13 April 2007
COLOMBIA: For the Right to a Dignified Life and Permanence on the Land -
By Michele Braley and Nils Dybvig
After accompanying the Leadership Formation School of the Agrominers
Federation* CPTers Michele Braley and Nils Dybvig remained in Mina Caribe in
southern Bolivar for the Federation's General Assembly. The assembly was
attended by 100 miners representing 24 associations with 400 members.
Participants were welcomed to the Assembly by a banner proclaiming, "Welcome
Agromining Communities in Resistance." Unfortunately, just meeting for this
lawful assembly has become an act of resistance.
As the first miners began to gather for the assembly, seven soldiers and
their sergeant walked into town. The presence of the Colombian Army
immediately increased the tension in the community. The military has had an
ongoing presence in the area for only the last year, so they know very
little about the communities, and are suspicious of almost everyone.
Detentions of community members are common. Last September Alejandro Uribe,
a mining federation leader, was killed by members of the Nueva Grenada
battalion, the same battalion that was now occupying the town square.
Community leaders fear that the army's harassment is part of a larger
government strategy to remove them from their land so that foreign mining
companies can take over the gold mining in the region.
The Government Human Rights Ombudswoman had already arrived, anticipating
interference by the army. The Ombudswoman and the CPTers introduced
themselves to the sergeant and questioned the army's presence in the town.
The sergeant defended his role there, saying his troops needed to protect
the people. He repeatedly asked for the names of the event leadership. The
Ombudswoman left to telephone the battalion's commanding officer to ask that
the soldiers be recalled.
One of the men with the sergeant was a former resident of the town who was
forced to leave after being caught stealing. He is a civilian but was
dressed in an army uniform and carried a weapon that appeared to be a
grenade launcher. He began to point out various members of the town,
possibly to mark them as guerrilla supporters. Townspeople gathered around
to denounce the use of the informant, calling him "the robber" and
questioning his reliability.
Two hours after the soldiers arrived, several leaders assembled the
community and asked the organizations accompanying the assembly to meet with
the sergeant and ask him to remove the informant. When the sergeant was
called into the town square, he reported that in response to the phone calls
his superiors had recalled his unit, and he angrily accused the residents of
working behind his back. The Ombudswoman said she had requested his removal
and that the federation was a legally recognized organization holding
legally sanctioned events. Several community members spoke up in protest of
the use of the informant. Before the sergeant left with his soldiers he took
the names and identification numbers of the national and international
Shortly after the soldiers left, the miners began their Assembly, refusing
to be deterred in their mission "for the right to a dignified life and
permanence on the land."
*See CPTnet release of 10 April, "COLOMBIA: For the Right to a Dignified
Life and Permanence on the Land - Part 1."