On July 23-24, close to 80 leaders from peasant, Indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities around the country met in Bogotá for the First National Inter-Ethnic Meeting of Peasant Miners.
Multinational corporations now dominate Colombian mining: according to the Colombian NGO, SEMBRAR, foreign investment in the mining sector rose from $627 million in 2003 to well over $2 billion in 2005. Colombia’s Mining Code once gave preference to small miners, but the 2001 Code forces them to compete on the same terms as medium and large-scale companies. “We need a law that doesn’t let them rob us,” said one miner.
Participants challenged government policies that facilitate the entrance of multinational corporations and ignore the needs of communities. “In areas like ours, with so many resources,” a leader from southern Colombia noted, “we shouldn’t have to cry for roads, hospitals, and schools.” They believe that free trade agreements, like those under discussion with the United States and Canada, will make matters worse.
Leaders also decried the militarization that has accompanied foreign investment. Each participant shared stories of open collaboration between the Armed Forces and paramilitary groups, deaths, disappearances, forced displacements, and stigmatization of their communities and leaders – all in the name of “security” for multinationals.
In mid August, conference organizers launched a National Caravan for Small Scale Mining Resistance which brought together grassroots representatives from mining communities in the departments of Bolívar, Chocó, Risaralda, Cauca, and Nariño. Participants traveled together for two weeks sharing experiences of resisting multinational corporations’ takeover of their lands. Leaders hope the trip will spur a national small-scale miners’ movement to protect their rights.
CPTers accompanied both the miners’ meeting in Bogotá and a portion of the resistance caravan. Team members will continue visiting the mining zones in the coming months.