About the alleged cartel of reservoirs and the “avivatos” in hydroelectric projects

Jorge Gómez Gallego*, Medellín, February 27, 2011
(Translated by Chuck Summers, CSN Volunteer Translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, a CSN
Volunteer Editor.)
The Governor of Antioquia, without any evidence, and abusing the media power that the
enormous marketing budget, which he manages, gives him, has been conducting a systematic
campaign against small and medium mining in the riverbeds of Porce and Cauca, in which two
hydroelectric projects are being carried out.
The term ‘avivatos’ that the regional leader uses for these fellow citizens who make a living
extracting gold from these rivers and the accusation that they are part of an alleged “cartel of
reservoirs”, is aimed at creating an adverse environment in the public opinion towards them.
In this respect it seems appropriate to try to answer two questions. The first has to do with the
fact itself, that is, if what the Governor says is true or not. The media power does not guarantee
the truth. The other refers to trying to perceive the purpose that is motivating Dr. Ramos to
advance such a crusade.
If it were true that those that are running the informal mining in these river banks were just a
few newcomers that have situated themselves in these sites waiting for the compensation arising
from the implementation of these projects, the matter would not be more than an episode of the
picaresque Colombian.
But the problem is that those of us that have the opportunity to be close to these processes, we
can ensure that this is not true. The better part of the citizens that work there as miners, come as a
result of different phenomena in hydroelectric projects, or have always been there in an unstable
That is evidenced by the fact known by most of the country that something similar happens, with
the same or greater intensity, in other sites that are not advancing such projects; the principle
reasons lie in the prevailing high unemployment, in the increase in international gold prices, and
in the forced change of activity of many people from the collapse of agricultural production or by
from the fumigation and eradication of illicit crops without the simultaneous implementation of
productive projects by the State.
Marginally it may be, there will always be people who in the midst of the harassment of
hunger search for hypothetical compensations there; but those who know the two areas,
who have walked every inch and have no incentive of pay from the owner of the projects
or from the utilities that were derived therefrom, can certify that those who work or have
established “cambuche” (“hut”) in these territories, are the result of increasing informality of our
economy, or of non-permanent mining activity that have always been present.
There is a phenomenon that the authorities know but conceal: many miners are occasional, that
is to say, they are inhabitants of nearby towns and villages that at certain times of the year and
since forever, come to the rivers to compensate for months without a harvest, or those with the
most demand in the household expenses, such as the school season, or they simply do it in the
summer, when volume is low, and facilitate the extraction of gold. Many of these occasional
and casual miners, before the announcement of the execution of these projects, which will erase
in one fell swoop a periodic income that is no less essential, have tried to establish a kind of
permanent presence with the establishment of “huts.”
Then if it is not true that the “cartel of reservoirs” exists and the miners there are no more than
part of the millions of Colombians, who have no alternative other than “rebusque,” what is
sought with the unjustified stigmatization? In Porce IV, all evidence suggests that the Governor
of Antioquia contributes to the assembly of a false positive by Public Companies of Medellín.
These are the facts: in the second half of 2010 the agreement was consolidated so that EPM
builds, operates, and exploits Hidroituango, immediately after which it was announced the
suspension of the Porce IV project, owned by EPM. To build and operate Hidroituango is worth
half a megawatt installed to do the same in Porce IV and as if were small, the generation of a kw/
h in Hidroituango worth 22% less than in Porce IV. The day and night!
The readers should know that in 2008, EPM was awarded a position for reliability in power
generation in Porce IV for 962 gigawatt hours from the first of December 2015, which is a kind
of contract in which EPM is obligated to generate this energy, and the subsidiary of ISA that
controls the interconnected system pays an annual sum for the mere availability of the service.
But in case of failure, they must pay a large fine in dollars.
In announcing the suspension of that project, EPM and the city of Medellin have alleged, lying
to the pubic and developing an excuse to avoid the fine, unforeseen circumstances and of greater
strength, as the high and unusual growth in volume of people that should be compensated and the
disruption of public order.
The census that EPM advanced once declared an area of public interest Porce IV (2008) had
thrown a population to what was rumored in late 2010, and the security conditions of the area
were publically known since they took the pre-feasibility studies. Having secured the grant for
Hidroituango for 50 years, EPM decided to abandon Porce IV in benefit of Hidroituango, but the
fine (initially $14 million USD and growing as time passes) was an obstacle. That is where our
Governor appeared to be active, helping to set up a perfect alibi, helping to set up the plea of the
supervening fact and greater strength.
Another cleverness, but linked to the previous, is that which is presented in the case of
Hidroituango, where they are practicing arbitrary evictions of the mining population. There
the Governor, the same that is called to testify in the Supreme Court for the shameful scandal
of the para-political and that is being investigated and questioned by the absurd “botellón” of
recruitment, who is no longer an accomplice of the “avivato,” as in Porce IV; no, here he is
the “avivato” in person.
He is appealing on his own behalf, as the IDEA and the Governor are owners of 53 percent.
Their profits will greatly increase as well as reducing costs, and the way they think of financially
structuring the project, evidence that that they will not shrink the earnings of the pirates of
speculative capital (see previous article on financing Hidroituango).
Nor will they lower the famous internal rate of return agreed upon with the Public Companies of
Medellin, the company of public nature that operates as private and that of rival of yesterday, for
the strength of the circumstances has become his sidekick.
In this case, EPM and the Government, previously opponents, are now in cooperation to come
to support the profitability for themselves and their potential investors. They focus on robbing
the affected body without power and without means: to miners that are stigmatized to lower the
amount of compensation; to property owners to pay them their lands at a price of stubble and
not of an energy generating riverbed and eye, to municipal governments to those that the new
owner of the premises will barely pay half of the current property tax, and they are enticing with
transfers of 1.5 percent of the gross sales of energy, which barely offset the drop in the collection
of property tax. Oh and are transfers with specified and pre-established destinations!, not free
destination as the resources that are lost.
This is the truth “cartel of the resevoirs!” The authentic association of the “avivatos!”
*Deputy Departmental Assembly of Antioquia ALTERNATIVE DEMOCRATIC POLE
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