Why You Should Support the Artisan Miners of Marmato

From January 15-18, 2012 a Colombia Support Network delegation of Canadian and US citizens visited the town of Marmato in Caldas province in Colombia. The delegation responded to an invitation from the Comite Civico Pro-Defensa de Marmato (Civic Committee for the Defense of Marmato), an organization of small-scale (artisan) miners and their families formed to protect the town of Marmato from the threat of demolition by a Canadian multinational company, Gran Colombia Gold (GCG),which merged with Medoro Resources. With the support of the Colombian government, GCG proposes to develop an open-pit mine on the site of the town. The gold deposited in the Marmato mountain is said to be one of the largest deposits in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 9.8 million ounces of gold (and 59 million ounces of silver) and the Colombian government wants this ore mined quickly. GCG proposes a 20-year open-pit mine operation.

Marmato presents an extraordinary spectacle. Each weekday hundreds, if not thousands, of miners appear on the mountain, called “El Burro,” where most of the miners live with their families. They work in small mines, extracting gold as their ancestors did. They also support the town of Marmato, which has seen gold mining on the slopes of the mountain since before the town was founded in 1537. GCG, which received a license from the Colombian government to explore for gold, proposes to raze the town of Marmato, forcing its inhabitants to relocate to a town at the base of the mountain. This would end the small-scale miners’ access to the mines which have supported them and their families for so long.

The GCG plan runs contrary to a 1950’s regulation by the Colombian government which provided that the area above the valley would be reserved for small-scale mining, while the lowlands would be open to large-scale mining activities. The Santos Administration proposes to require small-scale miners to abide by the same rules as large-scale mining companies, and to obtain titles to their mines. It is unreasonable to force these small-scale miners to fulfill the same requirements as large-scale miners, especially since their environmental and social impacts, revenues and protections from the state are very different. This requirement essentially amounts to a war on small-scale miners. Many small-scale miners in Marmato, because of these new requirements, have lost their legal right to work in the mines that have sustained them and their families for generations.

Marmato has great historical significance for Latin America. Simon Bolivar mortgaged Marmato’s gold to England in return for funds he used to equip the army with which he won independence from Spain. Thus Colombia, as well as Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, owe their independence, in a sense, to Marmato’s gold. The town is located high on the mountain, presenting a breathtaking view of the valley below where the Cauca River passes and of the mountain range beyond.

The artisan miners and other community members’ organization, the Comite Civico, are determined to resist the open-pit mining plan. The town’s parish priest, Father Jose Reynel Restrepo, expressed his solidarity with the Comite, saying he would resist moving his church from the town, even if it were to cost him his life. On September 1, 2011 he was murdered as he returned to Marmato from another town on his motorcycle. Whether Father Restrepo’s murder was related to his opposition to the open-pit mine is unclear, though the fact that the motorcycle he was riding when he was shot was not taken by whoever murdered him strongly suggests robbery was not the motive for his killing.

The Colombian government is so desirous of obtaining foreign investment for mining activities that it has approved a virtual give-away to multinationals such as GCG. The country will charge only 4% in royalties for gold mining. So not only will Marmato be destroyed, with its inhabitants forced to abandon their homes and their livelihood, but the country’s riches will also be virtually gifted away to foreign companies.

If you want to learn more about Marmato you can see the following links :

See Father Restrepo’s last interview before he was killed. With English subtitles :

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/faultlines/2011/07/2011757127575176.html

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One Response to Why You Should Support the Artisan Miners of Marmato

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