Translate page with Google

Story Publication logo March 30, 2023

Carbon Project To Heal Serious Exclusion of Indigenous Communities


Dense vegetation in the Amazon rainforest in Peru. The ground is covered in leaves.

The Latin American Center for Investigative Journalism (CLIP) and six Latin American media outlets...


Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía.

Haga clic aquí para leer la versión española.

Carbon credit projects promoted by an alliance of four companies in the Indigenous reservation of Monochoa excluded two of the six communities that worked together for years to preserve their territory in the Amazon. This journalistic investigation helped alert those excluded and now the companies acknowledge the omission and assure that the error is in the process of being corrected.

Over the last decade, the six Indigenous communities that make up Monochoa reservation have worked together to push forward the expansion of their biodiverse jungle territory in the middle reaches of the Caquetá River in the Colombian Amazon.

They achieved it in July 2017: A decision by the Colombian government recognized that the territory they’ve shared since the 1970s would increase from 263,000 to 417,000 hectares. Incidentally it meant that they now border and help preserve the Chiribiquete Range National Park, the largest in the country and in all of South America, considered a World Heritage Site for its natural wealth and for the thousand-year cave paintings that ethnobotanist and explorer Wade Davis dubbed 'the Sistine Chapel of the Amazon'.

Six years later, four of the six communities that make up Monochoa were excluded from a carbon project in their territory. In these initiatives, called Redd+, the efforts of local communities to avoid deforestation are financially rewarded by the sale of carbon credits to companies seeking to offset their environmental footprint. Each voucher represents a ton of greenhouse gases that cause climate change that will no longer be released into the atmosphere, thanks to the preservation of the forests by these communities.

As a nonprofit journalism organization, we depend on your support to fund journalism covering underreported issues around the world. Donate any amount today to become a Pulitzer Center Champion and receive exclusive benefits!

As it was originally signed, the project - promoted by the companies Carbo Sostenible, Terra Commodities, Yauto and Visso Consultores - covers the entire Monochoa reservation, but only includes two of the communities that share its governance: Tirivita and Caño Negro, located on the left bank of the Caquetá River, within the limits of the department of the same name. The four communities on the opposite bank of the river, in the department of Amazonas, were left out: Guamaraya, Aménani, Chukiki and Monochoa, the oldest of them all and the one that gives the reservation its name.

The developers then included two of these communities on the right bank, Chukiki and Guamaraya, in a different carbon project that is also underway in the neighboring Predio Putumayo reservation. Thus, payment for environmental services schemes with private companies are separating communities that had been consolidating their union for decades to make their organizations stronger. As a result, carbon market projects that should strengthen these governance structures by giving them greater resources and management capacity end up, on the contrary, making them more fragile.

In the case of Monochoa and Aménani the situation is more serious, as they have been excluded from both projects until now, which in practice had closed the opportunity for them to be remunerated for their safekeeping of the forest. The reason is that a territory can only sell avoided deforestation results once - and that is already being done in their territory by the two initiatives that signed the projects that left them out.

This journalistic investigation, even before it was published, may have contributed to correcting the situation in the coming months. On Friday, March 17, after requesting an interview with the four companies, they reached an initial agreement with leaders of Monochoa and Aménani to include them in one of the projects as of this month. In an interview a week ago, the heads of Yauto and Carbo Sostenible acknowledged the exclusion, which they attributed to internal disputes between the Indigenous communities, and proposed a way to formally incorporate them, something they believe will be ready by the end of the year.

Ironically, the visible head of one of these four allied companies - and who negotiated the project with the four Indigenous communities - has held the two highest positions in the Colombian State to oversee the rights of Indigenous peoples. His name is Pedro Santiago Posada and, before becoming head and shareholder of Yauto S.A.S., was director of Indigenous affairs at the Ministry of the Interior and ombudsman for Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities at the Ombudsman's Office. His founding partner in Yauto is a businessman and legal representative of a gold mining company that is currently under investigation by the Environment Ministry for possible environmental damage in the Pacific forests.

These are some of the findings of an investigation by the Latin American Center for Investigative Reporting (CLIP), Mongabay Latam and La Silla Vacía, with support from the Pulitzer Center's Rainforest Investigations Network and additional reporting by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). This report is part of the long-running 'Gray Carbon' investigation into how the carbon market is working in Latin America.

Monochoa reservation is located in the mid Caquetá River, near the mythical Araracuara Canyon, in the Colombian Amazon. Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía. Colombia, 2023.

The guardian reservation of Chiribiquete

Monochoa is one among a handful of reservations surrounding Chiribiquete National Park, a huge and biodiverse reserve in Colombia, itself a megadiverse country. Considered both a natural and cultural World Heritage Site by Unesco since 2018, it is the largest tropical forest national park in the world- as large as Denmark. But it has seen a rapid increase in deforestation over the past four years.

In the race to halt the loss of forest in and around Chiribiquete, the Colombian government expanded several of the surrounding reservations. The logic behind this strategy is that Indigenous territories often serve as a barrier to logging, to the point that environmental management by Indigenous communities is considered by Project Drawdown - which brings together hundreds of scientists from around the world - as one of the 100 most effective global solutions to address the climate crisis.

Monochoa, located at a midpoint along the route of the Caquetá River towards its mouth at the Amazon River and shared by Uitoto and Muinane Indigenous peoples, is one of these ethnic territories bordering the south side of Chiribiquete. Precisely because of this, it was expanded in 2017 to 4170 square kilometers, a size similar to that of the islands of Mallorca or Cape Verde, as part of a larger effort for a flora and fauna connectivity corridor in the Colombian Amazon.

Cartographic data from the National Land Agency (ANT) and the National Registry of Protected Areas (RUNAP). Created with Datawrapper. Map by Luisa Fernanda López/CLIP.

The reservation has also been the site of numerous scientific discoveries. In the 1990s, two Colombian botanists found on its sandstone plateaus not only a plant species new to science, but with it, an entire genus previously unknown. Araracuara vetusta they named this shrub with oval leaves, tiny star-shaped flowers and three-meter height, in honor of the river canyon formed by steep rock nearby. More recently, a group of Italian speleologists visited Monochoa on a reconnaissance visit to organize a proper expedition into its cave system, typical of the rocky outcrops of the Guyanese Shield, and dedicated the cover and the central article of their geographic society’s magazine to it.

Cover of the 2022 Kur magazine of the Italian geographic society La Venta showing a speleologist exploring the Guacharos cave in the Monochoa reservation. Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía.

A carbon project with two communities...

It is in this territory where the four companies of the Community Redd alliance are promoting the initiative they have named Aire de Vida Fiivo Jaagava Komuya Jag+and+ Monochoa REDD+. The project, whose name translates as 'air of life, air of birth', was registered on April 28, 2022 by the Colombian certifier BioCarbon Registry (called ProClima until last year) and sold its first credits five days later.

The supporting documents present Monochoa as a reservation of two communities. "In this resguardo are the Tiribita community, the Caño Negro community and the Sainí settlement," says the project design document (or PDD, in industry jargon), available on the BioCarbon Registry platform. Its proponents include the four companies and two local Indigenous leaders: Gustavo Rodríguez Paky from Caño Negro and Waldemiro Hernández from Tirivita.

In the words of its promoters, "the project’s goal is to contribute to the sustainable development of the communities and preserve the existing forests in the territory of the Monochoa Indigenous Reserve, through the strengthening of territorial governance, the development of sustainable productive activities that contribute to food security and the generation of economic surpluses, social investment in health, education, basic sanitation and transportation, and the monitoring and protection of biodiversity". With a 30-year time horizon, it estimates avoiding the release of 13.9 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - or 464,000 tons per year.

According to this document, 182 people live in the reservation, divided into 33 families in these two communities and a smaller settlement, a census that they claim to have built from participatory workshops. Nowhere does it mention the existence of the other four communities.

Population census sheet that appears in the Monochoa Redd+ project design document, available on the BioCarbon Registry website. Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía.

The auditor's report that validated the project reinforces this view. After a three-day walk-through and a review of its documents, the Spanish company Aenor issued a positive concept of the project that allowed it to sell its first credits. According to the auditors, the Monochoa project complies with technical requirements and social and environmental safeguards.

"The three communities of Caño Negro, Tirivita and Sainí settlement have been consulted" and "have social and legal representation structures which are elected by popular vote, added to the fact that assemblies are held to ensure the space for community participation and make decisions regarding REDD+ activities," says its report dated April 2022. It makes no mention of the other four communities that have historically been part of the reservation.

Coordinates of the communities listed in Monochoa's Aenor auditor's report, available on the BioCarbon Registry website. Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía.

In the year since it was approved, the Monochoa project has sold 2 million credits, according to the BioCarbon Registry transaction register. The company that redeemed the largest number of these credits was gasoline distributor Primax Colombia, with 1.5 million, followed by Zeuss gas stations with 217 thousand. The sum of these sales is not public.

...but six communities comprised the enlarged territory

This story presented by Carbo Sostenible, Terra Commodities, Yauto and Visso Consultores, which was endorsed by the auditor and the project certifier, is far from the reality shown in the public documents on the reservation’s expansion in 2017. While those supporting the carbon project mention only two communities, the expansion documents prominently mention those two communities as well - but also the four excluded ones.

As part of the application process to expand their territory, the six communities worked together on an environmental management plan they published at the end of 2016 and which, in their words, was "the result of the unity of thought and cosmovision" of its inhabitants.

"In the territorial area where this environmental management plan applies there are six (6) communities: Tirivita, Caño Negro, Monochoa, Chukiki, Aménani and Guamaraya. (...) These six communities have their settlements on both banks of the Caquetá River and form a territorial unit", they wrote in the booklet’s introduction, brimming with photos and drawings, which gives an idea of their vision of a shared territory that brings them together. The document, in which 99 Indigenous persons from all the communities participated, emphasizes that five of the six communities - with the sole exception of Chukiki - "consider their territory to be located both on the left bank of the reservation, down the river in the department of Caquetá, and on the right bank, in the department of Amazonas".

Their historical account underscores this collective character: They present themselves as descendants of survivors of the extermination of thousands of Amazonian Indigenous people by the Peruvian Casa Arana and other rubber entrepreneurs during the first decades of the 20th century, with the consent of the Colombian State. According to their story, the first Indigenous people settled in Monochoa in 1959 and its inhabitants later founded the other communities since the 1990s.

The socio-economic, legal and land tenure study that they submitted in December 2016 to the National Land Agency (ANT), the government body that decides on creation and expansion of reservations, contains a similar narrative. "For any activity that third parties wish to carry out within the reservation and its zone of control and surveillance in the Predio Putumayo, permission must be requested and agreements reached with the authorities of the six communities," explains the document, which served as input for the ANT and includes an extensive account of the norms that govern the area. For example, the communities at each end of the river, Guaimaraya in the west and Tirivita in the east, are in charge of monitoring those entering the territory.

This document, prepared with the support of the U.S. environmental NGO Amazon Conservation Team, which has been working in the region for a decade, includes a population census of Monochoa. It includes 341 people, divided into 88 families and five communities (since Chukiki abstained, according to members of the other communities, from participating because they consider that the expanded area is outside their ancestral Muinane territory). In other words, it included in 2016 a number almost twice as large as the one presented by the Redd+ project promoters five years later.

Census table of the Monochoa reservation included in the socio-economic and legal study delivered to the National Land Agency in 2016. Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía.

That population figure was taken up by the official resolution in which the Colombian government mandated the expansion of Monochoa on July 17, 2017.

Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía.

A third document, an ethno-ecological characterization, shows that members of the six communities participated in workshops on how to carry out community monitoring of animals and plants in the reservation until as recently as 2019. In these 'ethno-ecological meetings', scientists familiarized a group of Monochoa Indigenous persons with field work techniques like the use of binoculars, camera traps or geo-referencing equipment, to complement their ancestral knowledge of the forest.

Page from the fauna monitoring booklet, with an example of a horned frog observed in the community of Monochoa. Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía.

Curiously, the PDD that supports the Redd+ project in Monochoa quotes all three documents -including 23 references to the environmental management plan- but does not acknowledge the existence of the four communities it leaves out.

To be or not to be, the question of the control and surveillance zone

The exclusion of the Monochoa, Guamaraya, Aménani and Chukiki communities from the Monochoa project can be explained, at least in part, by the fact that some of the land management arrangements in this part of the Colombian Amazon are unique and complex. At least four reservations have their collective territory on the left bank of the Caquetá River, but also have legally assigned areas on the right bank where their inhabitants act as authorities and forest guards.

These lands - called 'control and surveillance zones' - technically form part of the territory of the neighboring Predio Putumayo reservation, the largest in the country, but the Colombian state recognizes that it’s the immediately adjacent reservations that exercise governance there. This explains why many of Monochoa's documents speak of the 'Monochoa Indigenous reservation and its control and surveillance zone'.

This curious figure is the result of an odd historical mess: In 1988, the Colombian government created the country's largest reservation - larger than the territories of Croatia or Costa Rica - on what until mid-century had been an estate owned by the notorious Arana rubber-tapping family. A year later, admitting that the governance of Predio Putumayo was very complex due to its size and isolation, it created eight areas that it assigned to neighboring communities for their care. Among these was the 221,000 hectares assigned to Monochoa.

Beyond this confusing legal status, the inhabitants of these control and surveillance zones have stronger family, social and cultural ties with the reservations on the other side of the river than with the hundreds of communities scattered throughout Predio Putumayo. This is why they have historically felt part of reservations such as Monochoa or its neighbor to the west, Puerto Zábalo - Los Monos.

Despite this history, the companies Yauto, Carbo Sostenible, Terra Commodities and Visso Consultores structured their carbon projects by separating the communities on each shore, following departmental boundaries rather than socio-cultural ones. Thus, a year after the formulation of the first project in Monochoa, Chukiki and Guamaraya ended up included in the CRIMA Putumayo and Andoque de Aduche REDD+ Project, which covers 10,000 square kilometers and is promoted by the same four companies. 

Cartographic data from the National Land Agency (ANT), RUNAP and PDDs of Redd+ projects taken from BioCarbon Registry. Created with Datawrapper. Map by Luisa Fernanda López/CLIP.

This initiative is divided into three sectors: one corresponding to the control and surveillance zone of Puerto Zábalo - Los Monos, another to that of Monochoa and the last one to the Andoque de Aduche reservation. The map included in the document that supports the project does not coincide with those previously used by the Monochoa reservation, since it divides its control and surveillance zone in two. It maintains the part where Chukiki and Guamaraya are located in what it calls the second sector, but attributes the other half - where Aménani and Monochoa are located - to the neighboring Andoque de Aduche reservation. Once again, Aménani and Monochoa were erased from the map.

The project design document, available on the BioCarbon Registry platform, also includes a census of a dozen communities, including 104 inhabitants of Chukiki and 23 of Guaimaraya. Like that of the Redd+ project in Monochoa, it makes no mention of the 150 inhabitants of Aménani or Monochoa.

Addendum: March 31: An hour after publishing, Aenor responded that it focused its audit work on the communities that had agreed to participate in the projects and that the two excluded were "analyzing and agreeing on the terms of their participation." "It is clear that the communities you mention are part of the respective areas of control and surveillance and therefore part of the project if they so decide," wrote its manager José Luis Fuentes. "If these communities finally decide to participate, this would be audited during the next verification audit without any problem and it is more than likely that the auditing entity performing that verification would be able to interview members of the aforementioned communities," he added. 

Asked why they did not include any reference to those two communities in their reports, Aenor replied that "carbon programs and auditing standards require us to evaluate and assess what is happening at the time of the audit." It didn't answer whether they contemplated, during their verification, that the fact that these communities were not in the project but the territory they inhabit is, meant that they would not receive any benefits nor be able to participate in other projects.

Population census sheet appearing in the Redd+ project design document for Predio Putumayo, available on the BioCarbon Registry website. Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía.

The Spanish auditor Aenor visited the community of Chukiki during its five-day field visit and claimed in its audit report that "in the documentation review process, 100% of the project's cartography was analyzed in the GIS database," but also failed to note the exclusion of Aménani and Monochoa.

In the end, the project was registered on October 14, 2022 by the certifier BioCarbon Registry and its first credits were redeemed a month and a day later by the gasoline distributor Biomax. In total it has sold 1.8 million credits between November 2022 and February 2023, with Primax Colombia as its largest buyer with 1.5 million. The sums are not public.

Excluded communities

In Monochoa and Aménani, news that there was a carbon project in their territory came as a surprise. "We expect that for all programs or projects that come to the territory, proponents summon all of the authorities. We had that expectation [with the carbon project], but it didn’t happen," Uitoto leader Rogelio Mendoza, who has been governor of the Monochoa community for three years, told this alliance in an interview in early March. "A project should not ignore or omit some of those who live there. In collective territories you have to work precisely that way, collectively, not with individual people or just some of the communities."

"We’ve been demanding our rights over the territory and over the benefits resulting from those carbon credits," said a member of the Aménani community, who asked to remain unnamed to avoid reprisals.

Until three weeks ago, Mendoza noted that - despite being the authority of Monochoa - he hadn’t seen any documents of either of the two Redd+ projects in his territory. "They didn't show us anything legal. I’ve never seen the contract of either one or the other," he said, adding that he’d unsuccessfully asked for meetings with the company on several occasions and that he sent them a right of petition in January of this year. This journalistic alliance shared with him the PDDs and audit reports for both projects.

In Mendoza's eyes, this reality contrasts with the way they had been managing the reservation’s affairs until two years ago. "We agreed that nothing, not even the river, was going to divide us. That, regardless of how communities are constituted, nothing was going to divide us. That we could not 'Uitoticize' or 'Muinanize' it, but that the customs of each one would be respected. That’s been the agreement for many years," said the 48-year-old leader, whose family was one of the founders of the reservation.

In that model, he explained, each community elected its captain or governor and defined its internal affairs autonomously, but the six met a couple of times per year in the maloka of one of the communities for an assembly of authorities in which they made decisions on issues concerning them all. "To look at our bylaws, our coexistence manual, at projects and programs and other issues of general interest. That was the agreement: Decision-making had to be joint, not each on his own. All documents had to include the six authorities. If not, they weren’t valid," he added. He acknowledged they had internal difficulties in the past, but contends they’d been able to resolve them. For example, there were disagreements over the distribution of funds that the national government transfers to the reservation each year, as part of the General System of Participations created in the 1990s, but these were settled with the founding of four of the six communities, which in any case continued to be part of the same territory.

The six communities of the Monochoa resguardo are located on the banks of the Caquetá River, one of the most important tributaries of the Amazon. Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía.

One possible explanation for the exclusion is the fact that Monochoa and Aménani were in talks with another company, Oxigreen, for a possible carbon project in the reservation. Those discussions, however, did not prosper with the company whose visible head, as revealed by another investigation in this series, is a politician sanctioned for administrative mismanagement and barred from holding public office and contracting with the state.

By marginalizing two communities from the Monochoa and Predio Putumayo Redd+ projects in their territory, the companies could be in breach of the global social and environmental safeguards set out at the UN climate conference in Cancun in 2010, as well as the Colombian government's detailed interpretation of those ground rules, including those regarding full participation and free, prior and informed consent of communities, as well as those that speak of projects recognizing and strengthening existing governance structures and fairly and equitably distributing their benefits. However, as this journalistic alliance reported in another investigation, the national government has not made these national rules mandatory for private carbon projects.

A promise of inclusion

That situation took a dramatic turn two weeks ago. On Friday, March 17, the companies reached a preliminary agreement with the two excluded communities, Aménani and Monochoa, for them to enter the Predio Putumayo project. This occurred two days after this journalistic alliance requested an interview with the four companies promoting both Redd+ projects and one month after one of them sought us out to tell us that they knew we’d been asking about the project and offered a meeting to discuss it.

In an interview with three of the companies, Yauto, Carbo Sostenible and Terra Commodities, their representatives admitted that they had excluded these communities in the projects and assured that they are in the process of correcting it. "If we have to recognize that there was a mistake, we’ll do so. And where there is one, we won’t hesitate for a moment to correct it," said Pedro Santiago Posada of Yauto, stressing that for them the priority has always been to respect the the Indigenous communities’ autonomy and that with the memorandum of understanding they signed " in practical terms it’s already being corrected". That’s why, he noted, several members of Monochoa and Aménani joined the work sessions held in Bogotá last week with representatives of the beneficiary communities in the project. "They are already integrating," he added.

According to Posada, it was the communities themselves who decided the polygons of the two projects, including separating four of the historic communities of Monochoa, and that they as developers respect those internal decisions. "We don't say which part of the territory belongs to one or the other, it’s them who say so," he said, explaining that they always respected Aménani and Monochoa’s decision to discuss a different project with Oxigreen. Attributing part of the problem to the vagueness of the maps of the control and surveillance zones, he said that they included the territory where these two communities are located into the Predio Putumayo project because the Indigenous people of the neighboring Andoque de Aduche reservation claim it as their ancestral territory. However, aware now of this overlap, he noted that they are going to facilitate talks with the Andoke Indians to clarify the boundaries and distribute the economic benefits accordingly. They did not explain why their map is so different from the one that appears in the environmental management plan that they themselves quote.

"We’re in the best of scenarios to make any adjustments," said Juan Andrés López of Carbo Sostenible, explaining that the total revenue from the carbon credit sales are in a trust and that they are in time to make changes.

The region of rainforest, rivers and gallery forests where Monochoa is located is part of one of the most important biological corridors of the Colombian Amazon. Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía.

The companies also acknowledged that the territory where Monochoa and Aménani are located was completely included in the project, effectively limiting their ability to develop a different carbon initiative. To remedy this, they offered two possible routes: If both communities continue to be happy with the progress on the route outlined two weeks ago, they will be assured the percentage of resources that corresponds to them, including for those credits that have already been sold. But if they prefer to do it on their own, they will exclude that polygon from the project to allow them to develop one on their own. "And they will be recognized for the resources they have stopped receiving," Posada added.

“There is no clarity as to who owns the territory, they’ll have to reach an agreement," said Posada. "If they get together and say 'this belongs to that community', we’ll immediately remove that territory and acknowledge what is owed to them”. "The important thing is to generate spaces to settle conflicts," seconded Alicia Micolta, his partner in Yauto and another of the projects’ visible heads. Both insisted that discussions with the two communities began in February and that they’ve been in touch since late last year, in Bogota and in Monochoa.

Asked when the official documents will reflect this new reality, they admitted that modifying the project design document -from which Aménani and Monochoa continue to be excluded- may take several months. "Formally in the PDD it will happen during the next verification, somewhere around September. If we do well, it could be approved by year’s end," said Juan Andrés López of Carbo Sostenible, emphasizing that the alliance he leads has one of the fairest benefit-sharing schemes in the market (70% for the communities and 30%, minus operating costs, for the developers). "We believe we’ve met all the safeguards," he added.

Neither the auditors Aenor nor the certifier BioCarbon Registry responded to queries as to whether they were aware of the exclusion to date of these two communities.

Rogelio Mendoza from Monochoa is also happy with this result. Until a couple of weeks ago he was considering filing a lawsuit against the project, as the Indigenous people of Pirá Paraná did in another case in the Colombian Amazon in which several communities were not consulted and for which they are now waiting if the Constitutional Court selects their case for review. But now he believes that this outcome could be beneficial for his community.

A former Indigenous ombudsman and a gold miner under investigation

Among the companies leading the projects that excluded two Indigenous communities that have historically belonged to Monochoa, one stands out because of who runs it: a former public official who has held the two positions in the Colombian State designed to protect the rights of the 106 Indigenous peoples living in the country.

The company, Yauto S.A.S., takes its name from an Indigenous staff of command and was created in January 2019 in Bogota for the "advisory, consulting and implementation of social projects with a multi-ethnic and multicultural approach, under the different humanist and sustainable development visions, with an emphasis on environmental issues, in communion with the peoples and societies of the territories," according to its articles of incorporation.

It’s part of the Community Redd alliance with three other companies, each one in charge of a different task in their voluntary carbon market projects: Carbo Sostenible S.A.S. formulates the technical documents, Terra Commodities markets the credits, Visso Consultores S.A.S. is in charge of the financial part, and Yauto of the social part. Together they lead, according to their website, seven Redd+ projects: two in the Colombian Pacific, one in the savannahs of Orinoquia and four in the Amazon, including Monochoa and Predio Putumayo (although not all of them coincide in all of these and another company, Plan Ambiente S.A.S., participates in several).

The founder and visible face of Yauto is Pedro Santiago Posada, a lawyer who was director of Indigenous affairs at the Ministry of the Interior for eight years, during the Álvaro Uribe and Juan Manuel Santos administrations. More recently, the ombudsman of Indigenous and ethnic minorities in the Ombudsman's Office between November 2016 and August 2018. These public positions led him to be president for two years of the board of directors of the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean (Filac), an international body to which all Ibero-American governments belong to promote the rights of Indigenous peoples in the region.

Less known than Posada is his co-founder Gustavo Enrique Ardila Gómez, a restaurant businessman who, according to chamber of commerce documents, held the other half of Yauto's shares until March 2022, when he transferred them to his wife Alicia Micolta.

Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía.

In addition to his participation in Yauto, Ardila has been the general manager and legal representative since late 2017 of another company called Mineral Resources Pacific S.A.S. which has been under investigation by the Environment Ministry for alleged environmental damage since November 2020. That gold mining company, incorporated in Cali in 2010, has a concession contract granted to it by the Colombian government in Magüí-Payán, in the Pacific region. In order to carry out gold mining in the Magüí river valley, Mineral Resources Pacific requested in 2012 that the Environment Ministry allow it to subtract 597 hectares from the Pacific Forest Reserve, a management figure that seeks to promote both the protection and sustainable use of forests. The mining company argued - according to the Ministry's report - that mining is an activity of public utility and social interest that could bring tangible benefits to that remote, impoverished and poorly connected area of Colombia.

If the request were granted, Mineral Resources Pacific could then apply for an environmental license and begin gold mining. But, instead of granting it that permit to lift environmental protection, eight years later the Ministry opened an environmental sanctioning procedure against the mining company. It did so after a technical report from the Ministry in November 2018 - made after several requests for documents and a visit by Ministry officials in the company of mining employees in 2013 - warned that the company had not delivered all the requested information.

With a several photos as evidence, the Ministry's forestry engineer detailed that he had found evidence of mining in the area, including a dredge like those used in alluvial mining to extract gold underwater, but which also modify riverbeds and sediment them. "During the tour of the concession contract area, there was evidence of mining exploitation taking place, which has been exerting significant pressure on the ecosystem services provided by the reserve, to the point that the Magüí River has high sedimentation and is therefore seeing a decrease in the amount of oxygen dissolved in it, thus ending the river's potential to serve for human or animal consumption," he wrote. Among the ecosystems present, he stressed the importance of ‘guandales’, a lush freshwater swamp that often marks the transition between tropical forests and mangroves.

Fragment of the technical report from the Ministry of Environment, which highlights the existence of a dredge within the mining area. Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía.

Citing this evidence, the Directorate of Forests, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services of the Environment Ministry ordered the initiation of a sanctioning process against Mineral Resources Pacific on November 25, 2020 in view of the fact that, in its words, "the existence of an allegedly irregular procedure" in relation to a "change of land use, with the execution of mining activities within an area of the Pacific Forest Reserve (...) without having previously obtained the resolution of subtraction".

In February 2019, after the Ministry's technical report but before the sanctioning process was opened against the mining company, its manager Gustavo Ardila denounced before the National Mining Agency that "undetermined third parties", unrelated to the company he leads, were mining illegally within its title. The regional environmental authority Corponariño endorsed this version in a report in which it stated that third parties "invaded the land and are mining without having an operating contract with the company", without following any environmental protocol.

Even so, the sanctioning process against the company was still open as of November 2022, the Ministry of the Environment told this journalistic alliance.

Although Yauto has no relationship with Mineral Resources Pacific, the fact that a company linked to a founder of the former is being investigated for possible environmental damages opens questions about its commitment to other sensitive ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest and, therefore, about the ability of a carbon project of theirs to keep those forests standing.

Consulted by this journalistic alliance, Gustavo Ardila said that he had only agreed to be the manager and legal representative of Mineral Resources Pacific as a favor to a friend given that his experience was in finance and that his work had been limited to making financial projections for a study of its gold reserves. "No one from the company has ever mined or commercialized gold there," he said, stressing that he has not visited the area, that he knows it to be very dangerous and that reports of illegal mining were frequent. He added that two years ago he asked them to remove him from the legal representation, because he is fully dedicated to the restaurant business, and that two weeks ago he formally resigned from it.

"I am alien to Yauto, that is not my business," he said. He explained that he is listed as a founding partner because his wife was linked to another carbon credit developer named CI Progress and had a five-year confidentiality clause with it, but that he transferred the shares to her in 2022. Alicia Micolta said she didn’t know either the mining company or the environmental sanctioning process.

The exclusion of communities from carbon projects carried out within their territory could violate global social and environmental safeguards, as well as Colombia's detailed interpretation of these safeguards. Image courtesy of La Silla Vacía.

"The greatest opportunity for Indigenous peoples"

In the end, the result is that the six communities that until recently shared governance of Monochoa were split into pairs: Two were left in the Monochoa project, two others were grouped together with others from Predio Putumayo, and two more were completely marginalized until two weeks ago. Not only were they left out of the negotiations, but they have not been part of the distribution of the benefits of the two projects that are being carried out in the territory whose governance they have historically shared.

If the route agreed upon two weeks ago is followed, it could resolve one of the harshest consequences of the project to date: that the inhabitants of Aménani and Monochoa can receive payment for the environmental services provided to the entire country and the planet by the jungle they have helped to care for. It doesn’t yet, however, answer the question of why the communities that only six years ago managed to expand the size of their territory ended up separated. Or, as Rogelio Mendoza from Monochoa, asked a month ago, "if the project lies within the reservation, why wasn't it done with all the communities from the outset? And if the territory belongs to everyone, why is the project only for some of them?"

Community Redd's partner companies advocate that the voluntary carbon market is one of the best strategies to ensure both the well-being of these communities and the Amazon rainforest. In Pedro Santiago Posada’s words, "this is the greatest opportunity for Indigenous peoples to manage their own resources for governance and biodiversity management”.

In the case of these two communities on the Caquetá River, Monochoa and Aménani, the realization of this opportunity depends on Posada's company and its partners formally including them in the project from which they have been excluded until now.


yellow halftone illustration of an elephant


Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change
teal halftone illustration of a young indigenous person


Indigenous Rights

Indigenous Rights
a yellow halftone illustration of a truck holding logs





logo for the Rainforest Investigations Network


Rainforest Investigations Network

Rainforest Investigations Network

Support our work

Your support ensures great journalism and education on underreported and systemic global issues