Colombian shadows

This is the third and final mini-profile of people working in conservation in the shadow of Colombia’s recent turbulent past.

Julia Gorricho has worked in environmental protection and biodiversity conservation in Colombia since 2004, beginning when she assisted with the International Crisis Group’s Colombia and the Andean projects. With her in-depth knowledge of biodiversity conservation in settings affected by violent conflict and transnational drug-trafficking Julia became one of the International Crisis Group’s key contacts.

At the time Julia had just completed a pioneering, multi-year action research project in Colombia’s Providencia and Santa Catalina Islands in the Caribbean in collaboration with the Costa Rica-based University for Peace and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC). In an environment heavily affected by the transhipment of illegal drugs from mainland Colombia to the United States, Julia developed a participatory diagnosis of the fishing and conservation activities in the archipelago.

Following the successful completion of the project, Julia took a Masters in Environmental Studies at York University (Canada), her thesis being on ‘socio-environmental conflict management in protected areas: the case of the Galapagos Marine Reserve’.

Julia returned to Colombia to engage in a high risk/high reward project with the Bogota-based World Bank Patrimonio Natural Trust Fund as Conservation Mosaics Program Officer: she was tasked with the management and implementation of the Conservation Mosaics program in Colombia’s Atlantic coast, developing a portfolio of conservation and development projects with a range of stakeholders (including local communities, the Colombian National Parks authority and representatives of other government institutions and international organizations).

Julia’s work required extraordinary courage as Colombia’s Atlantic coast was emerging from decades of para-military control, oppression and violence: virtually all communities in the region had been deeply affected by para-military rule (often in collusion with members of the Colombian armed forces and regional political and economic elites) as well as large-scale illegal drugs and arms trafficking. This difficult and daring work by Julia made a significant positive contribution to the lives of the people in the region, and Julia was among the first group of Colombian environmental professionals to start addressing in practice the enormous challenges of biodiversity conservation in regions of the country that had been affected to the core by violence and trafficking.

Julia then moved from Patrimonio Natural to join USAID-Colombia in the post of the mission’s Biodiversity Advisor, being responsible for a wide portfolio of projects, and making a major contribution to USAID’s 5-year Environment Program worth US$100 million. She managed several biodiversity projects and also parts of the mission’s ‘climate-change’ portfolio, frequently visiting and working in different regions of Colombia, including the Amazon and Choco. One of her principal interests in this post ­- and a key issue area on which she provided advice to USAID-Colombia as well as a range of other Colombian institutions and international organizations – was to establish and address the linkages between biodiversity conservation and the armed conflict and the illegal drug business in the country. Julia is presently pursuing her PhD studies at the Institute of Environmental Social Science at the University of Freiburg.        Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre

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