Colombia: Guns and Gold

by Pierre Shantz

According to a recent Bloomberg Weekly report (http://goo.gl/OKBx0), gold is eclipsing cocaine as a primary source of financing illegal armed groups in Colombia.  Both paramilitary and rebel guerrilla groups have profited from gold mining for years.  However, public attention is increasing now that large mining companies hover over Colombia’s gold reserves, some of the largest in the world.

CPT’s partners say that the Colombian government is trying to blame small-scale artisan miners for paying armed actors for access to gold.  That way the government can justify shutting down the artisans’ enterprises and grant mining rights to large corporations.

Such accusations have life-and-death consequences for artisan miners including members of the Southern Bolívar Agricultural-Mining Federation (FEDEAGROMISBOL), one of the organizations resisting the encroachment of corporate mining.  FEDEAGROMISBOL is a network of subsistence small-scale miners and peasant farmers throughout the San Lucas mountain range in the Southern Bolívar region, which CPT-Colombia has accompanied since 2006.    

In August, dozens of heavily-armed men in uniform identifying themselves as the Black Eagles paramilitary group entered the town of Casa Zinc in Southern Bolívar where they detained, tortured and killed three people and left a fourth person wounded.  Just two weeks later, Canadian-owned Midasco Capital announced that they received mining licenses to excavate in the region around Casa Zinc.

In September, unknown assailants assassinated the parish priest in the community of Marmato.  Father Restrepo had strongly opposed Canadian-owned Medoro Resources’ open pit mining project.

During 1998, massacres committed by death squads drove 10,000 people from Southern Bolívar.  The expelled miners charge multinational mining companies with funding the paramilitaries that removed them.

Five of the world’s ten largest gold mining companies are based in Canada and the Canadian government is helping them as much as possible to do business in Colombia.

The Canadian International Develop-ment Agency (CIDA) funded a process to change the Colombian mining code, making it far more favorable to corporate mining interests (http://goo.gl/iL5qv).  The new code squeezes artisan miners out of the equation by making it nearly impossible for them to meet standards that can only be reached by large-scale and well-financed projects.

And in October 2010, the Canadian government voted down a law that would have held Canadian mining companies to higher environmental and human rights standards around the world.

Corporations have a long history of profiting from violent repression, and Canadian gold companies are no exception (http://goo.gl/OFmwK).