MAC: Mines and Communities

Colombia: the murder of Father José Reinel Restrepo

Published by MAC on 2011-09-19
Source: CRIDEC, MiningWatch Canada, others

Just a month after the assassination of a Colombian mineworkers' leader, parish priest  José Reinel Restrepo has been found murdered in Caldas.

Father Restrepo had vociferously opposed a Canadian mining project which, he claimed, would violate the fundamental rights of local indigenous and afro communities.

Prophetically, he declared that those backing the project would "only get me to leave the parish and the municipality by force."


Response from Marmato, Colombia to the murder of Father José Reinel Restrepo

Caldas Regional Indigenous Council and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective Statement

9 September 2011

The Regional Indigenous Council of the Department of Caldas and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective condemn the murder of José Reinel Restrepo, the parish priest of the municipality of Marmato and a defender of the rights of people to survive and remain on their territory.

On Friday September 2nd 2011, the priest's body was found without any identification alongside his motorcycle in which he had been traveling between Mistrató and Belén de Umbría in Colombian coffee country. The media have associated his death with a supposed mugging, which is doubtful and could be hiding the possibility that this assassination is related with his work in defence of the mining municipality's population.

The week before his death, between the 23rd and 26th of August, Father Restrepo had visited the city of Bogotá together with municipal leaders in order to denounce the general unease in his community as a result of the proposed large-scale open-pit gold project, which would uproot the community and violate the rights of the afro, indigenous and mestizo population of Marmato, in the department of Caldas.

Father Restrepo denounced that the Canadian company, Medoro Resources (now merged with Gran Colombia Gold), had circulated information about the supposed sale of the parish church, leading to confusion within the community about its potential relocation. To verify this information, the priest communicated with the dioceses of Caldas and with the regional episcopate to find out if the sale had in fact been made, and which the ecclesiastic authority then denied.

In the eyes of Father Reinel and of other social leaders working in defence of Marmato, these events are occurring as part of an effort to displace the people from the urban area in order to develop an open-pit mine at all costs. Father Reinel had made public declarations saying, "They will only get me to leave the parish and the municipality by force."

We express our solidarity with Father Reinel's family and with his religious community who have lost a member who was committed to the defence of human rights.


In the municipality of Marmato, department of Caldas, Colombia, the indigenous, afro and mestizo population have historically co-existed. The municipality's economy has been sustained by small-scale underground mining. About four years ago, Canadian business people arrived in the region, buying up mining titles and lands from local residents. At the same time, intentions were announced to leave hundreds of people without employment, without a job in small scale mining, as well as to relocate the urban centre and local institutions, including the hospital, school, college and church. At the same time, the presence of public armed forces increased, which the local population perceived as a form of intimidation and contrary to the free exercise of their rights and peaceful expression of their dissent.

The development of this mega-project would also implicate the violation of the fundamental rights of indigenous and afro communities, whose ancestral territories are affected. In this regard, the Colombian state has indicated that it will not carry out a process of prior consultation. The former Minister of Mines Hernán Martínez Torres indicated as much on July 29, 2009 when he said, "It's clear that a process of prior consultation will not take place." This attitude has continued within the current government such that the Colombian state is negating its human rights obligations, in particular with regard to ILO Convention 169 that Colombia ratified in Law 21 of 1991 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

An affiliate of the company Medoro Resources (now merged with Gran Colombia Gold) presented more than 100 administrative injunctions to the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mines (Ingeominas) so that its property would be recognized in place of mining titles in Marmato of mines belonging to small-scale miners, also known as guacheros. It is evident that the multinational company intends to takeover the mines in order to begin development of the open-pit operation.

The intention to relocate the urban centre and adjacent communities has been made on the basis of claims of geomorphological risks that could be mitigated where they exist.


Of the Colombian state

Of the Canadian state

Of the Catholic Church in Colombia

In response to murder of priest in Colombia, Canadian civil society calls for stronger protection of human rights defenders

MiningWatch Canada Press Release

15 September 2011

Canadian labour, faith, social justice, and solidarity organizations have sent a letter to the Canadian Embassy in Colombia expressing concern that Canadian mining companies may well be aggravating or benefiting from violence.

Civil society groups are troubled by recent news of the murder of Father José Reinel Restrepo, an outspoken advocate against the displacement of the urban centre of Marmato in the department of Caldas to make way for an open-pit gold mine project owned by Toronto-based Gran Colombia Gold.

Father Restrepo's murder comes little more than two weeks after Prime Minister Harper celebrated the coming into effect of the Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement in Bogotá. Harper accused those who put human rights before free trade of "protectionism." This tragedy, however, raises the question about who needs greater protection: Canadian corporations or human rights defenders in Colombia standing up for collective interests in their communities.

On September 2nd, the body of Father Restrepo was found shot dead near his motorcycle on a road between the municipality of Belén de Umbría, Departamento of Risaralda and the municipality of Viterbo, department of Caldas, south of the municipality of Marmato. The 36 year-old priest had served for two years in the parish church of Marmato. No perpetrators in this crime have yet been identified, nor has a motive for Father Restrepo's killing been determined.

Shortly before he was killed, Father Restrepo gave declarations to the Colombian press, stating that the church is a defender of the poor, and that "this Canadian multinational company wants to take advantage of the population; they want to drive them out."

"They have even gone so far as to want to relocate the parish church," he said, "...they've come and asked me if I agree with the relocation of the town [...] I've openly told them that I'm not in agreement with this."

The municipality of Marmato has historically relied on small-scale mining activities. Indigenous artisanal mining has taken place for centuries in this area, with afro-colombians and more recently other miners adopting the same vocation.

Shortly after Restrepo's body was found, Gran Colombia Gold issued a statement saying, "We hope the authorities will fully investigate this crime and swiftly establish what took place. The company reiterates our complete rejection of any acts of violence."

Canadian social organizations are asking that the Embassy to cooperate with investigations, to urge the company to do the same, and to provide stronger guarantees and mechanisms to hold companies to account, particularly in the context of Colombia's armed conflict.

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For more information, contact:

Jennifer Moore, Latin America Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada

Marmato Gold Mining Plans and Murder of Marmato Priest Jose Reinel Restrepo

Statement of Canadian Colombia Support Network

5 September 2011

We of the Colombia Support Network express our outrage at the September 1, 2011 murder of Father Jose Reinel Restrepo, parish priest in the town of Marmato in Caldas Department in west central Colombia. Father Restrepo had spoken out against a plan by the Canadian mining company Medoro Resources, which merged in July with a Colombian company, Gran Colombia Gold. The plan would require the town of Marmato to be moved from its present location so that an open-pit gold mine could be developed there. The Canadian mining interest in Colombia fits with the recent approval by Colombia and Canada of a so-called Free Trade Agreement between the two countries, an agreement which we believe will have deleterious consequences for both countries, but particularly for rural communities in Colombia.

Town residents in Marmato have opposed the Medoro-Gran Colombia Gold plan, which would also close down small-scale artisan mining in the highland area where Marmato is located. This small-scale mining has been a feature of the area since the Spanish conquest and, according to the Mayor of Marmato, provides employment for more than 2,000 miners, upon whose earnings the town depends. The Mayor also has pointed out that years ago an agreement had been reached to keep the highlands where Marmato is located available for small-scale mining, while allowing the Colombian government to development mining projects in the lowlands. This accord would be breached by the proposed open-pit mine in the highland areas where the town is located.

Father Restrepo spoke out publicly against the Canadian mining plan, which he noted would undermine the livelihood of Marmato's artisan miners and cause tremendous damage to the community and its residents. On August 28, 2011 a video (with English subtitles) in which he spoke out against the Medoro mining plan was placed on You Tube at Four days later Father Restrepo was murdered as he traveled by motorcycle between Marmato to a neighboring community. Related video (Spanish) The persons responsible for his murder have not yet been identified, nor has the cause of the attack on Father Restrepo been determined. But few doubt that his murder was related to his outspoken objection to the Medoro/Gran Colombia Gold Mine plan.

Please write to Colombian Vice-President Angelino Garzón, the Human Rights Office of the Ministry of Interior s, Minister of Mines Carlos Rodado, and Fiscal General Vivianne Morales to urge them to see that the murder of Father Restrepo is properly investigated and those responsible prosecuted for murder, and to stop the Marmato mine development by Medoro/Gran Colombia Gold. And write to or call the following officials of the gold companies to tell them to halt implementation of their damaging and fatality-producing project.

Señor ANGELINO GARZÓN, Vice President of Colombia -

Carrera 8a No.7-57 Bogotá, Colombia Señor HERNÁN JAIME ULLOA VENEGAS, Director of the Presidential Program on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Rights

Señor Carlos Rodado, Minister of Mining:

Señora Maria Paulina Riveros, Derechos Humanos Ministerio del Interior;

Señora Viviane Morales, Fiscal General de la Nación:

Medoro Resources: Mr Peter Volk, Vicepresident and General Counsel:

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