Exploitation of Natural Resources in Afro-Colombian Territories and the Free Trade Agreement (FTA)

(Translated by Dan Baird, a CSN volunteer translator)

Exploitation of Natural Resources in Afro-Colombian Territories and the Free Trade Agreement (FTA)
José Eulícer Mosquera Rentería

From the beginning of the Republic, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities have been voraciously exploited by  large companies, both national and international, operating with the approval of a succession of regional and national governments.
A notable example has been  the Compania Minera Choco Pacifico S.A., a subsidiary of the International Mining Corporation of  New York, which obtained the assets and mining rights of other companies – British, French and Belgian – which had operated in the region since 1880.  
For more than 70 years, this company  mined gold, silver, uranium, iridium, palladium and other minerals of strategic importance in  Choco on the Pacific Coast, in Frontino and  in Bajo Cauca Antioqueño. In the course of this exploitation, the company destroyed local economies being developed by the communities, seriously damaged traditional cultures, and devastated plant and forest life.   

Then, after making huge profits and exhausting the natural  resources, the company decided in 1974 to pull out, abandoning its commitments to its workers and pensioners, to local communities and to the nation. It made an arrangement with the company  Mineros de Antioquia, whose majority stockholder is the family of President Alvaro Uribe Velez, using as a  façade the registered name Mineros Colombianos S.A., leaving   it with the best assets – assets which the US company should have returned to the nation of Colombia when its mining concession  expired.  But the company’s final legacy was a social one: it left poverty, misery, backwardness, desperation and  despair.

Choco Pacifico was backed in its activities  by concessions from successive Colombian governments and had the support of the armed forces and the judiciary.  Today the indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities of Choco face a similar situation, this time with the presence of companies cultivating  oil palm for biofuels.  These companies have links with transnational capital and with foreign oil companies.  In particular, there is the presence of the US company Muriel Mining Co, backed by the armed forces and perhaps by paramilitaries.  Such paramilitary support has been given to US banana companies and to the Colombian businessmen who have instigated and financed the worst massacres and crimes against humanity in the Uraba region, with the aim of plundering natural deposits  of gold, copper and molybdenum in Jiguamiando and Cerro Careperro.

Muriel Mining Company is taking  advantage of a concession from the present National Government giving it access to about  16,000 hectares  of land.  This has been issued without reference  to prior agreements made with indigenous communities and Afro-Colombians long settled there and  holding  collective titles to these lands.  Such action is in contravention of our National Constitution and national laws and international agreements.   As if by coincidence, Muriel Mining Co has been established  in Medellin, sharing business with Mineros de Antioquia, since the mid-1990s, when the governor of that region was Alvaro Uribe Velez.
Precisely to prevent abuses and the rapid destruction of  the ecosystem by national and foreign companies, representatives of the Afro-Colombian communities succeeded in obtaining through Law 70 of  1993 their collective entitlement to their ancestral lands and the right to prior consultation on any projects or work within them or affecting them.  
Consequently, we Afro-Colombian  who are leaders of base organizations and  representatives on regional and national consultative commissions must give our support to  the struggles of  the Afro-Colombians and indigenous people  of  Jiguamiando-Cerro Careperro. We also demand  that the National Government act in accordance with the Constitution  and the laws which respect and protect their rights.
In addition, we believe that the National Consultative Commission, in its self-governing bodies , has been slow to denounce  these violations of human, collective and civil  rights before the relevant international bodies and before public opinion. It has to abandon its pro-government stance and bear in mind that consultative bodies represent community interests that should be strenuously defended.  Its attitude should therefore be vigilant, determined and critical.  Above all, it must stop being obsequious to a government like the present one, which has been hypocritical, faithless and repressive in its dealings with our communities.    
Also, we share the concern of the Association of Afro-Colombian University Students (CEUNA) about the apparent indifference, and even silent complicity, of the National Consultative Commission of the Afro-Colombian Commission,  Espacio Autonomo, regarding the Free Trade Treaty between our country and the United States. That treaty is not limited to commercial agreements.  It includes many harmful regulations affecting socioeconomic, cultural,  environmental and judicial aspects of our society.  

1. It privileges the use of US capital, to the detriment of our national development and the generating of opportunities for income and employment.
2. It privileges the rights of intellectual property to transnational companies, which creates  a dangerous risk to ancestral knowledge and to Colombian intellectuals, researchers and scientists.
3. It transfers important powers from our tribunals of justice to supranational bodies in labor and environmental matters.
4. It would  liberalize public and private services, bringing with  it  dangerous control by US companies of key sectors of our economy and social life. This would result in the permanent decapitalization of our country and the degradation of the majority of Colombian families, who would find great difficulty in paying bills, as is now happening with the banking system  and in telecommunications.  
5. Education – including technical, technological and university education – is at risk of being totally privatized and largely managed by foreign companies, which  would convert it into one of their less important branches. At worst this would restrict access to, and continuation in,  education for the children of workers and peasants and others on low incomes.  It would strengthen the tendency to models and kinds of education favouring colonial interests and divorced from our national realities and our aspirations for the welfare and socio-economic progress  of our communities.  
6. It obliges us to patent fresh vegetables to transnational companies, which will put at risk knowledge and practices stemming from our traditional culture as well as the safety of our food supply.

7. The treaty does not require compliance with international treaties and conventions on biodiversity and the environment, since the United States has refused to sign these and is not a party to them. This could lead to the rapid destruction of our ecosystems and the general balance of our environment  through the voracity of transnational companies.

8. Our peasants and other producers would be at a disadvantage compared to the North Americans, who receive large state subsidies and have at their disposal much more advanced technology. Not only would the safety of our food supply be endangered  but this would lead to the bankruptcy of  Colombian businesses and their takeover by US companies which, because of their greater use of technology and their colonialist attitudes, would greatly reduce opportunities for employment.

9. The treaty sees everything as commerce, a matter of business and subject to the market, including water, which would be at risk of being privatized, with the use of our water supply  being handed over to transnational companies, which would turn it into just another profitable business, creating an imminent danger to life itself.
10. Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities and their organizations, with their existing agreements and their defence of the environment and ecological balance, become obstacles to the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement.  They can be accused of breaking it, which could lead to many of our leaders, and even our country, being brought before international tribunals. In view of this, we should not be surprised at the arrogant behaviour of Muriel Mining Co – they may very well see the treaty as an established fact.
We cannot forget that the final victory of the Afro-Colombian people depends on  structural changes in Colombian society. This obliges us to learn of, and concern ourselves with, great national problems, to see ourselves in the context of the most important situations in the country and in the world.  We must march hand-in-hand with the rest of the popular, democratic and progressive movement.  We must, at the same time, call attention to our own particular demands.

We believe that a great lesson was given by the American Civil  Rights Movement to other Black and popular movements in the world.  That movement’s greatest achievements were in the improvement of the social standing and the living  conditions of great numbers of Afro-Americans, in the establishment of a large Afro-American group in Congress, and  in bringing about the Obama presidency.
In conclusion, our leaders, represented in base organizations and especially in self-governing councils, should openly oppose the Commercial Trade Treaty between Colombia and the United States as damaging the interests  of our communities and our country.  They should demand that it be revoked because its signing took no account of clear constitutional and legal mandates, of international treaties and conventions, and of established agreements by which our communities should take part in decisions affecting them and their lands.

The Colombian State now owes  a great and historic debt to the Colombian people, and especially to our Afro-Colombian and indigenous  communities, because the present government, at a high level, is trying with great cynicism and irresponsibility to put us in the hands of colonial merchants who are interested only in maximizing their economic and financial profits.  We must press for our country to establish and maintain all kinds of relations, if ethically possible and mutually beneficial,  with all the countries in the world  as far as they contribute to the development of our people and the attainment of social wellbeing.   

Source: Barometro Internacional


Colombia Support Network
P.O. Box 1505
Madison, WI  53701-1505
phone:  (608) 257-8753
fax:  (608) 255-6621
e-mail:  csn@igc.org

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