Life on the Magdalena River has included different dwellers and their changing entanglements. Throughout history, state interventions have neglected riverside communities as well as its animals, soils, and plants. Today, riverside people face changes in fish migration paths, floods, food shortages, and pollution, among others.
Over time, governments have prioritized activities different from those with long histories among riverside communities, like fishing. In the seventeenth century it was navigability projects; since the early twentieth century, it has been mainly hydroelectric dams and oil transportation. Other activities such as mining, which releases poisonous chemicals into the water, have had a tremendous impact.
But there’s hope for the future. Fishermen, local officials, and researchers devise mechanisms for addressing co-responsibility considering the unequal burdens generated by extractive companies, the state, and the fishing industry. A quest is underway to connect social and environmental justice.
Our Point of View
The Magdalena River is Colombia’s fluvial artery: a river of many lives and hopes. It travels through 1,528 kilometers of páramos, humid forests, and dry forests on its way to the sea. We were taught it is our homeland river, a place of human/natural diversity. Fishermen shared that “living waters” sustain entangled lives including their own. But their lives are interrupted and silenced by the ambition and neglect of “development.” Seeking justice includes considering ecologies of abundance and ecologies of fear—and today’s longer dry seasons, less fish, rising pollution, extreme floods and droughts, and rupturing infrastructure.
—Universidad de los Andes and Universidad del Rosario
If they ask me if the Magdalena River has harmed me, I’ll say yes. But not because the river is evil, but because it needs a Nation. Riverside peoples are always the most affected. When there is flooding, drought, or fish mortality, the state barely pays any attention. Frequently, we are made responsible for living by the river even though the greatest harm is caused by hydroelectric dams, agroindustry, and extensive cattle ranching. We feel hopeful in this moment of urgency. Defending the river is defending ourselves: It is our life.
—Asopein, Asopesarhon, Asopesca, Asapevema, Asopestol, Fuentemar, Famipez, Fepescarmar, and other riverside communities