Colombia: going for gold
Small-Scale Miners in Nariño Face Crackdown as Foreign Companies Set Sights on Colombia
By Leah Gardner
11 April 2012
Miners break down extracted rocks manually with hammers. Police arrived at the Santa Isabel mine in Colón-Génova on February 21, 2012. The officers asked these local miners to attend a meeting to see if they could sort out their licensing request; However, when the roughly twenty-five miners arrived, they were read their rights and arrested.
|Small-scale miner at work in Colombia
About a week later, a report ran on television stating that police had arrested a group of illegal miners in Colón-Génova who were making over 150 million pesos ($CAD 84,500) per month and using their earnings to fund the FARC and Los Rastrojos, a paramilitary group.
The miners say they were shocked. "It's ridiculous," says Ferney Gamboa, one of those arrested. "A person here makes between 320,000 and 480,000 pesos ($CAD 180 -270) per month." Miners then invest earnings into their farms and families, he adds. "We have no contact with armed groups."
This assertion has been backed by local officials. Pedro Vincente Obando, the Secretary of the Governor of Nariño, said at a conference on March 27, 2012 that the charges were "false and dangerous."
A Mining Country
Miners and the Comité de Integración del Macizo Colombiano, (Committee for the Integration of the Colombian Massif - CIMA), a rural social movement allied with the miners, believe that this is part of a federal government strategy to phase out informal mining and pave the way for foreign multinationals.
"We are seeing the criminalization of artisanal mining in this country," says Luz Mila Ruana, an organizer for CIMA in Nariño. She adds that a subsidiary of the South Africa-based mining company AngloGold Ashanti has begun preliminary exploration activities around the Santa Isabel mine.
Miners say that while being accused of funding illegal armed groups was a shock, the arrival of police wasn't much of a surprise. They have been waiting for nearly a year to submit their license application, but have been held up by administrative delays.
The Instituto Colombiano de Geología y Minería (Colombian Geology and Mining Institute - Ingeominas), the government body responsible for processing applications, stopped accepting requests for the legalization of traditional mines in 2011 after it reportedly received an overwhelming number of applicants. "Now they are saying we can submit in April," says Gamboa. He doesn't seem convinced.
Ferney Gamboa was one of the small-scale miners from Colón-Génova arrested on February 21, 2012.Meanwhile, news of 'illegal' miner arrests is common in the Colombian media.
Since the adoption of a new mining code in 2001 and new policies meant to crackdown on informal mining, the Colombian government has given unlicensed operations until 2012 to obtain the proper paper work or face arrest.
The national government has made illegal mining a political and military priority, arguing that unlicensed operations cause environmental damage and contribute to the ongoing internal conflict by financing armed groups. In November 2011, officials said they had closed 329 unlicensed gold mines, arresting 1,228 people.
Miners and CIMA organizers are convinced that these policies have little to do with the environment or national security, and much to do with the federal government's plan to turn the country into a large-scale mining giant by 2019.
The CIMA and Canadian non-governmental organizations focusing on mining are quick to point out that the 2001 mining code was written in consultation with Canadian and Colombian mining companies -- a process that was funded in part by a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
Since its adoption, foreign mining company royalty rates have dropped from 10% to .4%. Simultaneously, the number of mining permit requests and concessions have increased dramatically, with Canadian companies making up a large portion of mining exploration investment.
The vision of Colombia as an untapped haven for large-scale mining stands in stark contrast to the reality, in which millions of small and artisanal miners are already working throughout the country.
The nearly one-hundred men and women working at the Santa Isabel mine have been doing so with the permission of the local land owner for nearly forty years. Miners here work in small teams to extract tiny particles of gold from rocks dug out of shallow holes in the mountainside. To do this, they use water and large wooden sluices which hark back to the days of the California gold rush.
They do not use toxic chemicals, but many small-scale operations -- and all large-scale ones -- in the country do use toxins. It is no wonder then that Colombia has some of the highest levels of mercury contamination in the world.
Ferney Gamboa argues that compared to his operation, a massive gold mine in the area would be far more detrimental to the environment. "A large-scale mine will have a much larger impact. These companies use cyanide and huge amounts of water."
A Country in Conflict
All that glitters isn't gold. This rock may only contains minute traces of the precious metal, which small-scale miners in Colón-Génova extract using hammers, mechanized tumblers and water.
As for the funding of armed groups, CIMA organizers believe that large-scale development projects pose the highest risk to empowering illegal actors. In 2007, Chiquita Brands pled guilty to violating US anti-terrorism laws after admittedly making payments to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary group.
A civil suit brought by families of the victims of paramilitaries is still ongoing. Drummond Ltd., an American coal mining company is currently facing a trial in the US for the same issue, while British Petroleum (BP) settled out of court with victims of paramilitaries that it allegedly funded in 2009.
Paramilitaries are notorious in Colombia for murdering community leaders and appropriating land through terror tactics. After a deeply flawed demobilization process between 2003 and 2006, these groups are still active today, although under different names. Colombia still contains the second largest internally-displaced population in the world, behind Afghanistan, with 87% of displaced people originating from mining and energy-producing regions.
The Colombian military is also present in extractive zones, with 30%, or 80,000 members, of the country's public forces dedicated to protecting oil and mining industry infrastructure. This has also created problems for small scale miners and farmers. In 2006, military troops killed Alejandro Uribe and Carlos Mario García, miners who were outspoken critics of foreign extractive companies active in the Bolivar Department, including AngloGold Ashanti.
The army claimed that the two men were guerrilla fighters killed in combat, an argument rejected by local communities and dismantled by investigative journalists and rights groups like Amnesty International.
This confusion between civilians and guerrilla fighters is not out of the ordinary in Colombia. The Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos (Colombia Europe United States Coordination - CCEEU) reports that 535 civilians were victims of unlawful killings by Colombian public forces between January 2007 and July 2008.
In 2008, the false positive scandal revealed that military troops had murdered scores of poor urban youth and farmers, and then dressed the bodies up to look like guerrilla fighters in order to inflate the military's combat success rate.
'False positives' pervade the Colombian prison system as well. The Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Politicos (Political Prisoners Solidarity Committee - CSPP), a national advocacy group for political prisoners, estimates that 60% of the 7,500 prisoners in the country detained for political crimes associated with the armed conflict are actually social movement and union leaders who have been falsely accused.
Foreign multinationals deny contributing to or benefiting from the conflict in Colombia.
In response to small-scale miners fears of displacement in Colón-Génova, a spokesperson for AngloGold Ashanti Colombia states: "In the Department of Nariño, AngloGold Ashanti Colombia has built a good relationship based on support and collaboration with legal mining cooperatives, such as those established in Cumbitara and Los Andes Sotomayor, for example."
The Colombian government maintains that it promotes partnerships between small-scale miners and multinationals, and that along with passing new regulations it is providing support to small mining operations to improve their standards.
Although some mining cooperatives have taken advantage of these arrangements, there are still many small-scale miners in Nariño who fail to see how new government policies can benefit them. "It's hard to tell which is better, having the license or not," says one owner of a licensed mine in the municipality of Sotomayor. "Once you have the license, the next step is keeping it."
He argues that even with help from the Colombian government to improve their lighting system, new regulations like requiring owners to pay into workers compensation will be close to impossible to meet.
In Colón-Génova, miners are resolved to peacefully defending their livelihoods despite the challenges ahead. They are currently working together with movements like the CIMA to fight what they believe was an illegal arrest and to legalize their mine once and for all.
Leah Gardner is an independent journalist focusing on human rights and corporate accountability. She currently lives in Colombia.
Mr. M Cutifani
Chief Executive Officer
Anglo Gold Ashanti
PO Box 62117
Gauteng, South Africa
March 31, 2012
Johannesburg, South Africa
Dear Mr Cutifani,
Greetings from Proceso de Comunidades Negras (Process of Black Communities, a national afro-Colombian organization), The North-South Institute (a think tank based in Canada), Dejusticia (a legal clinic based in Colombia) and all other participants from Latin America and Africa coming together here in South Africa and Zimbabwe (from March 19-April 1) to learn about the impacts of the extractive sector and how we can work together more closely to catalyze change to protect the environment and human rights. This route is funded by the Ford Foundation and organized by Procasur.
In September 2011 Anglo-Gold Ashanti participated in one of the activities of the first such tour on extractive industry impacts to Peru and Colombia in Latin America. Mr. Rafael Herz, President of your company in Colombia, addressed the learning route delegation in a panel on mining in Colombia that took place in Bogota, alongside other relevant actors, such as the ministry of the interior and other analysts.
The delegation of diverse Latin American and African organizations also visited La Toma (in the Department of Cauca), the ancestral territory of Black Communities, and an area where Anglo Gold Ashanti (AGA) has significant interests and concessions.
Among other impacts, we saw first-hand the impact of the armed conflict on the Black and Indigenous communities living in this area. Since then, the situation of armed conflict has intensified, with illegal armed actors not only involved in small- and medium-scale mining as a means to finance their activities and launder money, but also making new and strong threats to the lives of the social leaders in this area.
The situation is extremely tense, and the communities find themselves in the crossfire and the subject of threats by actors who want to control the area, including the ancestral territories.
We would like to take advantage of being here in the home country of your company to continue the communication that was started by AGA's participation in the first learning tour in 2011; to highlight several issues that are coming out of our discussions; and to make several requests.
Background and Context
By way of further background, Proceso de Comunidades Negras, The North-South Institute and The Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lomaprieta, an Embera Indigenous Reserve representing 32 Indigenous communities, have been leading a project examining standards to hold companies to account in Colombia, and strengthening communities so they are on a more equal and informed footing engaging with the extractive sector and making decisions concerning their territories.
We have also been collaborating closely with Dejusticia, who provide legal support to affected communities.
The ancestral territories of Black communities in Northern Cauca, and the Indigenous communities of the Resguardo, are both areas where Anglo-Gold Ashanti has significant interests.
These communities, and others across the country where AGA has concessions or has requested concessions, are extremely concerned that decision-making take place appropriately, with clear respect for their constitutionally guaranteed rights- including when concessions are issued. They are also concerned that they have the right to continue with their own forms of ancestral mining, which in the case of La Toma, dates back to 1636.
In this regard, the Black communities of La Toma, Cauca, have made significant inroads in domestic law pertaining to the rights of ethnic communities. In December 2010, Colombia's Constitutional Court issued judgment T-1045A recognizing the Black Communities of La Toma's rights to prior consultation before concessions are issued.
This judgment suspended all concessions granted in this ancestral area until such time that adequate processes take place upholding Black communities rights to participation, life and cultural integrity.
The Colombian Constitution, national jurisprudence and international commitments make explicit the need to ensure that development takes place respecting the ethnic and cultural diversity of the nation, which requires free, prior and informed consultation that is undertaken in good faith.
Further, drawing on jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Constitutional Court has ordered that the right to free, prior and informed consent be upheld for those projects that could put at risk the physical and cultural integrity of indigenous peoples and black communities, as is the case in La Toma.
Free, prior and informed consent means communities have the right to determine what does - and what does not --take place on their lands. It means they can say ‘yes' or ‘no' to activities affecting their lands; and if they say yes, communities have a right to determine under what conditions such activities take place.
In this learning tour to South Africa and Zimbabwe, participants from the Americas and from Africa are deeply concerned that there is no recognition or implementation of the internationally recognized rights to participation, consultation and free, prior and informed consent. While the state should be the guarantor of these rights, companies have an obligation and responsibility to respect international standards concerning human rights.
Given this background and the significant interest that Anglo-Gold Ashanti has in ancestral territories all over the world, but specifically in Colombia, we, participants on the learning tour, respectfully request that Anglo-Gold Ashanti:
1. Give back the concessions that overlap with ethnic territories where processes of consultation and consent have not taken place. According to an AGA representative who participated in a national workshop in Bogota, Colombia in August 2011, organized jointly by Proceso de Comunidades Negras, the Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lomaprieta and The North-South Institute, AGA was undertaking internal deliberations on this possibility.
Further, while this is a specific request made by communities in Colombia, this could become a policy the company commits to across its global operations.
2. Given the intensifying armed conflict in Cauca, the continuous threats, the invasions of illegal heavy equipment, the presence of different illegal armed actors and the situation of public order, that AGA accept that this area is temporarily a no-go zone for concessions, exploration projects or mining development until such time that there are appropriate conditions of peace and respect for fundamental ethnic rights (identity, culture, territory, well-being, participation and self-determination).
And that it commit to undertaking free prior and informed consultation and consent processes for all concessions it has already obtained that overlap with ethnic territories, even if these territories do not have collective title but individual title, where there are Black communities and community councils.
3. Provide all relevant and requested information to communities potentially affected by AGA's activities, including activities it undertakes through joint ventures. In the case of Colombia, Anglo-Gold Ashanti has provided the Black Communities in the Cauca and the Indigenous communities of the Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lomaprieta information on their concessions in these areas, including maps.
The company has further participated in a national workshop on environmental, social and human rights impact assessment (August 2011), and has agreed to meet with project members on several occasions.
However, more recent requests for clarifications on specific issues have gone unanswered, including: Clarification regarding AGA's involvement in flyovers over the Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lomaprieta in 2008, and the company's possible connections with Colombia Goldfields. What was the nature of the relationship between AGA and the company that engaged in these flyovers? Did AGA provide the helicopters? Did it agree to partner with another company for these flyovers, without first obtaining the consent of the Resguardo for this activity?
Clarification of these questions is critical to clear up potential misinformation. We also very much hope we can get ongoing updates from AGA on their activities and interests in these and other areas, as we know exploration activities by this company will have large investments in the coming year.
In closing, last month the African media reported the following about you:
"Mark Cutifani leads AngloGold Ashanti, a gold company that has a presence in 25 countries. It is the most globally spread and balanced gold company in the world, with approximately 63 000 employees, half of whom are in South Africa.
"The company generates about $9 billion (R69bn) in revenue a year, with about $3bn cash with which to pay dividends, capital, and so on.
"What the company does is technically complex, as it mines some of the deepest mines in the world. There are challenges like safety, environmental management, community relationships, and a whole range of other complexities. Yet, management aims to grow the business by about 25 percent over the next three years and to be one of the top five mining companies in the world. ... So, people will have to be the most important assets at AngloGold, or not?"1 (emphasis added)
We join the Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lomaprieta, and the La Toma community and its leadership, and call upon you to make good on your promises to put people first, and to respect communities' rights to development and self-determination of their future.
Jose Santos Caicedo
Proceso de Comunidades Negras (Colombia)
The North-South Institute (Canada)
Justicia Global (Brazil)
Legal Resources Centre (South Africa)
Maria Jose Araya
Franklin P. de Carvalho
New Social Cartography Project (Brazil)
Centre for Environmental Rights (South Africa)
Global Rights (Nigeria)
Carla Garcia Zendejas
Environmental Lawyer (Mexico)
Pan African Movement
cc. Anthony Hodge, President, International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM); Rafael Herz, President, Anglo-Gold Ashanti Colombia