(Translated bu Buddy Bell, a CSN Volunteer Translator)
Pau Soler: “There are 40 indigenous cultures that are thousands of
years old and now in danger of extinction in Colombia.”
With ample experience of more than 15 years making independent-form
documentaries, Pau Soler (Dénia, 1972) is a well-known activist in the
Marina Alta. His work has covered social themes, the environment,
urban studies, education, and medicine, not only close to home, but in
various countries throughout Latin America and Africa.
The urban degradation in our country during the past decade, the
Zapatista movement, the Plan Puebla Panamá, rural schools in
Mozambique, the disease of fibromyalgia, and the therapeutic
properties of ayahuasca brew are some of the themes addressed by his
Currently, Pau Soler is working on a series of 18 documentaries about
the situation of Colombian indigenous peoples. One piece in the series
is called “S.O.S. Emberá: URRA’s Hydroelectic Threat”, recently won
the prize for best indigenous documentary at the Ninth International
Film Festival in Pasto, Colombia.
He has returned to Dénia, after a few months in Colombia, where he
just presented another film in the series: “Ethnocide in the Colombian
“The Colombian government supports mining megaprojects that only
benefit the multinationals.”
“My documentaries are meant to give a voice to those who don’t have one.”
“Promoting these films is a long and tough process.”
<<>>Pau Soler in his presentation of the documentary
What is “Ethnocide in the Colombian Putumayo” about?
It is about how mining is affecting the Putumayo zone, an area in
which there are 40 mining sites, many in the initial exploration phase
and some already in an initial exploitation stage.
All of them were approved in a context where the President of
Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, had invoked the phrase “mineral-energy
locomotive”, and that is one of his government’s emblematic plans.
That same government is all about favoring the multinationals and the
investors in order that mining, petroleum, and hydro-electric
megaprojects are developed in Colombia, projects which are generating
grave environmental and social consequences, above all for the
indigenous and campesinos living in the affected zones.
If these 40 mining sites are in fact developed, they will endanger the
survival of indigenous peoples who live there, such as the Cofanes,
Kamsás, Ingas, y Nasas, among others.
Without a doubt, this film is about a theme that divides Colombian
society, and on the ground in the affected zones, there are people who
view these projects as opportunites for these areas. Other consider
them as an attack on their territory and way of life, also a loss of
sanity in the hands of the transnationals.
This work is part of the whole documentary series that you’re making
about Colombian indigenous people.
The series is composed of 18 documentaries that I’ve made.
In some of them I focus on culture, but in a good number of them I
address how these megaprojects, which could be mining, gas, or
hydro-electric projects, are affecting the indigenous peoples who live
in these zones, putting their communities at risk of disappearing.
Right now there are 48 indigenous groups in clear danger of extinction
in Colombia, peoples of rich cultures, thousands of years old,
well-versed in their manner of living connected to nature, for example
in the use and knowledge of plants. If these cultures and wisdom are
extinguished, doubtless humanity will lose very much. We should
protect and listen more to these communities. Colombia is in a
historic moment: with these megaprojects the Colombian Amazon and
other great natural places of great value are all at stake.
Documentary Trailer: “S.O.S. Emberá: Urra’s Hydroelectric Threat” can
be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sHJOFvPrE8Q
What are the arguments on both sides?
The arguments in favor are for the most part economic. President
Santos defends these projects saying they’re going to create jobs,
raise the GDP, and contribute to Colombian development. But many
people believe these are dog whistles that hide the fact that only a
few people will benefit.
There have been studies that demonstrate how multinationals only leave
1 to 4% of their profits in the country. For example, 99% of the gold
extracted from Colombia is taken out of the country and the same
happens with 95% of the coal. Just as the system allows the
multinationals to take raw materials out of the country, so do they
take out the resulting profit.
Furthermore, other studies carried out during this time indicate that
job creation is very low, and a better part of the jobs are given to
outsiders, not to local people.
Also, we need to remember that Colombia is the most biodiverse country
in the world in proportion to area, and mining is an activity that
degrades the land, contaminates the rivers, and destroys mountains to
make large open pits.
The companies and government seek to minimize the ecological impact of
these projects. For example, they make false arguments no one
believes, like that after the mine is closed, the mountains will
regain their natural state.
One of the most destructive consequences is happening with the need
for water in the process of mineral extraction. For this the have
started to contaminate the rivers and springs.
We should know that in many cases, especially involving gold
extraction, the use of cyanide or mercury is required. All of this is
gravely affecting indigenous peoples, whose way of life involves
harmonious contact with nature: direct contact with the contaminated
rivers will have dire health consequences.
Also, who is accountable for environmental catastrophe caused by
extraction industries? They produce what is known as the “locust
effect”. The multinationals come in, quickly take whatever interests
them, and then move on.
Aside from that they don’t yet have any social or environmental
responsibilities. They don’t follow Colombian law that mandates
responsible policies. Right now these huge projects don’t apply these
policies either, and nothing happens to them.
The result is devastation of the zones where these megaprojects have
been established, displacement of indigenous and campesin@
populations, and the destruction of their ancient culture.
Which transnationals are actually developing the megaprojects?
Besides the state oil company Ecopetrol, there’s a group of
multinationals, many of them Canadian, now that we have a free trade
agreement with that country that accelerates extraction permits.
This means that US corporations go to Canada to institute themselves
there. Then they can act as a Canadian company. One of the most
significant in Colombia is Anglogold Ashanti, which is among the most
powerful companies in the world, and also there are the Spanish
companies Endesa and Repsol.
What position have the local residents taken in the territories
affected by these megaprojects?
The indigenous and the campesinos are showing resistance to these
projects. They are joining forces and forming organizations like, for
example, the ONIC or RECLAME – the Network Against Transnational
Mining. Also the students have been organizing in this struggle
against the mineral-energy model.
This movement has made it so that more cases are making it to court.
However, on one hand the justice system is very slow, and on the other
hand, Colombian environmental law is being undermined by modifications
meant to favor corporate interests.
We have to know, too, that even if there exists strong opposition, at
the same time there is much disinformation on this topic within
Colombian society. This is due to the fact that, among other things,
the widest means of communication, like TV stations Caracol and
RCN,are in the hands of the Colombian oligarchy, and they don’t want
to tell the truth about the topic since they have investments in the
same type of projects.
For the people who are affected, spreading the word about this problem
is fundamental, as much in Colombia as internationally. We have to
follow up with modes of communication of the masses so that
information gets to as many people as possible. In that way we can
contibute to the mobilization of the population against these
That is the importance of these documentaries, they contribute to
informing conscious minds, giving a voice to those without one.
Besides that, they have a fundamental and practical value in the
opposition to these projects, now that 3 of them have functioned like
juridical tests for the Inter-American Comission on Human Rights,
which is judging the irregularities of these megaprojects, and which
can start giving a strong rebuke to the Colombian state. It is not in
compliance with international laws like Article 169 of the
International Labor Organization, which lays out the necessity to
consult an indigenous zones’s population before starting any kind of
megaproject there. Well then, they must either consult the people or
they don’t do a development project, or else they are moving the
projects forward illegally.
Has the indigenous community helped in making this documentary series?
When I go into an indigenous territory, I put myself in contact with
the indigenous organizations, or in other cases they call me to ask me
to come. Together we analyze what issues should be covered and the
overall content of the documentary. For them it’s fundamental that
their problems gain visibility. Another important thing is the value
of the work as a testimony to the situation they are suffering. The
objective is to be effective in their legal denouncements and in their
Once we start, I send them the documentaries and they are shown to the
community in order to sensitize people and start participatory
discussions where they can express themselves.