The situation of the miners of Echandia, in Marmato Caldas

Oscar Gutiérrez Reyes, Manizales, July 25, 2010
Translated by Azucena Mariategui, a CSN Volunteer Translator

On Thursday, July 23, starting at 6 in the afternoon, the miners of the Echandia district of Echandia in Marmato Caldas crossed a wooden and barbed-wire fence on the path up to the school and cemetery and extended black sheets of plastic, like tents, to protect themselves from the weather, set out food for everyone and declared themselves on strike against the Canadian multinational company, Medoro Resources, because the company, shielded by its power and money, intends, as the government looks the other way, to evade and infringe upon the rights of the people of the upper-west of Caldas

The conflict originated in Medoro’s underhanded intention to develop and operate a shaft mine in an area that, according to existing law, is to be used by small- and medium-sized mining companies, and in no way by large companies, let alone this foreign one. What is happening is that the mining authority is evading the law and allowing abuses by the Canadian company.

Medoro Resources alleges that it bought the mining titles that it says allow it to operate six mines in the Echandia sector. If the legislation were respected, that purchase would be illegal. The miners, for their part, claim that the company wants to go ahead with a modern, mechanized operation that, in time, would leave them without material to process and with the risk that their mines would cave in because of the mining method used by the multinational. The Canadians hope to extract 150 tons of rock per day from the lower part of Burro hill.

And the risk is very high because the company works in all directions and skips levels in which it could work, as was reported to the Ministry of Mines in a forum held in Marmato. In that meeting, the official from the Ministry of Mines maintained that since it is an area governed by private law, the Ministry would not have the authority to intervene in the Echandia conflict, which gives carte blanche to the company to attempt to impose its conditions upon the miners.

They are permitting the company to work on the property of others, and the property does belong to others (although the company may claim the existence of a title) because the miners have been working the mines in peaceful and continuous possession for almost 20 years. There are 37 mines, with 220 direct workers, their families and those who provide services to them: muleteers, storekeepers, transportation workers, and others.  They would be seriously harmed, since the company, upon receiving the mines, would close them, causing the loss of mining jobs and thus the means of support for the workers and their families.

The owners would also be greatly affected. They would lose their savings and investments made over many years to put up mills and other machinery, and to undertake public works that allow them to exploit, in different installations, the gold that, through artesanal methods, they remove from the mines to forge wealth for the nation.

Before the strike was even 24-hours old, the company’s directors were in Echandia, but not to resolve the problem, rather to try to confuse and deceive the miners. However, the miners did not yield and agreed to present Medoro with a memorandum, summarized in the following points, in which they defined terms for an understanding and settlement with the company:

-That their [the miners’] status as legal and legitimate owners of these operations be recognized, and that it be made clear that they carry out their activity in an area that is governed by private law, in accordance with the national mining registry.

-That, provided that they reach a written agreement between the parties, the miners of Echandia would be willing to allow the company to operate mines, but only provided that the company guarantee that it will do no damage and will compensate the miners if any damage is done.

-That as legal and legitimate tenants, the miners are willing to pursue economic negotiations over their attending rights as miners, within the prescribed parameters of the Constitution and the law.

-That they will defend their rights and interests within a strictly legal framework, and that they will not violate any regulation.

-That the interests of Medoro and the interests of the community cannot be confused, and that the civil and economic rights of all inhabitants of the sector known as upper Echandia, must be discussed and agreed upon in due course.

In this way, as they told us during the visit that we made to the area, the miners made it clear that they are not willing to abandon their mines, and furthermore, that they and other sectors of the community have interests to protect and defend, such as the lands, crops, homes, stables, the school, the cemetery, and everything that living many years on the hill of gold of Caldas means.

It is known that throughout the area of Marmato and its neighboring municipalities, the Canadian firm hopes to develop an open-pit mining operation, and it is also known that they intend to do so by displacing the inhabitants of Burro Hill, where Marmato is located. Through the procedures that it is now developing, they also want to remove the people of the hill of Echandia, through a policy in which the government guarantees to the company the security of the investors, and to the miners, who have been living there for generations, assistance in leaving their homes, properties, and lands.

It is the duty of democrats and patriots in Caldas and Colombia to back the civil struggle that these miners are carrying forward, and to demand of the government and the Canadian multinational, respect and common sense, coherence and responsibility when they resolve the conflict with the community of Echandia.

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