(Translated by Steve Cagan, a CSN volunteer translator)
By Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo
Bogotá, January 11, 2008
Millions of Colombians live in conditions of risk. For decades, every rainy season, more and more inhabited areas flood and the landslides that crush people increase. Other communities await catastrophe in the slopes of the active volcanoes and it must be more than 80% of the buildings that are constructed without seismic resistance techniques. En Armero 25 thousand people dies in an announced massacre that could have been avoided, and in Manizales, for example, there are 2,7000 dwellings in the mountains that never should have been built. And no one has been held responsible for a number of disasters that some call “natural,” but are more social and political, and that they take advantage of as demagogues while they give poor attention to the affected people.
In contrast, the eradication of the urban center of Marmato, Caldas, a town where there had never been a death because of flood, landslide or earthquake, goes on in silence. It’s three decades now since INGEOMINAS declared the town to be a “risk zone.” Very diligente, in 2006 the Office of Environmental and Agrarian Affairs of the Inspector General’s Office, through an appeal to legal protection, demanded that the Administrative Tribunal of Caldas declare the zone to be “high risk,” and order its evacuation and relocation, a senseless demand that the Tribunal rejected. And there were plenty of pressures and money used to move the municipality to a point called El Llano, where they built some dwellings and moved the legal office, the civil registry and the municipal legal office.
What is pushing the moving of a 470-year-old settlement, with two thousand inhabitants, including Afro-Colombians and indigenous people, that in 1982 was declared part of the Historical Inheritance of the Nation? Why destroy the buildings, which include 315 residences, 58 businesses, 118 shops and 23 institutions (schools, church, municipal government, etc.), as well as the culture of a unique community that is resisting the destruction of place where they are their elders created their homes and traditions? What is the standard that authorizes this forced displacement? Why is it that in this case they are so worried about a risk that has evidently been exaggerated?
The “crime” of the people of Marmato is that the settlement lies in the foothills of El Burro, a mountain where the Canadian transnational company Colombia Goldfields Limited, the owner of the Compañía Minera de Caldas (“Caldas Mining Company”). Expects to extract 375 thousand pounds of gold starting in 2011, through open pit exploitation with an unusual environmental impact. They will certainly also demand, but later, getting rid of the rest of the 8,500 inhabitants of the municipality. The affected area includes 32,000 hectares and covers the neighboring municipality of Caramanta, Antioquia.
In order to take over the gold of Maramato, which has been extracted since before the Spanish Conquest, Colombia Goldfields has bought the rights of about a hundred small miners, and expects to get the rights of another 150 through specious arguments, despite the fact that in 1954 this area was declared to be for small-scale mining, which left other areas (and it would be strange if the company were not to monopolize it later), for large-scale exploitation. According to what one person from Maramato said, they used “apocalyptic threats of a total disaster, while the multinational was buying up centuries-old possessions (including the buildings within the urban center) at ridiculous prices.” And to further pressure them, the municipal authority over mining was removed, the legalization of 150 new mines that was in process was suspended, and they set up obstacles to obtaining the dynamite that their works needed.
The vicepresident of the Comapñía Minera de Caldas wrote to the Minster of Mines, Hernán Martínez (Dec. 1, 2006), that their project required “integrating” 250 mines, that that was “a responsibility of the ministry you are in charge of” and that it required that “the granting of titles in the area be suspended,” and that he be “flexible” with the “reasons for suspending” the current exploitations. Can it be a coincidence that that a pro-big mining reform of the mining law is being promoted in the Congress, one that includes the integration of small works into the large ones, and which allows in just thirty days the expropriation of any building that disturbs a mining business? Is it false that that the removing of the village “has the support of the government?” http://www.valoro.net/article.php?sid=86.
And for damages whose costs are incalculable the transnational will pay commissions of only one per cent, because the law orders them to pay only four per cent and because in taking the rights of the small miners they won an exemption of 70 per cent.