Austin / Movimiento Ciudadano por Tiquisio
Gold was discovered in 1913 in and around the town of Simiti in southern Bolivar department. The Illera Palacios family bought the rights to the gold. Nevertheless, for almost 30 years, 35,000 poor miners, joined together in an association called ASOGROMISBOL (The Association of Farmers and Miners in Southern Bolivar), alternated between farming the land and mining the gold. Most of these miners settled in the region after being displaced during La Violencia in the 1950’s. In 1997, the Illera Palacios family decided to reclaim the mine and realized that it was not registered.
Due to the high quality of the gold, various multinationals had expressed an interest in the same gold mines. The miners living there challenged the Illera family’s ownership of the mine, citing the fact that they had never made use of it, and that the mayor of Simiti had granted the miners permission to mine there. The Illera family hired a lawyer to defend their reclamation of the mine—this same lawyer was defending the interests of the multinational companies and had also been hired by the Ministry of Mines to write a new draft of the mining code.
Tiquisio is a nearby municipality also located above the mine. The ELN guerrillas occupied the territory from 1978 to 1997, killing those who refused to pay them “taxes.” In 1997, a paramilitary group, funded by the drug-trafficker Manuel Barreto, established itself there. On March 28, 1997, paramilitaries killed 7 persons in the municipality of Tiquisio, and others in nearby hamlets. On April 25, 1997, the paramilitaries announced their intention to “cleanse” the area in order to give it to multinational corporations that would then employ everyone and improve the region. They decapitated the miner Juan Camacho and proceeded to play soccer with his head. Then they put it on a stick and left it facing the mine. The killing continued, so representatives of the community requested a meeting with military officials in the area. The miners expressed their distress at the fact that the paramilitaries’ arrival had coincided with that of the multinationals. The Army Colonel meeting with them replied that the paramilitaries were taking revenge on the community for collaborating with the guerrillas.
After an armed action by an illegal group on June 10, 2003, the community decided to organize and declare itself in civil resistance in order to defend its right to remain in its territory. This was the beginning of the Movimiento Ciudadano por Tiquisio, which seeks to resist non-violently by defending their right to life and autonomy.
In February 2006, CSN sent a delegation to Tiquisio that, after meeting with various sectors of community, arrived at the following conclusions: a) The military has controlled the region since 2003 and has committed countless human rights abuses, particularly against the rural population; b) Arrests and detentions made by the military without any judicial order threaten the rights of people living in the area; and c) The use of schoolchildren in accusations made against their parents is particularly worrisome.
Another CSN delegation to Tiquisio is currently being planned by CSN’s Austin, Texas Chapter in order to learn more about the situation and to begin developing a sister-community relationship.