MAC: Mines and Communities

AngloGold Ashanti says goodbye to Suárez, Colombia

Published by MAC on 2009-11-23
Source: Valle del Cauca Trade Union Congress

South Africa-based AngloGold Ashanti has a large number of mineral concessions and exploration projects in Colombia.

Its operations in the Department (province) of Valle del Cauca, to the south west of the country, have faced very strong, organised community resistance, mainly because of the threat posed to agriculture.

Earlier this month, the company announced its withdrawal from Suárez-Cauca municipality, a decision welcomed by the area Trade Union Congress. However, the company is still active in the Cajamarca-Tolima region.

The company's presence in Colombia has often been bulwarked by paramilitary organisations. One of these, calling itself "Black Eagles New Generation" (Aguilas Negras Nueva Generacion), is accused of declaring its opponents to be a "military objective."


AngloGold Ashanti announces its departure from La Toma, Suárez

Diego Escobar Cuellar, Santiago de Cali

2 November 2009

To my comrades in the executive committees of trade union and social organisations in Valle del Cauca.

Dear brothers,

The Multinational Corporations Department at Valle del Cauca provincial CUT (Trade Union Congress) wishes hereby to share with all of you the successful outcome of the determined and systematic fight we have led together with organisations such as PCN (the Process of Black Communities), Nomadesc, the Community Council of la Toma, the local Council of Cerro Tijeras, the Valle del Cauca CUT Department of Human Rights and Solidarity as well as supported by personalities such as Licifreddy Ararat, Edwar Villegas, José Goyes, Plutarco Ararat and Meraldiño Cabiche.

Indeed we are proud to announce that, following many years of hard work setting up and participating in workshops with the community to heighten awareness of environmental issues, territory, identity, national sovereignty, defence of natural resources, environmental management plans, prior consultation and Conventions 107 and 169 of the International Labour Organisation, AngloGold Ashanti – through its social representative, Dr. Clara Marquez – publicly announced in the settlement of La Toma that the multinational would withdraw from gold exploration and mining in the Suárez-Cauca municipality. The company stated that the exploration and exploitation of gold deposits in the Cajamarca-Tolima region offered them greater business stability, and the mining concession in Suárez belongs to third parties.

In a lengthy but not very coherent speech, Clara Marquez listed the successes of the transnational AngloGold Ashanti, which has made hefty contributions to the economy, logistics and employment of the area. She mentioned that the company had provided expert advisors on the economic development of the community, local celebrations and similar events, as well as for the coffee growers federation, piping for the sewerage system, bricks for the construction of the church, and garages for the college. The total investment of 120 million pesos was intended to buy local favour in the community of La Toma. They were equally unsuccessful with the all-expenses paid visit of some of the local community to the opencast mine at Cajamarca, the purpose of which was to show people the methods of mining and extracting gold.

Anglo Gold Ashanti said goodbye to Suárez with crocodile tears in their eyes yet they remained fearful of the serious accusations of human rights abuse made before the international community because of the threats made by the Águilas Negras-Nueva Generación (Black Eagles New Generation) group, declaring us to be a "military objective" because of our opposition to the despoliation and devastation of nature, to large scale extraction and to opencast mining, the result of which is simply the accumulation of capital by the owners of transnational capital, and enormous damage and disadvantage to the pre-existing aboriginal, ancestral and native communities which have been in this territory for over 50 years.

Because of all this, we call on the various community, trade union and social organisations of the country to develop their own struggles for the defence of territory, national sovereignty and their own culture. We call on them to begin to take appropriate actions against financial and industrial capital, which is taking over rural areas in whose soil there is evidence of riches in the form of water, agriculture, hydrocarbons and mineral energy. We are succeeding, through organisation, resistance and the unity that characterises excluded, marginalized and oppressed people, in kicking out the multinationals which are violating our human rights and the rights of the peoples of our country.

With revolutionary greetings,

Diego Escobar Cuellar,
Director, Department of Multinational Corporations and Solidarity,
Valle del Cauca Trade Union Congress.

Last frontier

Local communities fight mineral exploration and eviction in the Andes

New Internationalist

1 November 2009

Afro-descendant communities in Colombia are fighting to retain control of their ancestral goldmines in the face of pressure from private interests, which are apparently assisting the transnational AngloGold Ashanti. Local authorities in the town of La Toma, Cauca province, had planned to evict local miners on 6 August, but drew back at the last minute.

‘Thanks to all the pressure from within Colombia and from abroad, the mayor didn't carry out the eviction order,' says Lisifrey Ararat, a spokesperson for the estimated 400 miners affected. ‘Everything was ready for the eviction, including the security forces. But we're ready too. No-one is going to leave the mine. We're not going to let ourselves be moved on to Bogotá or to Cali. Who knows what we'd do there?'

La Toma is a town of around 6,500 inhabitants, located in the western Andes with constant guerrilla, paramilitary and army presence. The eviction order against its miners stems from the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining's decision to grant a private individual, Jesús Sarria, a 99-hectare permit for exploitation. Yet Afro- Colombians have lived on the land since the 17th century and are in the process of formalizing their collective ownership of it. Under Colombian and international law, any mining project on collectively owned territory must first receive the community's consent.

Locals have demanded that the authorities rescind the eviction order and that Sarria hand over the mining title. Sarria has refused, saying he paid handsomely for the concession. New talks are pending, with the miners' eviction still imminent.

Sarria and Raúl Ruíz - who has been granted a 314-hectare exploration licence in the same municipality - are likely to be working as proxies for AngloGold Ashanti. The South Africa-based company has recently accumulated permits covering more than 42,000 hectares in Cauca province.

In Suárez municipality itself, Ararat reports that the company has been seeking support by sponsoring social events and hiring local leaders: ‘We realized that this is a strategic area that AngloGold Ashanti wants. I have been pressured by AngloGold Ashanti through their social organizers.' Ararat has also received threats from unidentified sources.

For Carlos Rosero, leader of the Black Communities Process organization, the struggle in La Toma represents a central part of Afro-Colombian subsistence and identity. ‘Black people were brought to Colombia to work in the mines. Nearly 500 years of history are involved,' he says. And while Colombian mining law in theory provides for small-scale, informal miners to legalize their traditional activities, the reality is very different.

La Toma's miners began the legalization process in 2007, only to find that their lands had already been adjudicated to others. Even if this hurdle were overcome, the miners would have to hand over to the Government a yearly payment of approximately $250 per hectare, a sum beyond their means. Rosero estimates that only a handful of black communities across Colombia have managed to legalize their mining.

This scenario, together with intimidation of social leaders by paramilitary groups, has opened the door to large companies. AngloGold Ashanti's director in Colombia, Rafael Hertz, calls the country ‘the last frontier of the Andes' in terms of mineral exploration. In 2007, the company announced the biggest gold discovery in Latin America for over 20 years: 366 million grammes in La Colosa, Tolima province.

One community leader who has fought AngloGold Ashanti for many years is Teófilo Acuña*, president of the Agro-Mining Federation of the South of Bolívar (FEDAGROMISBOL). The Federation staunchly opposed the presence of mining transnationals, a position which led to the death of several of its activists. ‘As a company with large resources, AngloGold Ashanti has managed to penetrate and influence the corruption within [Colombian] institutions, including the military,' says Acuña. ‘Based on our experience, [the most important thing for communities] is to create a strong organization. That provides the whole framework for resistance.'

For the moment, Rosero and Ararat plan to use the upcoming bicentenary of Colombia's independence movement against Spain to highlight the situation in Cauca. According to Rosero, ‘blacks fought for Colombians' independence. Now it's time for them to recognize our land rights.'

Henry Mance

* Teófilo Acuña was interviewed in the August 2008 issue of NI.

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