In 1916 the Arhuacos asked the government of Colombia for teachers to learn to read and write and also learn about mathematics, but instead the government sent Capuchin Friars. The Friars prohibited the children from learning about their culture, established a "regime of terror" and put them aside in an orphanage. They also established forced labor, ignoring the Arhuacos' plea to leave them alone.
In 1943, politicians from Valledupar, missionaries and Ministry of Agriculture, expropriated without compensation the best terrains of Nabusimake and built a State-owned, agricultural farm. The Arhuacos fought back and in 1944 created the Liga de Indios de la Serra Nevada (Sierra Nevada Amerindians League), but were outlawed later in 1956 by a military government.
In 1962, the government imposed the construction of a communications tower for TV in Mount Alguacil, considered sacred by the Arhuacos. This outraged them because they believe mountain peaks to be sacred. The government also established a military post to intimidate them, and later ordered the construction of a highway from their territory to Valledupar. Ignoring the threats, the Arhuacos reestablished their league. In 1972 the Arhuacos created the cabildo Gobernador, a better structured and adequate organization to defend their values and land.
On August 7, 1982 they rebelled against the Capuchins and took over the mission's buildings. The Capuchins finally left in 1983.
In 1975, colonials, not Arhuacos, started cultivating Marijuana in the Sierra Nevada. This brought more problems to the community, like forced recruitment for plantations, assimilation of the drug dealers' culture by some, and violence. Many poor peasants from other regions of Colombia came to work in the Marihuana bonanza of the 1980s. Different from the traditional, non-commercial Coca planting, the drug dealers produced Cocaine through chemical processes. The money later attracted the Colombian Armed Conflict, and conflict among the different factions: mainly guerrillas and paramilitaries, who competed for the control of the area, and indiscriminately accused the Arhuacos and others of being collaborators of the rival party, assassinating and intimidating them, forcing many to leave. The government also started fumigations to eradicate illicit plantations leaving the Arhuacos in the middle of a crossfire.
The government of Colombia is trying to develop an irrigation system for the Valley of Cesar by constructing hydroelectric dams and ecotourism routes in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The Arhuacos are strongly opposed to all these projects and organized the Confederación Indígena Tairona (Tairona Indigenous Confederation).