Colombia’s National Congress voted Wednesday to formally approve the formation of a new institution that will elevate the voice of Amazon governments in national policy decisions. The vote gives Colombia’s Amazonian governments a greater say in how national development projects for the region are designed and funded.
Supporters say the vote provides a boost to efforts to slow deforestation and implement a sustainability agenda in a region beset by poverty and ecological challenges.
“This is a profound moment … for the Amazon region,” said Oscar Rojas, an advisor to the regional governments of the Amazon and a lead organizer of the Administrative Planning Region (RAP) of the Amazon, the regional body’s official title.
“Up to now these Amazonian states have been on the periphery of decision making at the national level,” said Maria Fernández, Earth Innovation Institute’s (EII) national program coordinator for Colombia. “This decision gives them more negotiating power – it will give them a better chance to be heard and supported.”
RAP Amazon consists of four departments – Caquetá, Putumayo, Guaviare and Guainía – that together represent a majority of Colombia’s Amazon region. The remaining two Amazon states, Amazonas and Vaupés, have already expressed formal interest in joining the group.
Together the Amazon comprises nearly half of Colombia’s national territory.
RAPs were first formed in Colombia in 2016 as a way to coordinate regional planning and investments at the national level for departments that share similar development goals and objectives. One of the stated purposes of the RAPs is to help narrow the gaping economic inequalities that exist across regions of Colombia, including in the Amazon.
A study released earlier this year argues that reducing inequality in Latin America is key to lowering rates of deforestation, which in Colombia rose steadily after the country signed a peace treaty ending its decades long civil war in 2016. More recent data show a decline.
RAPs already exist in other parts of the country, including one for the central region and another for coastal areas. Wednesday’s vote officially formalizes the RAP for the Amazon region.
Fernández said the decision will help ensure states in the Amazon “do not get left behind.” Prior to the vote, EII helped facilitate discussions between representatives from the Inter-Regional Amazon Council (CIAM), a similar body in neighboring Peru, and Amazon governments in Colombia. These exchanges helped Colombian officials see the benefits of organizing in this way, she said.
Amazon governments previously had little say in how national development projects were planned and implemented in their regions. And given the geographic isolation of some of these departments, coordination between these governments was rare. Project proposals did not extend beyond regional borders, while access to funding at the national or international level was all but non-existent. “These regions always looked to Bogota, not to each other,” said Fernández.
Today’s vote could dramatically shift that paradigm, allowing regional governments to work collectively on strategies to address the challenges they face, and to gain greater funding for those efforts.