Flat World Partners
6 min readFeb 1, 2024

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About | Mission | Blog

We are all familiar with the daily weight of trying to do our part for the Earth. We recycle, we shop sustainable, we look for climate pledge friendly icons and promises from companies before we purchase, but many feel the growing need for solutions leave the average person without enough leverage to help change the dire circumstances we see ourselves facing in the horrifying fight against climate change.

While attention is finally shifting the onus from the individual toward a more impactful demand for large corporations to take accountability and enact change, there are still some surprising and inspiring victories coming from individuals. One bewildering example of this lays in the lap of Colombian drug lord and cartel leader, Ivan Mordisco, a man whose name is laced with terror and violence, and whose shoulders seems an unlikely mantel for protecting the critical biodiversity of the Amazon, but who may be doing more than any other single person in protecting this significant forest.

Let’s start with some crucial background. Whether you watched, stuck in your apartment during lockdown with the world as the Amazon burned in 2020, or are a die-hard Leonardo DiCaprio aficionado following his philanthropic efforts aimed at protecting the Amazon, this
South American rainforest, located largely in Brazil, but stretching into Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, French Guiana, Guyana and Suriname, and which currently stands at roughly nine times the size of the state of Texas, has been a focal point in the global conversation for climate change for years, decades even, and the threat of its dwindling size and jeopardized health threatens the health of the globe.

The Amazon’s trees release roughly 20 billion tonnes of water into the atmosphere daily, while sequestering 76 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, both of which contribute massively to the stabilization of the planet and thus the safety of all its inhabitants. It’s biodiversity touts a river with at least twice as much diversity as any other river on earth, with the forest hosting hundreds of thousands of species of fauna and flora that mere reforestation efforts cannot begin to regenerate.

The Amazon has been hacked, burned, and bloodied for land used by cattle for the beef industry, for timber used across the globe, and for humans’ ever increasing appetite for space. In 2022 an unexpected savior arrived, taking the violence against the forest and returning it in a wave of fear and bloodshed.

Mordisco, né Gregorio Vera, is one of the remaining ex-FARC Mafia leaders still alive today, and the top leader of the current Estado Mayor Central group, or “EMC,” a dissident faction running a massive exploitation and cocaine operation out of the Colombian area of Guaviare. He controls a large armed group of roughly 4,000 fighters that help him extort local businesses and farms for an EMC tax alongside their growing cocaine export business. So how did a cocaine drug lord come to protect the Amazon?

Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, who gained office in 2022, ran with a campaign promising Amazon protection from deforestation. For these efforts, however unorthodox they may be, he has reached out to guerrilla groups and cartel factions to help achieve this. One such person was Ivan Mordisco and the EMC, Colombia’s third largest armed faction. At the request of the president, and to the surprise of the world, Mordisco reversed the EMC’s original approach to the forest and banned all local burning and cutting of trees, particularly by cattle ranchers, with his followers handing out pamphlets that promised “revolutionary justice,” fines, and violence to those who did not obey.

In areas that he controls, deforestation is now down 90%, with total Colombian deforestation of the Amazon down a staggering 76% compared to 2022. And while the reasons behind his actions are more likely tied to displays of power and bargaining leverage with the Colombian government rather than climate activism, the results are unambiguous.

And so, in a world of increasing global threats brought on by the climate crisis, do the results outweigh the methods used to achieve them? The question of who we see as heroes is no longer cut and dry, as Mordisco and the EMC’s anti-deforestation achievements perfectly encapsulate. Where we put our support matters now more than ever, all while the moral stances behind that same support seems to have no choice but to gray in a sign of the times.

Lillian MacCartney, Vice President

Deforestation down by 1/3rd after the 2023 Bolsonaro defeat in Brazil.

Use sustainably sourced paper products, such as non-tropical hardwood or products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Or choose companies to buy from that donate directly to the cause, such as skincare company Teadora, which helps protect 500 square miles of rainforest by working with Rainforest Foundation US. And consider eating less meat, as cattle ranching is one of the largest contributors to Amazon deforestation.

Visit the largest protected portion of the rainforest along Brazil’s Rio Negro Environmental Protection Area, which includes low impact travel ideas for tourists.

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