COLOMBIAPublished by MAC on 2007-05-28
GOLD MINING IN COLOMBIA - CAUCA ASSEMBLY IN RESISTANCE
Source: Pete Bearder, Colombia Solidarity Campaign (Britain)
28th May 2007
To see article with graphics and photos visit: www.bearder.com/peter
Buenos Aires is a small Afro-Colombian mining community an hours drive by jeep from the nearest town in Cauca, South West Colombia. The hall of the local college is filled with a variety of faces from the municipio of Suarez – human rights workers, campesinos, Afro-Colombians and members of local indigenous groups such as CRIC (The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca). One thing they have in common is that they are all extremely concerned about the existence in their territory of the mining company Kedahda. Paramilitary violence arrived in this part of Cauca two years ago - the same time as the company. It is currently seeking to reform the countries Mining Code which will ease the exploitation of mining resources. This will be at the expense of the small mining companies, the environment and the rights of the local communities. This forum is one of the first steps in exercising the right to life, dignity and permanence in the shadow of this mining giant.
The London/Johannesburg based Kedahda is 99.98% owned by Anglo Gold Ashanti (the world´s second largest gold mining company) The company is implicated in grave human rights violations across Colombia. In turn, Anglo Gold Ashanti is 42% owned by the former apartheid Anglo-American (the London stock exchange listed giant that declared an operating profit of US $9.8 billon for 2006). With a subsoil rich in basic minerals, Colombia is considered one of the `new frontiers´ for the mining industry. Already there are approximately 4,261 gold mines, 191 platinum and 10 emerald concessions.
Reform of the Mining Code
The reform to the Mining Code will favour applications from companies with economic and technical advantages. The Special Reserve Zones (protected environmental or ethnic territories) will be opened up only to macro- strategic mineral projects. As such, they will be handed to the biggest investors. To facilitate this, public resources such as water and transport will be made freely available even if it is at the expense of local competitors and inhabitants. Taxation will also be flexiblised; if no deposits are found all taxes for the period of exploration will be dropped. To compound this the reform will further repress Colombia´s famously brief prior consultation process. This amounts to a clear violation of the right to territory and participation for countless communities across the country. Meanwhile the inhabitants of Cauca flounder. The day before (19th May) social movements in the department declared a permanent assembly of the people. It´s opening statement denounced corruption, underinvestment in health, education and infrastructure and the misappropriation of their resources to benefit foreign capital.
New Free Trade Treaty
The new changes link up closely to the new Free Trade Treaty between Colombia and the United States. In November 2005 the Minister of Mines and Energy, Luis Ernesto Mejía, talked of “an enormous world of opportunities that is opened up to the energy and mining sector with Treaty". However, these opportunities look set to benefit only the large trans-nationals whilst destroying any form of protection to small scale Colombian producers. All the changes (privatization/ deregulation/ trade liberalization) will be imposed by the security forces of the state. On a daily basis we are now seeing protest and mobilization against the treaty from all sectors of Colombian civil society. Firma Cavellier de Abogados - a lawyers firm involved in the signing of the treaty in Bogotá - own the 0.02% of Kedahda that does not belong by Anglo Gold Ashanti.
Juan Andrés is an Afro-Colombian in his 20´s. He pointed to the largest mine in the community across the valley. “The environmental damage is wholesale”, he told the delegates, “water, land, air and social composition”. By social composition he is referring to the militarization and para-militarization of the community that comes with the arrival of large scale mining operations. Accompanying this are problems of violence, prostitution, inequality and changes of surname which break social cohesion. “Many of us have been relocated to Cali”, said another villager, (Cali is a city three hour drive away) “We are a rich country but there is so much poverty”.
Indeed the correlation between Kedahda´s operations in Cauca and paramilitary violence is by no means an isolated incident. Jorge Molano, a Bogotá based human rights lawyer, told how in 70% of the municipalities where Kedahda have worked there have torturing, disappearances and massacres at the hands of these groups; crimes against humanity that total in their thousands. What is more, in 335 of the 336 municipalities people have been forcibly expelled for the appropriation of their land. Anglo Gold Ashanti and the mining industry at large have a shameful track record in contributing to Colombia´s 3.5 million internally displaced.
Sur de Bolivar
In one of the talks a representative recounted the experience in his department of Sur de Bolivar. Since 2004 Kedahda have opened up operations in this department too. The representative told how the company now owns 150,000 hectares across Colombia. From 1996, Anglo Gold and Conquistador Mines found gold deposits in Sur de Bolivar, opening up one of the bloodiest chapters of Colombian history. Paramilitary incursions have been supported on land, in the air, and in the waterways by the 5th Brigade of the Colombian Army. Blockades cut off delivery of food and medicine vital to the survival of the communities. The results were thousands dead and over 20,000 (officially) displaced. “Our schools and hospitals have been burned to the ground three times”, he said, “and why? Because of the resources on our land.” It was a brutal warning from history and a heroic tale of resistance. The assembly became animated by his presentation. “If we organise and believe in ourselves we can do many things”.
The forum resolved to strengthen the interethnic and community bodies. Nationally and internationally, the Assembly will seek alliances with politicians and organisations such as human rights NGOs. A march in Bogotá is also being planned. The forum forms part of a strategy of local and regional workshops that will culminate in a national forum later in the year. The proposals of this will be handed to `institutional and non institutional spaces´. Ultimately the aim is to counter-propose the reform of the Mining Code.
Perhaps one of the most positive things to come from the forum is the fortification of solidarity and organization between the indigenous groups and the Afro – Colombians. Traditionally there is not much trust between the two groups in the area. Event organizers and human rights NGO La Red de Hermandad (The Network of Brotherhood) believe it is necessary to confront the problem together and form a collective strategy through the exchanging of experiences and ideas. Through mobilization, in the widest sense possible, these communities hope to achieve permanence in the face of Kedahdas ominous advances.
The Colombia Solidarity Campaign campaigns for a socially just and sustainable peace in Colombia based on a respect of human rights and an end to foreign military intervention.