We must defend life on our planet together
By Jani Silva*
My name is Jani Silva and I’m a campesina, or small-scale farmer, from Colombia. I’m 57 years old and I work in the Perla Amazónica Farming Reserve Area in the southern region of Putumayo. Ever since I was little, I’ve always followed my convictions and always defended what I believe in. This is why I’m fighting to preserve the Amazon and its biodiversity.
Today I face death threats, for defending our territory, the environment and our way of life. The armed groups in the region want to control our crops, our land and our communities.
We’ve also faced oil drilling that affects our territory, destroys sensitive biological corridors for the protection of Amazonian species, and has drastically changed the lifestyle of our campesino communities.
Despite all the obstacles and difficulties that we confront, we’re convinced that our struggle is just and necessary. Humanity must understand that we are all life, that we are water and that to defend the Amazon is to defend the life of present and future generations.
We, the campesinos, are the Amazon. Our territory is everything we have and everything we are. It’s where we live our lives, where we raise our children and where we see our grandchildren grow. We’re fighting to stay here. We’re defending life, defending an ecosystem, defending a whole history, a whole campesino culture.
We carry an immense responsibility on our shoulders because everyone breathes the oxygen that our forests and wetlands produce. When there are threats to our territory, it is not just our community that is endangered, but the entire world, the water, the trees and the species that are at risk of extinction. We must not just think about our country, we must think about others too and all those who need us. All ecosystems are important, for together they form a whole that protects life on our planet.
We all share a common home, resources and the environment. This is why I believe we should all be territorial defenders. We need to raise awareness that what we have is very important for the life of everyone. We cannot let it be destroyed or polluted. That’s why there should not be just one group of defenders, there should be a world of defenders, because we must defend everyone’s lives together.
The biggest obstacles are greed and apathy. We cannot go on thinking about obliterating everything or filling our territory with oil palm or rice plantations. Our soil is diverse and must not be covered with monocultures. We want the same variety of crops and natural diversity that we’ve always had. We are campesinos and we must preserve that way of life and restore the forest, respecting nature’s cycles and preserving clean water supplies.
Not a day goes by when we don’t think about how to improve conditions in our community. We stay up late at night, thinking of how to things in the best possible way for everyone, the best way to fight against the economic interests that attack us, including the business interests that have the backing of a government that has forgotten us and handed our territory over to them so they can exploit it. The damage done to nature cannot be fixed with money, or with jobs; it can only be rectified by respecting nature. I know that change is possible, we just have to fight for it.
In Colombia they say that those who have money always win, that those who have power always win, but we’ll never give up here. We may be few, but we’ve had major achievements, such as delaying the oil industry from operating here for three years. But our community no longer has clean drinking water. We must wait for rain to collect water because our rivers and streams, which used to supply us with fish and water all year round, are now contaminated by waste from the oil industry. We used to bathe in them, but now if we touch the water it leaves our skin with blisters. We no longer have a potable water supply and there are families who go thirsty.
Now I’m facing death threats once again. We’ve learned of new plans to assassinate me and thus silence my voice. They want to crush my spirit and deprive me of my peace of mind. But the toughest thing has not been the threats but having to give up what I love. I’m a campesina, I love my land, I love my chickens and my home. I love to go barefoot. I love the countryside and the river. My favourite moment of the day was getting up to have a cup of coffee and watch the sunrise with my family, but now, with the threats against me, I cannot do these things. I have had to move away. Today I can no longer live on my farm and I try not to leave the house where I am staying.
Living in fear, with constant anxiety, is not living. Living with oppression is not living. We need people to raise their voices and search for those who will defend the defenders.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to defend my territory, my family, the future of my seven beautiful grandchildren and life itself.
*Jani Silva’s case is featured in the 2020 edition of Write for Rights, Amnesty International’s annual global letter-writing campaign and the world’s biggest human rights event. This article was originally published, in Spanish, on VICE.
Write a letter to demand state protection for Jani Silva.
His case is featured in this year's Write for Rights, Amnesty International’s annual global letter-writing campaign.