine and eucalyptus may have had. “Within those forests there is practically no life,” says Quiroz, emphasizing the lack of water sources in the area due to these monocultures. “They (the communities) tell me ‘we cut down pine trees, but we plant food, we reforest again,'” he recites.

The still low visibility that the issue has is one of the reasons that motivated Quiroz to make the documentary and he trusts that his work will serve to make the voice of indigenous populations known. “In Colombia, national journalism does not take on the task of looking for the other party, it only speaks from the institutional part, from the legality of justice. They do not speak from that other part that also requires humanity, that they speak of the people who need to make their voices heard and make their thoughts known ”, he laments.

Installed in the south of Cali, on the departmental border with Cauca, Quiroz began this project, joined by another photojournalist, Sebastián Marmolejo, and film student Sofía Drada. Without a permanent job, he continued to invest his energy in making visible the problems of the indigenous communities of Cauca to contribute to the Colombian historical memory. “It is hard because when he has to go to make records in the zones, one always has to take money out of his own pocket. Sometimes there is, but sometimes there isn’t and many projects have been cut short due to lack of money. It is a reality that my partner and I live, because in Colombia doing photojournalism is very difficult ”, he explains and adds that, like him, many journalists who cover these conflicts fear for his physical integrity.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Colombia is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the American continent for journalism, especially in the coverage of environmental issues and armed conflicts in Valle del Cauca. In the last three years alone, the Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP) registered 69 journalists who were victims of some kind of violation of press freedom in Cauca. An example of this lack of protection that exists in Colombia is the case of murder of community journalist Abelardo Lizwho was covering a protest by indigenous peoples in August 2020 against the eviction of lands claimed as theirs in Cauca.

Although there is no release date for the documentary, Quiroz and his colleagues do not rule out the idea of ​​being able to present it at a film festival. Meanwhile, Quiroz does not lose contact with the local communities. “They feel in one way or another that there is a natural disaster because the water sources have begun to dry up and a land where there is no water is a land that serves us to sustain the food of those communities,” he says.

Misak, take back the land to take it all back is inspired by a phrase from the Misak people. “(The phrase) refers to recovering their essence, their history, their uses and customs as ancestral and native peoples of Latin America”, details the young director. Undoubtedly, the work carried out by this photojournalist exemplifies one of the best-known phrases of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (“Journalism is an insatiable passion that can only be digested and humanized by its stark confrontation with reality”) and it only remains to hope that the result achieves its objective: to tell the indigenous problem from a human story despite everything.

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