Monday, October 24, 2011

Colombia: When Humanitarian Law Is Just Rhetoric

This article is taken from

The Indigenous Guard of the Nasa  use non-violence tactics to demilitarize their own territory.  They are thinking about confiscating and incinerating any guns they find in their territory, no matter whose hands they are in.  Obviously, dangerous stuff. The community response by saying, "There are 600 of us. If we once again find 30 soldiers in our community, if they kill 100, there will still be 500 left to do the job that has to be done." Powerful message and action. How can we be in Solidarity with them? 

More info below:

Written by Constanza Vieira   
Tuesday, 18 October 2011 10:01
(IPS) - The constant violations of international humanitarian law in Colombia claimed the life of an 11-year-old indigenous girl a month ago in the mountains of the southwest province of Cauca.

The army arrived at 4:40 AM on Thursday Sep. 15 and set up camp outside the school in El Credo, a village of 768 people and 136 houses on a hill between the city of Santander de Quilichao and Toribío, the main city of the Nasa indigenous people.

"We were waiting for them to leave," Floresmiro Palomo, coordinator of the site that serves as the community shelter when fighting breaks out, told IPS.

Palomo is a member of the Indigenous Guard – a traditional civil resistance defence force made up of unarmed volunteers, both men and women, aimed at protecting the native culture in this indigenous territory.

By 6:30 AM the soldiers had not left, so an Indigenous Guard committee asked the commanding officers to pull the troops out of the area around the school, because it was the officially designated shelter and humanitarian zone.

The school, whose official title is the El Credo Agricultural Ethnoeducational Institution, is fenced off and clearly marked with white flags. A sign put up by the German humanitarian group Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe announces at the gate: "School zone – humanitarian protection area – no guns".

During the frequent fighting in the area, which is of strategic importance in the 47-year war between the government forces and the communist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Indigenous Guard takes charge of trying to keep both sides away from the shelter.

In June 2010, in a military offensive carried out two months before President Juan Manuel Santos took office, the Indigenous Guard fenced off the hill where the school is located, "and when the army came, we didn't let them in," Palomo recalls.

"But this time they asked us for a legal document, to keep them out," he explains. "They said this is not an official 'permanent assembly site' (the name given to the Nasa shelters), that it's just a school. But we have a 300-metre area marked off here," he said.

That Thursday, the women led a "human wall" of 300 indigenous people to keep the troops from entering the humanitarian zone.

Whenever army troops camp out in El Credo, the guerrillas show up a few hours later, to engage them in combat.

The FARC arrived at 8:30 AM and the fighting began. Some 600 army troops spread out uphill from El Credo, and farther down, in the hamlet of Pajarito, they clashed with the insurgents, who were firing from all sides.

By then, the school was full of people. The gunfire continued all day long. "The children were crying, and everyone was screaming in the middle of the firefight, but they just ignored us," says Palomo.

The soldiers climbed up from Pajarito at 7:00 PM, and camped out around the school.

On Friday Sep. 16, the fighting started again at 5:45 AM. And once again, a committee of indigenous people went to talk to the commanders, to no avail. The military took up positions in the houses lining the entrance to the school: 28 houses with pots of colourful flowers along the road climbing up to El Credo.

"They started to shoot downhill from here, and the others (uphill) were shooting over our heads. And the people were all here," Palomo describes.

Representatives of the regional authority, the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN), went up to try to talk to the military commanders. But they were also ignored.

The fighting went on. "The guerrillas started to throw cylinder-bombs (homemade bombs made with cooking gas canisters). From up there in the mountains, the army was also shooting missiles," Palomo adds.

Until an improvised explosive device landed in the yard of local indigenous journalist Abel Coicué at 3:50 PM, killing his daughter Vanesa and injuring eight others, mainly children.

The ombudsman's office says the explosive device, full of shrapnel, was launched by the insurgents.

"The guerrillas shot it from below. From the hamlet of Pajarito. But we don't know if it was really shot by the guerrillas, or by the army," says Wilson García, vice president of the local community action council, created by the state as an interlocutor with government bodies.

The local indigenous people will wait for the forensic authorities to determine who threw the bomb. "The only thing we know is that they were launching bombs from here and there – from up above and from down below as well," García adds.

"When that happened, then the army did pull out; they went up into the mountains," says Palomo. By 5:00 PM there were no longer any army troops in El Credo. A few days later they came back, but they kept a careful distance.

Since Vanesa was killed, people have been going to the school in the evenings to sleep. "The permanent assembly has been declared indefinitely, as long as the armed groups are here," says Palomo.

In the daytime, people continue going out to work, mainly in their vegetable gardens.

In the meantime, the Indigenous Guard goes up and down the mountains, patrolling day and night, "controlling the territory, to show them that we are organised," he warns.

"After what happened, the community decided to do something drastic. That can bring us consequences, but the people say it doesn't matter, and that if they see guerrillas, we will disarm them," says Palomo.

The locals "say they are not going to let themselves be killed, like what is happening now," he adds. They are thinking about confiscating and incinerating any guns they find in their territory, no matter whose hands they are in.

On the day the wake was held for Vanesa, Saturday Sep. 17, Colonel Hugo Meza, the local army commander, was notified of that decision.

So was the municipal ombudsman, the city government, the local government council, and the ombudsman in Popayán, the capital of the province of Cauca.

Palomo says "I sent it by fax, so they would know about the decision reached by the community."

Colonel Meza's answer was that his soldiers would not allow themselves to be disarmed.

The local indigenous people responded: "There are 600 of us. If we once again find 30 soldiers in our community, if they kill 100, there will still be 500 left to do the job that has to be done."

Meza said "they are protecting us," says Palomo. But "I told him they were causing us problems," because if the troops had not been in the community, among the houses, "what happened would not have happened."

The demilitarisation of Nasa territory is set to start this week.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Here is a series of comics that my co-worker, Stewart Vriesinga, made about Colombia.  you can check out his blog:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mining, Murder, and "coincidences"

On this blog, there are many posts about the relationship to multinational mining companies and gross human rights violations. Here I would like to give two more examples of "coincidences" that relate Canadian gold mining companies to murder and human rights violations. I use the word "coincidences" here because the investigation have yet to show a "direct" relation to the Canadian Companies. However, what is true today that in Colombia, to be in opposition to the multinational mining projects and the Colombian Governments national policy to make it the number one export  is very dangerous, as these examples will show.

Example 1: On this blog, I wrote about a massacre that happened on August 17th. It says, "around 7pm, in the community of Casa Zinc, which is part of township EL Dorado in the municipality of Monte Cristo, Sure de Bolivar, twenty armed men entered the community and identified themselves as the Black Eagles, which is a known paramilitary group. They gathered the community together and assassinated Pedro Sierra, a small farmer. They then tortured and cut out the tongues of Ivan Serrano, a local shop owner, and Luis Albeiro Ropero, a young miner, before they killing them.   This all happened while the Colombian Army was just twenty minutes away."

"Coincidence":  On August 29th, a Canadian mining company entitled, "MIDASCO CAPITAL CORP. - TSX-V Symbol MGC" recieved 10,000 hectares in mining licenses in Sur de Bolivar exactly where the massacre took place. You can read the news release here: 

Example 2: On this blog I posted a video entitled, "Colombia Gold Rush" produced by Al Jazeer on Fault Lines about the Canadian Gold mining Company working in Marmato, Antioquia.  if you have not watched it you should, just click on the link.

"Coincidence" On September 1, Father José Reinel Restrepo Idárraga was murdered in Marmato, Antioquia. Father Restrepo was an outspoken critic of a Canadian mining operation in Marmato. The details surrounding Father Restrepo’s murder are unclear but people are saying it was related to his activism and organizing against the Canadian gold mining Company.


Monday, September 12, 2011

In honor of 911...

In honor of September 11th. I post this poem entitled, "Before I Start this Poem," written by Emmanuel Ortiz on September 11th, 2002.   

Before I Start This Poem

Before I start this poem,
I'd like to ask you to join me

in a moment of silence
in honour of those who died
in the World Trade Centre
and the Pentagon
last September 11th.

I would also like to ask you
a moment of silence
for all of those who have been
harassed, imprisoned, disappeared,
tortured, raped, or killed
in retaliation for those strikes,
for the victims in both
Afghanistan and the U.S.

And if I could just add one more thing...
A full day of silence
for the tens of thousands of Palestinians
who have died at the hands of
U.S.-backed Israeli forces
over decades of occupation.

Six months of silence
for the million and-a-half Iraqi people,
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation
as a result of an 11-year U.S. embargo
against the country.

Before I begin this poem:
two months of silence
for the Blacks under Apartheid
in South Africa,
where homeland security
made them aliens
in their own country.

Nine months of silence
for the dead in Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, where death rained
down and peeled back
every layer of concrete, steel, earth and skin
and the survivors went on as if alive.

A year of silence
for the millions of dead
in Vietnam--a people, not a war-
for those who know a thing or two
about the scent of burning fuel,
their relatives' bones buried in it,
their babies born of it.

A year of silence
for the dead in Cambodia and Laos,
victims of a secret war ... ssssshhhhh ....
Say nothing ... we don't want them to learn
that they are dead.

Two months of silence
for the decades of dead
in Colombia, whose names,
like the corpses they once represented,
have piled up and slipped off
our tongues.

Before I begin this poem,
An hour of silence for El Salvador ...
An afternoon of silence
for Nicaragua ...
Two days of silence
for the Guetmaltecos ...

None of whom ever knew
a moment of peace
45 seconds of silence
for the 45 dead
at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence
for the hundred million Africans
who found their graves
far deeper in the ocean
than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing
or dental records
to identify their remains.
And for those who were
strung and swung
from the heights of
sycamore trees
in the south, the north,
the east, and the west...

100 years of silence...
For the hundreds of millions of
indigenous peoples
from this half of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots
like Pine Ridge,
Wounded Knee,
Sand Creek, Fallen Timbers,
or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced
to innocuous magnetic poetry
on the refrigerator
of our consciousness ...
So you want a moment of silence?

And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust
Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the
And the rest of us hope to hell it won't be.
Not like it always has been

Because this is not a 9-1-1 poem
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about
what causes poems like this
to be written

And if this is a 9/11 poem, then
This is a September 11th poem
for Chile, 1971
This is a September 12th poem
for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977
This is a September 13th poem
for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New Yor k, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem
for Somalia, 1992.

This is a poem
for every date that falls
to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories
that were never told
The 110 stories that history
chose not to write in textbooks
The 110 stories that CNN, BBC,
The New York Times,
and Newsweek ignored
This is a poem
for interrupting this program.
And still you want
a moment of silence
for your dead?
We could give you
lifetimes of empty:

The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces
of nameless children
Before I start this poem
We could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit

If you want a moment of silence,
put a brick through
the window of Taco Bell,
And pay the workers for wages lost
Tear down the liquor stores,
The townhouses, the White Houses,
the jailhouses, the Penthouses and
the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton's 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt
fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered

You want a moment of silence
Then take it
& nbsp; Now,
Before this poem begins.

Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second
In the space
between bodies in embrace,

Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all
Don't cut in line.
Let your silence begin
at the beginning of crime But we,
Tonight we will keep right on singing
For our dead

Who is Emmanuel Ortiz? Here is a bio from Wiki: 

Emmanuel Ortiz (born 1974) is a Chicano/Puerto Rican/Irish-American activist and spoken-word poet. He has worked with the Minnesota Alliance for the Indigenous Zapatistas (MAIZ) and Estación Libre and as a staff member of the Resource Centre of the Americas.[1] Ortiz has performed his poetry at numerous readings, political rallies, activist conferences, and benefits. His works appeared in The Roots of Terror a reader published by Project South, as well as others. His readings of his poems have appeared on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!. [2] His controversial poem, Moment of Silence, circulated the internet a year after September 11th, 2001.

The Pending US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: False Claims Versus Hard Realities

In his recent address on the economy of the United States, President Obama said he will push forward the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia as a way to boost the U.S. Economy and raise employment in the US.Here is an article by James Jordan, National Co-Coordinator for the Alliance for Global Justice and was originally published by Upside Down World, discussing these issues related to the pending FTA with Colombia.


The Pending US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement: False Claims Versus Hard Realities

With a little more than a year till the 2012 elections the White House and Congressional leadership are anxious to pass pending Free Trade Agreements (FTA) as soon as possible.

Most worrisome of all is the pending FTA between the US and Colombia. Corporate leaders and US and Colombian government officials with their public relations operatives are peddling lie after lie to justify passage.

The following guide put together by The Alliance for Global Justice will help people to better understand and counter the falsehoods they will be hearing and countering in the coming weeks.

Distinguishing between fact and fiction with claims regarding the pending US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

CLAIM: Passing the FTA will put the US in a better position to pressure Colombia to improve its labor and human rights record.

REALITY: US intervention in Colombia has caused more problems than it has helped and the FTA would only make things worse. Recent investigations by the Colombian Attorney General have uncovered extensive US involvement regarding domestic spying by former President Álvaro Uribe's administration. Information was shared with and analyzed by embassy staff and domestic spying programs were funded by the CIA. Activities included gaining access to the bank accounts, following the families and bugging the offices of Colombian magistrates.

Targets also included labor leaders. According to an August 20, 2011 Washington Post article, "Another unit that operated for eight months in 2005, the Group to Analyze Terrorist Organization Media, assembled dossiers on labor leaders, broke into their offices and videotaped union activists. The United States provided equipment and tens of thousands of dollars, according to an internal DAS report, and the unit’s members regularly met with an embassy official they remembered as 'Chris Sullivan.'"

Furthermore, through Plan Colombia, the US and Colombia adopted policies that reject dialogue and negotiations for peace in favor of a military solution for the country's ongoing civil war, on which the US has spent over $7 billion since 2000. The result has been massive displacement of rural populations, military scandals and murder and disappearances, yet no path opened toward resolution. Meanwhile, non-military aid has more often than not been used to fund programs that augment war and repression.

There is no reason whatsoever to believe that the quest for peace and human rights in Colombia would be bettered by increasing US influence through passage of the pending FTA.

CLAIM: Colombia has already made significant progress in its labor rights record and it deserves for the US to pass the FTA as a reward for Colombia's "good behavior".

REALITY: Colombia continues to lead the world in the number of unionists murdered, year after year registering more assassinations than the rest of the world combined. In 2008 there were 48 unionists murdered, in 2009 there were 29 and in 2010, there were 51, 19 of whom were members of teachers unions. In 2009 the rate of impunity for labor and other political assassinations was 95.6%. In 2010 that rate had gone up to 98.5%, and in 2011 a court study showed the rate to have risen to over 99%.

US corporations are guilty of increasing the violence against unionists. Drummond Coal Company, based in Birmingham, Alabama, was caught making payments to death squads that assassinated union leaders. Chiquita Banana was found guilty in US court and fined for paying death squads, and Coca-Cola has long been implicated in assassinations of unionists at its bottling company.

CLAIM: The Labor Action Plan agreed on by the Obama and Santos administrations has granted important concessions and protections to Colombian unions, and passage of the FTA will help assure that this plan is truly implemented.

REALITY: There is no enforcement mechanism for the concessions in the plan. Furthermore, an AFL-CIO statement says, "...the Labor Action Plan fails to include commitments with regard to collective bargaining in the public sector, collective bargaining above the enterprise level, or collective bargaining over pensions." Most worrisome is that workers are supposed to accept, on good faith, that anti-labor violence and better worker conditions will be assured in the future. But with 3,000 unionists killed in the past 25 years, there’s no good faith left.

CLAIM: Colombia has already made significant progress in its human rights record and it deserves for the US to pass the FTA as a reward for Colombia's "good behavior".

REALITY: Since Santos has taken office, members of the political opposition have been assassinated on an average of one every three days. The estimated number of disappearances has risen from around 50,000 to more than 61,000.

While roughly half of Colombia's people live in poverty and half of its children are not in school (estimates vary from as low as 43% to 65% for both), Colombia has the second highest defense budget in Latin America, following the much bigger Brazil. Instead of building schools, the government has been engaged in a 11 year project, with US funding, to build a series of new prisons to accommodate an explosion in incarceration, including a 300% increase in political arrests.

The Colombian government holds well over 7,500 political prisoners. Only 500 to 1,000 of these are Prisoners of War. The vast majority are in jail for legal and nonviolent resistance. Some 5,000 of these captives are from rural populations. The most common charge against political prisoners is that of "Rebellion". Comparatively, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are holding somewhere between 10 and 20 captives.

CLAIM: Passage of the US-Colombia FTA will help bring peace and stability to Colombia and will renew the confidence of would-be investors.

REALITY: If recent behavior is any indication, the administration of President Santos and the Colombian military have no interest in peace. Nor does the US government, as long as it insists on the military solution to Colombia's conflict.

From August 12-15, 2011, more than 20,000 peasant, indigenous and Afro-Colombian community members, along with representatives from the Catholic Church, national and international human rights defenders and leaders of social and labor movements, gathered for a National Encounter for the Land and Peace. While the conference was commencing, the Colombian military began a commencement of its own, undertaking an indiscriminate and unprovoked bombardment of the municipality of Chaparral, Tolima.

While the Encounter was still underway, Pres. Santos declared the door to negotiations was "closed" and that he had "the key and the key is in my pocket". That same weekend, Santos went on to say that "Advocacy for peace is harmful."

In the weeks preceding and including the Encounter, seven peasant labor leaders and one human rights defender were arbitrarily arrested in Putumayo with no reasons given nor charges made. And in the two weeks following the Encounter, there have already been a number of assassinations, assassination attempts and disappearances of members of the political opposition and unionists.

The best way to increase investor confidence in Colombia is not through war and repression nor via neoliberal trade agreements. What is needed is dialogue that brings together all major sectors of Colombian society to work out a political solution to the conflict. That is the only way to foster an atmosphere of real stability.

CLAIM: The US-Colombia FTA, along with Santos administration's agrarian reform plan, will help develop the rural infrastructure, create new jobs for farm workers, and help reestablish displaced farming families.

REALITY: After some 13 years of Plan Colombia, an estimated 4 to 5 million persons have been forcibly displaced, 60% of these being from farming families and 60 to 70% being women and girls. During the first ten years of Plan Colombia (1998 to 2008), 760,000 peasant families were forcibly removed from over 13.5 million acres. Conversely, paramilitary death squads now control some 10 million acres of the country's most fertile land. In almost all cases where there has been massive displacement, the vacuum has been filled by big landowners, narco-traffickers, agribusinesses and transnational mining and energy corporations.

The Santos agrarian reform plan does more to consolidate displacement and land loss than to make up for it. Farmers who come from families that have cultivated plots for generations are being asked to show titles in areas where titles have never been used or kept. Much of the dispossessed farm land has been replaced by African Palm plantations. Farming families from these areas who are participating in the agrarian reform are being told that they will have to wait until the plantations reap a full crop before they can return. That is a process that takes up to 10 years. Since African Palm plantations are notorious for leaving the soil depleted, when these farmers come back to their plots, they will be trying to raise crops on wasted terrain. Ultimately, only a minority of displaced farmers will be able to return to their land, while ownership will be consolidated for a majority of the interests that have benefited most from the forced removal of rural people.

CLAIM: The US-Colombia FTA, as well as pending FTAs with Panama and South Korea, will bring jobs to workers in all the involved countries.

REALITY: Neoliberal free trade policies have been a big part of the reason that economic crises are taking place all over the world and have led to ever widening gaps between the rich and the poor. Colombia has the second largest gap between the rich and the poor in South America and the eighth largest worldwide, according to the World Bank's World Development Institute. The FTA will make matters worse.

For US workers, FTAs have not lead to more and better jobs, but to blighted, failing cities where industries once thrived and to rural areas where it has become almost impossible for family farms to survive. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) maintains that KORUS will make the US trade deficit with Korea twice as bad, up to $26.9 billion annually within seven years. This will result in 888,000 jobs lost as a result of Korean imports. If one figures in employment created by increased US exports and jobs lost because of the already existing deficit with South Korea, there are some 200,000 jobs that will be lost. The EPI predicts a US-Colombia FTA will result in a loss of 55,000 jobs.

CLAIM: The US Congress and President Obama were elected to listen to, represent and serve the people of the US and to act in their best interests.

REALITY: According to a poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal in 2010, the number of US residents surveyed who believe FTAs hurt the country went up to 53% from 32% in 1999. And this unhappiness with FTAs reaches across political perspectives. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, as well as a separate poll that same year by the Pew Research Center, show that over 60% of both Tea Party sympathizers and union families oppose FTAs. And both Tea Partiers and union members vote at higher rates than the general public. So who is the White House and Congressional Leadership listening to if it is not We, The People?

Will Congress and the White House listen to the US people and stop trying to pass these harmful FTAs? One thing is for sure...they are sure to pass them if we don't stand up and tell them not to.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Follow up on Colombia's Gold Rush

The following article continues to discuss the "Colombian Gold Rush." and was published by the Council of Hemispheric Affairs, a organization that I know nothing about. But I am impressed with the article!!  This article talks about the same issue that the Fault Lines movie shows but in the region where CPT works. We have been accompanying the FEDEAGROMISBOL since the assassination of Alejandro Uribe in 2006.  

Colombia’s Gold Rush: The Silver Lining for Paramilitaries and Guerrillas

  • Colombian government neglect allows for guerrilla and paramilitary groups to extort and tax local miners.
  • With no distinction between illegal and informal miners, the Colombian government continues to marginalize innocent miners to promote its interest and to facilitate the operations of multinational mining companies.
  • Multinational mining companies may be funding paramilitary groups in an effort to relocate local populations.
With gold prices soaring to around USD 1,600 per ounce, Colombia has made a concerted effort to stimulate foreign investment in its mining sector.[1] As a result, the Colombian government has favored multinational mining companies over small to medium scale local miners. While this new gold rush represents a significant source of investment and finance for the federal government, it also helps fund Colombia’s four-decade long civil war. After years of government-sponsored eradication, paramilitary and guerrilla armies have begun to abandon coca production and are turning to gold mining, as well as the extortion of mining communities, to generate significant sources of revenue. Moreover, as a result of governmental favoritism, multinational mining corporations utilize national military forces and paramilitaries to harass native populations, local miners, and unionized workers in an effort to force them from their gold-laden lands. 

Illegal Taxes on Informal Mining

National army protection of work sites is a standard stipulation in mining contracts between the Colombian government and multinational mining companies. However, informal mining operations, many of which have been passed down by families for generations, are left with no protection to defend themselves against the often- extortive practices of paramilitary and guerrilla forces. Moreover, with no clear distinction between informal and illegal mining at the federal level, local miners face the same punitive measures as paramilitary miners.
Paramilitary and guerilla groups, such as the Rastrojos, the Urabeños, the Paisas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Oficina de Envigado, force local informal miners in the gold-rich Antioquia, Córdoba and Valle de Cauca departments (or provinces) to pay security fees and taxes on mining equipment. These payments quickly become a great source of revenue for renegade military groups. For example, FARC charges 3,800 Colombian pesos per backhoe and a monthly rent and mining site protection fee of up to 141,000 Colombian pesos.[2] In the northern department of Antioquia, the FARC’s 36th Front charges between three to eight million pesos (about USD 1,650 and USD 4,500) for each bulldozer entering territory under its control. Verdad Abierta, an independent think tank specifically focused on the Colombian civil war, estimated there are 2,000 bulldozers operating in an area of 8,500 square kilometers alongside rivers in the Bajo Cauca region alone, which is mainly controlled by the Urabeños and the Paisas paramilitaries.[3],[4] With this booming mining sector, it seems that paramilitary and guerrilla groups have identified new-found fuel for their fire.

Bogotá has taken a hard-line stance against illegal mining—an umbrella term that includes paramilitary, guerrilla and informal mining. Jim Wyss from the Miami Herald reported that informal miners repeatedly have been charged for financing paramilitaries and guerrilla groups.[5] Favoring large mining companies, Bogotá’s indiscriminate mine hunt has left poor Colombian miners between a rock and hard place.

The current Minister of Mining and Energy, Carlos Rodado, and president of mining company Mineros S.A., Beatriz Uribe, both agree that at least half of the coal and gold mines in Colombia are illegal.[6],[7] In the Antioquia department alone, 84 percent of mining is non-government sanctioned.[8] Colombian Chamber of Mining (Cámara  Colombiana de Minería) has estimated that the mining industry will lose one billion Colombian pesos, or USD 563,233.69, due to illegal mining.[9] The local poor population is attracted to illegal mining because of its profitability. Local miners are then caught in a catch-22. With no protection from the government, local miners are obliged to pay protection fees to paramilitary and guerrilla groups, and are then marginalized by the government for aiding these rebel groups.
When Multinationals Attack

In their quest to belligerently relocate indigenous afro-Colombian communities and local miners, multinational mining companies have become infamous for their under-the-table deals with the Colombian government, military, and paramilitaries. Specifically, Canadian mining companies Greystar Resources, B2Gold and South-African mining company AngloGold Ashanti are just a few of the multinationals that are not averse to using their extreme wealth to threaten, extort, displace, kidnap and assassinate common Colombians in their hunt for gold.

Both AngloGold Ashanti and Toronto-based B2Gold Company have industrial mining sites throughout the southern part of the Bolívar department, which makes up part of the Magdalena Medio region. This volatile area has been plagued with violence and displacement since the peak of coca production in the 1980s. According to Magdalena Medio’s Development and Peace Project, 116,453 people in the region were forcibly displaced between 1994 and 2007, with 53,202 of the displaced individuals from southern Bolívar.[10] Moreover, 2,355 Magdalena Medio civilians died from political violence between 1997 and 2007; 380 of these victims were from southern Bolívar. Between these years, paramilitaries were responsible for 75% of human rights violations, with another 5% of crimes attributed to the FARC, 4% to the Colombian Army and 2% to another Marxist guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN).[11] The disproportionate amount of political violence and displacement in southern Bolívar is indicative of the pressure put on Colombian communities by multinational mining companies.

While there are no official links between these international mining corporations, paramilitaries, and the national army, on the ground, trade union figures and local community members tell a different story. Human rights groups MiningWatch Canada, Inter Pares and CENSAT-Agua Viva have reported that paramilitaries and Colombian soldiers told local residents that their “operations are designed to protect the interests of international mining companies in the area.’”[12] Paramilitaries and soldiers are simply carrying out the policy of the Colombian government—a policy that greatly enhances the interests of multinational mining companies at the expense of local communities.

Mining and labor unions have been particularly targeted. After the assassination of union leader Alejandro Uribe by the Colombian National Army’s Nueva Granada Anti-Aircraft Battalion in 2006, Teófilo Acuña, president of the Agriculture and Mining Federation of Southern Bolívar (FEDEAGROMISBOL), was falsely arrested for organizing meetings where anti-multinational sentiments were expressed.[13] Moreover, the Águilas Negras, a right-wing paramilitary group, have sent death threats to nine people and organizations, including FEDEAGROMISBOL, because these targets are “’against the presences of multinationals, against the presence of the Army.’”[14] The common Colombian is not receiving adequate protection due to Bogotá’s bias in favoring multinational corporations. Ignoring or financially backing threats, forced evictions, and the killing of local union leaders, as well as community members, signals that the Colombian government and multinational companies are hardly sensitive to civic guarantee, and may even be directly responsible for human rights abuses against Colombian dissidents.

Another Canadian mining company, Greystar Resources, has carried out extensive gold exploration through its Angostura project, operating 55 kilometers away from Bucaramanga the capital city of Santander department. This year, Greystar has been fighting off pressure from environmental activists, small-scale miners, and peasant farmers as a result of its decision to expand the open-pit Angostura mine; this deposit is said to contain more that 11 million ounces of gold.[15]

The Land and Conflict Report by MiningWatch Canada, Inter-Pares and CENSAT-Agua Viva details Greystars’ occupation strategy: the multinational first enters into an agreement with the Army to secure the area, “define the area to be mine[d], put up a military base financed by the company, and buy up the corresponding land.”[16] The National Centre for Indigenous Cooperation asserts that this method is commonly used by all multinationals working in the area. Paramilitaries generate revenue from gaining control of the land and colluding with multinational corporations and sometimes the Colombian government itself (see 2006 “parapolítica” scandal).[17]
By the same token, investigative reporting done by Al Jazeera’s Faultlines has revealed a surge in death threats from the right-wing paramilitary group—the New Generation of Black Eagles—to residents of a small afro-American gold mining community in Cauca.[18] This surge coincides with AngloGold Ashanti’s newfound interest in gold exploration in that region, thereby raising the question of whether or not the multinational is orchestrating these attacks from behind the scenes.

Fool’s Gold

While there should be a vehement campaign against illegal mining, the Colombian government and armed forces must make a clear distinction between paramilitary and guerrilla-run illegal mining, and informal mining. Until Bogotá begins to put the interests of the people before those of multinational mining companies, the Colombian population at large will continue to be victims in this often sanguine, futile quest for El Dorado.

 References for this article can be found here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Colombia Gold Rush"

Video produced by AlJazeera on Fault Lines

Here is a good video about the "price" of gold in colombia. It would be a good follow up on my blog post talking about the deteriorating of human rights in the Magdelena Media. A human rights defender in Colombia and one of CPTs partners recently commented to me that, "Gold has become the new coca in the region" In that,  illegal armed groups that have military and political power are attempting to control gold mining in the region to receive the economic profits that come with it. Therefore it is no wonder that much of the violence in the region is directed at small mining communities that are committed to stay on their lands. .