COLOMBIA: “They want to seize our territory by any means.”

CPTnet
14 March 2011
COLOMBIA: “They want to seize our territory by any means.”

Christian Peacemaker Teams has been accompanying the communities of the Agriculture and Mining Federation (Fedeagromisbol) from the Department of Southern Bolivar  since 2005. Their leader Teofilo Acuna, who was arrested in 2007, was recently acquitted of all responsibility for the crime of rebellion—news that strengthens the work and the commitment they have shown in recent years.

Below is a summary of the report on the human rights situation in Southern Bolivar released by Fedeagromisbol. Click here  for the full report (in Spanish).

 

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The grave human rights situation in the Southern Bolivar's agriculture and mining communities is the result of systematic actions by different armed groups and economic agents who are forcing the introduction of mega-projects in the region.

The presence of the military in the region has impacted the deteriorating human rights situation and several [military] actions have failed to respect human rights and observe international humanitarian law. Some of the activities that concern the communities in the region are the establishment of a military base near water sources that has contaminated the community's water supply, the restriction of travel on roads, naming leaders and community members as collaborators with the rebel forces, the soldiers abusing alcohol, the State military action colluding with paramilitaries in the region (BACRIM), and  increased criminal activity.

One of the most serious situations to arise is that the military exchanges guns for marijuana and other narcotics with some criminals.  During a community meeting in San Pedro Frio, the base commander, Captain Quiñones and Sergeant Campo, both assigned to the Nariño Battalion, acknowledged the trading of weapons for drugs and that the security forces helped the social and moral decay of the community.  It has also been reported that the Nariño battalion has detained a group of children, who were doing schoolwork, for several hours, accusing them of being guerrillas.

As for the multinational companies' role in the region and their relationship with the army, Captain Quiñones said his mission is intelligence and communication, but does not deny that multinational corporations are behind this and that this information is only handled by the people in high command.

Paramilitary organizations and the insurgents in the region have agreed to have economic alliances and are ignoring the will and determination of community organizations and leaders in the region.  These illegal groups allow large landmoving machines to enter the region that are illegally [engaging in] open pit mining, which causes serious damage to the watersheds and  untold economic harm to small miners in the region. Although Fedeagromisbol has called the civil and mining authorities to prevent further damage with this type of open pit mining, so far there is no action aimed at stopping it.

Large amounts of money from drug trafficking are being laundered in the region. In San Pablo and Santa Rosa successful businesses with large structures appear out of nowhere. Civil authorities and the police are aware of this illegal and unusual type of economic activity and do nothing to exercise any control over it.  These armed groups continue to impose social controls over civilian populations.

The state institutions are also part of the strategy to remove the communities from the land.  The pressure on small-scale miners are continuous and increasingly aggressive by mining authorities, such as the Bolivar Governor and his Secretary of Mining. The Secretary has named the Southern Bolivar Federation of Small Agriculture and Mining—Fedeagromisbol—as an opposition to regional progress.  [The authorities] also seek to divide the mining associations by co-opting some of their managers to agree to negotiate with transnational corporations.

 

The Secretary of Mining failed to carry out a clean mining pilot project with the mining communities.  The project never received the money that was approved for implementation, while in the municipality of San Martin de Loba, where the company AngloGold Ashanti is present, significant resources were allocated for a so-called clean mining project.

 

Along with the legal pressures and armed paramilitary groups at the service of those who wish to control the natural resources in the region, there have been threats, killings, and displacement of leaders who are opposed to giving their land over for palm plantations or to sell to large scale mining companies. In the case of the community of Las Pavas, the government agencies responsible for land restitution have delayed the process claimed by the small farmers, while palm plantations increased.  In Garzal (Simiti munipality) the small farmers have been suffering continuous pressures, threats, and attacks by landowners who claim ownership of the land that the farmers inhabit.  The companies that have been strongly committed to plundering are AngloGold Ashanti in gold mining and Daabon group in biofuels and palm.

These activities have only one explanation: that they are part of the strategy to take away the land from the small farmers, miners, and the general population in the region that have been opposed to the…exploitation of natural resources and [continue] their historical struggle to defend their life and to stay in the territory for many years.

 

The national, departmental, and municipal governments have been alerted about this serious situation of aggression and plunder. We call on national and international solidarity organizations to demand that the authorities respect these communities and respect the fundamental rights of the Southern Bolivar inhabitants.


FEDERACIÓN AGROMINERA DEL SUR DE BOLÍVAR
FEBRUARY 2011