COLOMBIA ANYALYSIS: Who is paying Colombian armed groups for access to gold?

4 November 2011
COLOMBIA ANYALYSIS: Who is paying Colombian armed groups for access to gold?

 by Pierre Shantz

Gold is the new way for illegal armed groups in Colombia to finance themselves, according to a recent Bloomberg Weekly report.  However, both paramilitary and rebel guerrilla groups have profited from gold mining in Colombia for years.  It has only come to public attention now because large mining companies have begun to stake claim to Colombia’s reserves, some of the largest in the world, and small-scale artisan miners stand in their way.

One of the organizations resisting the encroachment of the mining companies is the Southern Bolivar Agricultural-Mining Federation (FEDEAGROMISBOL), which Christian Peacemaker Teams has accompanied since 2006.  FEDEAGROMISBOL is a network of primarily subsistence small-scale miners and peasant farmers throughout the San Lucas mountain range in the Southern Bolívar region.  Our partners in the organization say that the Colombian government is trying to blame the small scale miners for financing the illegal armed actors as a way of shutting their mining enterprises down so the government can give all mining rights to large corporations.  

Five of the world's ten largest gold mining companies are based in Canada and as the 2006 MacLean's magazine article, New CIDA Code Provokes Controversy, shows, the Canadian government is giving them as much help as possible to do business in Colombia. The article uncovered how the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded a process to change the Colombian mining code, making it far more favorable to corporate mining interests.  The new code squeezes artisan miners out of the equation by making it nearly impossible for them to meet standards that can only be completed by large-scale and well-financed projects.  And in October 2010, the Canadian government voted down Bill C-300, a law that would have held Canadian mining companies to higher environmental and human rights standards around the world.

For years, large corporations have paid paramilitary death squads to protect their business interests.  A well-known example is the case of Chiquita Banana, which paid paramilitary death squads linked to massacres and the assassinations of union leaders.  In 2006, Asad Ismi wrote, Profiting From Repression: Canadian Firms in Colombia Protected by Military Death Squads, showing the links between Canadian gold companies and illegal armed groups.  During 1998, massacres committed by death squads drove 10,000 people from southern Bolivar.  The expelled miners accuse multinational mining companies of funding the paramilitaries that removed them.

On 17 August 2011, dozens of heavily armed men in uniform identifying themselves as the Black Eagles paramilitary group entered the town of Casa Zinc in southern Bolivar where they detained, tortured and killed three people and left a fourth person wounded.  Just two weeks later, on 29 August, Canadian-owned Midasco Capital announced in Digital Journal that they received mining licenses to excavate in the southern Bolivar region, including the area around Casa Zinc.  On 1 September 2011, unknown assailants assassinated Father Jose Reinel Restrepo Idairraga.  Father Restrepo was parish priest in the community of Marmato who strongly opposed Canadian-owned Medoro Resources’ open pit mining project.  These events are just two of many that show how large corporate projects benefit from armed groups’ use of terror to quiet opposition.  

So back to the original accusation by the Colombian government, who's most likely to finance these groups—the small-scale miners who dig out gold in a sustainable way to support their families or corporations who wish to extract all the gold in the shortest possible time with the fewest possible obstacles?