The Cauca department in Colombia is home to a series of territorial and ontological disputes between companies, politicians, and extra-legal actors that represent the neoliberal logic of accumulation on the one hand and indigenous, peasant, and Afro-Colombian communities that defend collective proposals of dignified territorial governance and river commoning on the other. Extractive industry based economies and market-driven hydro-governance were forced upon a wide range of territories around the Cauca River through techno-political-economic reconfiguration schemes, fostering mining of gold and construction material; sugar cane plantations; wood production for carton; coca plantations; and energy production and water regulation through hydroelectrical dams. These were already imposed under colonial rule and now continue to be part of the economic interests around the Cauca River, resulting in multiple disputes that reshape the prevailing hydrosocial territorial relationships.

This research project, therefore, investigates how rural communities around the Cauca river understand hydro-social justices, the strategies that they use to advance in their realization of ‘river commoning’ and the possible role that the recognition of the river as a political subject can play in strategies to advance hydro-social justice. The Paletará indigenous community in the municipality of Coconuco, for instance, wants to articulate this specific research with their legal and political actions aimed to receive recognition of its Environmental and Economic Territorial Authority as well as legal special protection of its territory, since the spring of the Cauca River is within the territory of Paletará. Next, this research also wants to articulate with the struggle for agrarian reform by peasant communities in Cajibio by questioning land and water concentration by hegemonic stakeholders who own thousands of hectares of non-edible products in the fertile valley of the Cauca River in the center of the department. Finally, Afro-Colombian communities in Santander de Quilichao have been dispossessed by the sugar cane industry and the hydroelectric dam La Salvajina. Their legal and political struggle is focused on reparation, land reform, and water justices. Together with the riverine communities, the specific research questions will be collectively identified, to articulate them to their livelihood and territorial needs and claims.

PhD researcher: Moritz Tenthoff

This specific research is embedded within the program of the Belgian solidarity organization Broederlijk Delen in Colombia. It combines the accompaniment of an Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and farmer community, all of which are organized through the Comité Ambiental por la Defensa de la Vida, el Agua y el Territorio,  and immersed in territorial disputes with extractive industries in the Cauca river basin, with academic research. The main question of this research is: How are three rural communities in a context of territorial and ontological disputes around the Cauca River disrupting disciplinary techniques and the accompanying epistemologies and ontologies by hydro-hegemonies to materialize proposals of autonomy and hydro-social and ecological justice?