Paradoxically, almost at the same time when the new banknote is released, the National Environmental Licensing Agency (ANLA) decided to grant operating licenses to a company of hydrocarbons within 67 kilometers of the majestic river.
Four years ago the engineers of the Hupecol Operating company arrived in the region which includes the municipality of La Macarena, one of the most affected by violence in recent decades, to begin the oil exploration phase. Once confirmed the feasibility of the project, some 30 kilometers from the town, they began the process to start the second phase: the exploitation of some 150 wells.
On March 18, the director of ANLA Fernando Iregui signed resolution 0286, which authorized the company to go ahead with their plans. The people and leaders of the municipality, where about 30,000 people live, felt betrayed. And, of course, concerned about the fate awaiting them. Since violence began to subside in the area and tourists lost their fear to visit this glamorous natural corner of Colombia, they understood that ecotourism and sustainable development were the best option for everyone.
Two national parks have been declared in the area: Sierra de La Macarena and Tinigua. Caño Cristales is just one of the jewels of the region. There are also places like Salto Canoas, Caño Piedra, El Raudal, Caño Temblón, Salto del Gato. This large ecosystem was one of the sites chosen by the producers of the film Magia Salvaje, Wild Magic.
A year ago, on May 15, 2015, at the desire of the company to settle in the region, political leaders of the municipality called for an open council to discuss the issue. More than 3,000 people, like Pedro Rocha, president of the City Council recalled, attended the event and demonstrated against oil exploitation in the area. They knew that at stake was the commitment to community tourism and sustainable development.
In the municipality, at least 500 families depend on this activity, some 120 youth and adults work as tour guides, there are two associations of canoeists, two other of carriers, and local travel agencies have been created. "It's a work we have done in a social and sustainable way," says Rocha, who traveled this week to Bogota with the mayor of La Macarena, Ismael Medellin, and other leaders to expose to the Congress what is happening.
In addition to the town meeting, on July 4 last year a public hearing on the issue was held. Once again the people expressed their opposition to the oil project. Their greatest fear is that water sources are affected. The mayor of La Macarena says the project is very close to several water sources such as those of rivers Guayabero, Duda and Lozada.
"The ANLA didn't take into account those decisions by the people - Rocha says, - we have seen that in Putumayo and part of Meta oil companies have left only ruins. There is no example that this will lead to something positive. In addition, environmental studies are made by oil companies. Therefore they always go in their favour".
Representatives of La Macarena again expressed their disagreement in Congress. On social networks the issue became a national trend. Iregui, director of ANLA, convened a press conference in which he explained his point of view. First he said that "Hupecol had requested 34,649 hectares and 30,874 were licensed". Second, the official pointed out that Caño Cristales is 68 kilometers from the area being conceded, the Guayabero River is 23 kilometers and the Duda River is 48 kilometers away. He clarified that the watershed in the licensed area is different from that of Caño Cristales, which would lead to the Lozada river and not vice versa.
He acknowledged that the distance between the block licensed to Hupercol and the PNN Tinigua is of just 2.5 kilometers. A rather worrying distance when you think that beyond the natural parks, there are buffer zones that require special handling.
Iregui also acknowledged that the southern boundary of the licensed block is indeed touching the river Lozada, and this is one of the concerns of the people who depend on these water sources. Although he insisted that "there is no danger to the river."
Councillor Rocha recalled that for several years this is a community struggling to boost ecotourism. "Those who visit this paradise can not use for example deodorant or aerosols" he said, adding: "This place is an opportunity for our children to build peace and harmony while at the same time generating economic income. We have always sought and continue to seek that this paradise is recognised as a natural heritage. "