A contentious eco-tourism project in Tayrona National Park on Colombia´s Caribbean coast was suspended per a court ruling on Tuesday, citing the need to respect the wishes of the indigenous people who live there.
The ruling from the administrative court in the Magdalena department halts the “Los Ciruelos” eco-tourism development which had only restarted operations in January this year after being halted in November 2011 due to environmental concerns. Colombia´s president Juan Manuel Santos had stopped work on January 18 pending the result of the deliberations.
According to the ruling, the indigenous of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta should have been consulted before the license was ever granted and that no developments should encroach on the sacred sites or habitats of the indigenous people who live in the National Park without their prior consent.
The High Court ordered the immediate suspension of activity until the opinion of the indigenous people had been taken into account and the projected 12 eco-cabins had been deemed to meet the “social, cultural and economic integrity of the communities.”
Because tourism must be suspended until the sacred areas and other areas of concern have been identified, a good chunk of operations run by tourism giant Aviatur, a senior partner in the project, will be affected. President of the company Jean Claude Bessudo said that Aviatur will heed the ruling and suspend operations immediately according to newspaper El Espectador.
The ruling holds strong implications for the park’s economy as it comes during high season when more than 5,000 tourists per day can enter the National Park. Over the past six years this footfall has reportedly represented an income of around $3.5 million for the National Park organization. The monetary blow to Aviatur is also hefty as to spend one night in one of their eco-cabins can cost up to $365.
Bessudo said that the site is one of the biggest successes in ecotourism in the country and complained that nothing was mentioned about consulting the indigenous at the time and they had not even expressed any annoyance with the work, reported W Radio.
While the decision can be appealed and the project can also move ahead with agreement from the indigenous people, the outlook may not be good for Los Ciruelos as 16 members of the Indigenous Confederation of Tayrona took part in filing the complaint along with the president of the Polo Democratico party Clara Lopez, who said the decision was “a precedent for all the similar cases across the country.”