By Irene Escudero
Puerto Carreño, Colombia, Feb 7 (EFE).- For some 100 people in Colombia’s Puerto Carreño, garbage is their main source of livelihood.
Every day, they wait for garbage trucks that arrive in the small city bordering Venezuela hoping to find something to eat in the trash.
Children as young as four play among the garbage while helping their parents sort plastic bottles, used clothes, or other valuable items they collect in their large raffia totes to sell later.
Most of these informal recyclers working under the suffocating sun belong to Colombia’s indigenous communities, especially the Amorua people, who have settle in Puerto Carreño for a few years and dedicate themselves to collecting garbage.
Enrique Echandia has been in this business for four years, trying to make ends meet.
“It’s not because we want to be here, but because we don’t control the situation, we don’t have resources, we don’t have the means,” the father of six says.
“We don’t know how to do other things,” Echandia tells Efe, before pausing and saying: “Well, we do know.”
Historically, the Amoruas are known for fishing and farming but now they are lacking the materials and “since they don’t give them to us and we don’t have the means to buy them, so we can’t do anything else,” Echandia explains.
The indigenous Amoruas and the Jivis living in this eastern region are among the few remaining nomadic communities that do not live in shelters, unlike other indigenous people from other parts of the country.
The Colombian government only recognizes those living in shelters, so they were forced to settle in the urban area of Puerto Carreño and its surroundings.
Collecting garbage was one of the solutions after they started finding valuable items that can be sold, and junkyards started paying them in exchange for aluminum, glass, or plastic bottles.
In 2019, the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office denounced the situation, in which some 200 indigenous people lived off garbage due to lack of resources.
Clashes between the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerillas and dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on the Venezuelan side of the border have resulted in forcing many indigenous families to settle in Puerto Carreño.
“They arrive and they don’t have anything to live on, they don’t have anything to subsist on. They arrive, then they see the social behavior of this town and they unite,” the Ombudsman’s Office highlights.
But they do it out of necessity. “It’s a matter of hunger. Nobody does what they do for pleasure,” stresses the Ombudsman’s Office, which has repeatedly called for their rights to be respected.
“We want them to dignify the work of my people, to set up a recycling company for them; we don’t want them to send us to a market, we want to work,” says indigenous governor Henny Gutierrez. EFE