Colombia: Miners Under Military Pressure


by Joel Klassen and Doug Pritchard

On April 26 in the town of Santa Rosa, eight members of the Nueva Granada Battalion of the Colombian Army arrested Teofilo Acuna, president of the Agricultural Miners' Federation of the South of Bolivar and charged him with "rebellion."

The soldiers took Acuna to the Santa Rosa military base and initially denied him access to a lawyer. They held him at the base overnight, where CPTers were able to accompany him, and then transferred him to Barrancabermeja. He was released ten days later (May 5) for lack of evidence. His lawyer called the whole thing a "frame-up."

Acuna has been at the forefront of efforts by small miners in the San Lucas Mountains to protect their livelihoods and their land. Multinational mining companies, including Kinross Gold, from Canada, and AngloGold Ashanti, from the UK, U.S. and South Africa, have recently laid claim to lands in the area, thereby threatening the future of small-scale mining.

The Nueva Granada battalion arrested Acuna on the very day that he and the miners' federation were scheduled to meet with high-level representatives of the Colombian government in an ongoing dialogue regarding human rights abuses and mining-related issues.

With Acuna arrested and their meeting cancelled, other community leaders who had gathered in Santa Rosa began returning to their homes in the mountains on April 28.

At approximately 2:30pm, Sgt. Vargas of the Nueva Granada Battalion stopped mining leaders Emiliano García, Omar Nuñez, and Orlando Roa, along with CPTers Joel Klassen and Doug Pritchard. Vargas recorded their names, home communities, and identification numbers in a fresh notebook containing no other names. The miners expressed concern, saying that in the past, the military has taken down people's names and then passed them on to armed paramilitaries who subsequently killed people from the list. Sgt. Vargas listened attentively, expressed agreement that such acts were wrong, but claimed that his unit did not do this.

However, members from this same Nueva Granda Battalion were implicated in the assassination of mining leader Alejandro Uribe on September 19, 2006 which outraged the mining communities and mobilized thousands to march on Santa Rosa in what ended up being a 40-day protest in the town square calling for an investigation of Uribe's murder.

In addition, residents from the mining zone told CPT that soldiers of the Nueva Granada
Battalion have been saying that the "Black Eagles" will come to the area after them. The Black Eagles are a paramilitary group re-formed out of the groups that recently demobilized, and are appearing in certain parts of Colombia. One resident told CPTers that he saw a Black Eagles armband hanging on a tree beside a path in the mining zone.

Leaders of the Federation of Agricultural Miners of the South of Bolivar say the army is persecuting them and creating an atmosphere of fear in their communities because of their work to preserve their way of life and their resistance to the entry of the multinational AngloGold Ashanti into the zone.

Following their detention at the checkpoint on April 28, CPTers relayed the miners' concerns to Captain Cruz and specifically questioned him regarding his order to Sgt. Vargas to record certain citizens' names. Cruz claimed that people who have nothing to hide should not worry about giving their names, and that taking down names formed part of "active military control" of the zone.