Why it is that they want to seize our territory

Written by Fedeagromisbol, the Agromineral Federation of Southern Bolivar
Saturday, 19 February 2011
(Translated by Elaine Fuller, a CSN Volunteer Translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, a CSN
Volunteer Editor.)
Concerning the grave situation of human rights in the agromineral communities of southern
While the major communications media pay homage to the “great advances” that have
supposedly taken place during the short time of the Santos government, our agromineral
communities painfully illustrate the great setbacks to which residents of our region are being
subjected. We are attacked from all sides by various armed or economic agents who see us
simply as obstacles to grand projects of investment by national and foreign enterprises and
who want to impose themselves by force in our territory.
Here we present a general panorama of various forms of aggression to which we are being
The role of security forces:
The presence of security forces in our region continues to be disastrous and, in a very
important way, has influenced the deterioration of human rights; in addition, many of their
actions go against respect and compliance with international human rights accords.
In the township San Pedro Frío, in the rural area of Mina Vieja within the municipality of
Santa Rosa del Sur, troops from the Nariño battalion established a permanent military base
near the water supply source for the community. In addition, the base was put up less than
100 meters from a farmhouse. Establishing this base has meant that the military restrict
residents’ access to the Teta de San Lucas sector and force a detour on the road that goes
to Mina Chelín, thus making the way to this mining settlement of hundreds of people much
longer. Besides this, the water service has been affected given that the soldiers bathe and
carry out other necessities in the creek that goes to the farmhouse, thus contaminating the
water which is the only source for satisfying the needs of Mina Vieja.
The troops have assumed a generalized attitude of abusive treatment toward the civilian
population; they denounce community leaders and for this the army counts on the
collaboration of demobilized soldiers who accompany the troops and are uniformed and
many times, hooded. Commanders treat the demobilized as part of their troop. Denounced
residents and leaders are understood to be collaborators of guerrilla organizations. As part
of this abusive treatment, verbal threats against residents, especially those who are leaders
or who criticize the role of the security forces, stands out.
These criminal actions have multiplied in those sectors where there is a major presence of
official troops. There has been an increase in cases of murder in all municipalities of the
region without any actions taken by the troops against the alleged murderers, who are many
times identified by residents. The number of murders in the region has grown at a dizzying
rate in the past few months; there are even zones that have gone from zero to more than six
homicides in less than 60 days. Another serious problem is the exchange of weapons for
marijuana and other drugs between military personnel and some of these criminals. This is
known by the public and by the commanders of the troops who do absolutely nothing to take
corrective measures in these cases. In the same way robberies and thefts have grown at an
alarming rate along the roads and highways of the region. No one escapes this — not private
cars, not commercial vehicles, nor residents traveling by foot. Equally, on the farms, there
are robberies of cattle and other goods. At a meeting in San Pedro Frío that the community
held with the army to raise their concerns about some of these cases, the base commander,
Capitan Quiñones and Sargent Campo, both assigned to Nariño Battalion, recognized the
collaboration of security forces in the social and moral disintegration of the community and
recognized that soldiers were exchanging arms, specifically hand grenades, for drugs.
One of the most serious accusations pointed out that units of Nariño Battalion detained a
group of children doing schoolwork, accusing them of being guerilla fighters. The detention
lasted more than half a day. Residents also pointed out that military personnel arrive drunk
at businesses demanding requisitions from the people they encounter there. It generally
turns out that the requisitions are only an excuse to look for problems and to abuse people.
It has also been pointed out that some soldiers and a demobilized man known as “Candelo”
have said at various places that the military are escorting three engineers from a
multinational corporation to do some sampling of mines. The military then takes advantage
of these comments to tell people that they are going to lose the mines. In view of this, at
a meeting of the army with members of the community, someone asked Captain Quiñones
whether it was true that his mission was to protect the multinationals. He responded that his
mission is communications intelligence but does not rule out that this information process is
managed by the high command alone and behind them stands the multinationals.
A recurring accusation in the region has to do with the collusion of security forces with
paramilitaries (so called criminal gangs). On the part of the military and political authorities
there exists practically no action against the presence of these criminals, neither in urban
areas nor in rural zones, in spite of the fact that everyone knows that the paramilitaries
are armed and that they terrorize and extort the population. A demonstration of police
submission to the paramilitaries occurred in the municipality of Rioviejo on January 8,
2011. In one of the town bars several known paramilitaries were drinking liquor one night.
A group of police entered the establishment to ask the proprietor to lower the volume of
the music, at which point, one of the paramilitaries got up from his table, slapped one of
the policemen and ordered them to get out of the place. The policemen obediently left.
According to additional information given by the community, it was on that night that the
commander of the Rioviejo police was seen drinking with the paramilitaries in the same bar.
Equally, although they denounce the presence of paramilitary camps and their presence in
urban areas, neither the police nor the army does anything to fight them, to detain them and
to bring them under the control of competent authorities.
Illegal groups and their presence in the region.
There are emerging alliances in the region between paramilitary organizations and an
insurgency of illegal groups which, basically through economic agreements, bypass the will
of organized community groups and their leaders, and allow backhoe machines to illegally
operate as open air strip mines.
Wherever these machines are in operation, they cause serious damage to the watershed and
create untold economic damage to small mining establishments in the region. According
to testimony from residents, in large parts of municipalities such as Norosí and Santa Rosa,
there are dozens of these machines and although Fedeagromisbol has demanded that civil
and mining authorities put a stop to this type of open air strip mining, there has been, until
now, no activity directed toward stopping it. On the contrary, the departmental mining
authority pressures these traditional miners with threats to rigorously apply the new mining
codes against them if they don’t comply with everything established in those codes.
A second aspect of the presence of paramilitary groups that seriously affects the lives of
people is their interference in economic activities; for example, in the raffles which they
control in the municipalities of Tiquisio and Rioviejo; in the automobile tax in some sectors;
and in commerce, whether it be directly or through a method of extortion and collections
from merchants. At the same time the arrival of large capitalists who aim to invest in
whatever economic activity there may be in the region, reveals the interest of illegal groups,
especially drug traffickers, to convert the region to money laundering. Thus, in the majority
of areas in the region, we begin to see large and prosperous businesses emerging out of
nowhere but with large infrastructures and movements of merchandize and transport. This
type of business is seen more and more frequently in the mining zone and in some of the
urban areas, especially in the municipalities of Santa Rosa del Sur and San Pablo.
General commentary affirms that this capital belongs to groups such as “Los Paisas,” “Los
Urabeños” and “Las Aguilas Negras,” among others. In spite of the fact that civil
authorities as well as law enforcement know that this unusual type of economic activity is
suspected of being illegal, they exercise no type of control over it.
Apart from the important presence of these illegal groups in the economic life of the region,
they reveal actions of social control and an exercise of high authority that are of concern to
the people. We look at several examples:
In the municipality of San Pablo, paramilitary groups openly and without shame closed
some roads during the days of Christmas. On December 24, they closed the way to the
Belén and Concesión sectors in order to have a party that lasted all night and in which
known members of paramilitary groups participated. Neither the police nor the army did
anything at all about this. Also, the tight association between members of the police force
and members of paramilitary groups are known and are evident in municipalities such as
Tiquisio, Rioviejo and San Pablo where it is normal for them to play football together, to
walk down the streets together or to drink together.
3. Removal strategy of state institutions:
Besides the criminal activities mentioned, the attitudes assumed by the civil authorities are
also of concern to the people of the region. In the case of mining authorities, represented
in the government of the Department of Bolivar by the head of the Secretary of Mines, the
pressure against small mine owners has been continuous and is each time more aggressive.
In the context of generating conditions to exploit mineral production on a grand scale, the
Secretary of Mines has promoted a campaign of discrediting agromineral organizations in
the region, specifically the Agromineral Federation of Southern Bolivar – Fedeagromisbol –
accusing it of being an organization that opposes regional progress by refusing to accept the
presence of transnational mining companies in the region. Likewise, they have developed
a division of labor within the mining associations in the region, generating a lack of
confidence between them, coopting the directors of some associations to accept negotiations
with transnational companies and providing momentum to fight for disaggregation of the
mining areas (where titles are held collectively). In this way they are facilitating the process
of dispossession intended for the region.e
Toward this end, the Secretary of Mines has used strategies such as failing to meet agreed
commitments with communities such as the pilot project for clean mining for which they
never delivered the appropriated money needed for its execution and instead, dedicated
themselves to carrying out the so called mining census. Then, in the municipality of San
Martín de Loba, where there is an important presence of the corporation Anglogold Ashanti,
major resources were dedicated to an alleged clean mining project.
The Secretary of Mines put pressure on small mine owners to accept implementation of
the mining census. The majority of these owners opposed the census so the Secretary
resorted to strategies of deceit such as saying that if the census is not carried out, the miner
owners would not be able to have access to improvement resources or beneficial programs
from Acción Social. When the new mining codes entered into force in February of 2010,
the Secretary of Mines of Bolivar unleashed a campaign toward legalization of the so
called “illegal mines,” calling on small mine owners to legalize their mines.
For that, they utilized a massive distribution of the new mining code without warning small
mine owners of the serious risks to them of this code. Nor did they publicize the fact that
the Ministry of the Environment ratified a prohibition against legalizing mining in the areas
of forest reserves. On 3 February 2011, to accompany these activities against small mine
owners, an “emergency plan against illegal mining” was presented that is nothing else but
an order of removal of small mine owners from their territory.
In the case of biofuels, the strategy has been directed from different state institutions in a
macabre combination. In the case of the community of Las Pavas, it goes from an eviction
order by a judge in the municipality of Peñón to the presence of units of the riot squad to
impede the return of peasants. Those institutions authorized by the national government to
deal with land issues have also played a role. They have extended the process of restitution
of lands claimed by farmers in estate disputes.
But the peasants of Las Pavas are not the only ones who have suffered in this situation. In
the El Garzal Township of the municipality of Simití, peasants have suffered a series of
pressures, threats and aggression on the part of landowners who claim ownership over the
land that the peasants live on. Amid pressures from the legal system and armed pressure
from paramilitary groups in the service of the alleged owners, there have occurred murders
and the exile of leaders who oppose handing over their lands. Other peasants from different
areas encounter serious risk; among them are peasants from Caimital, Villadoris, El Antojo,
Puerto Gaitán and the flats of the Magdalena River.
In the municipalities of San Pablo and Tiquisio there are unknown persons coming to the
farms of peasants and pressuring them to sell their land. These are then allegedly used for
planting African palms or for selling to businesses for mineral extraction on a grand scale.
The gold mining company Anglogold Ashanti and the biofuel company of the Daabon
Group have been engaged the most in these actions of dispossession.
Finally, and to conclude, these deeds have only one explanation: they are part of a strategy
to dispossess the peasants, miners and residents in general of their land. These people have
opposed irrational exploitation of natural resources and been part of waging an historic
struggle for many years to defend their life and their permanence in the territory
List of some of the murders, abuse and threats carried out in the past three months.
In the past two months (November 2010 to January 2011), the residents have become
alarmed at the number of murders recorded at the hand of paramilitaries in several
municipalities such as Tiquisio, Rioviejo and Achi.
On November 2 in the rural area of El Polvillo, Señor Luís Carlos Mercado Torres was
killed at the entrance to the farm of Señor Julián Rojas. He was 30 years old, single and a
miner from the municipality of Norosí. The victim was in charge of collecting community
tolls for Mina Brisa on the section of road that runs from the town of Norosí to the township
of Buena Seña and the municipality of Puerto Rico. According to some versions, three days
before the killing, the owner of a backhoe (whose name is unknown) had passed by on his
motorbike refusing to pay the toll; two days later, Luís Carlos went to Buena Seña on an
errand and met the owner of the backhoe who said to Luís Carlos, “what was this business
of collecting these tolls; who had him working there?” Luís responded that the community
did it to gather funds for taking care of the roadway. The other man said the community
was shit. Two days later around four or five in the afternoon, two subjects on a motorbike
arrived and asked if he was Luís Carlos and he said yes. Without another word they shot
off ten rounds. Neighbors who saw what happened recounted that they had struck Luis with
three shots and then got back on their motorbike. In that moment, Luís moved and one of
them said he was still alive and shot him with the remainder of the rounds.
On November 24 2010, Carlos Martinez Arrieta, an agriculturalist, was killed. This killing
occurred at the new river in the jurisdiction of Achí Bolivar municipality.
On December 2 2010, a taxi driver, Héctor Rojas, was killed in the rural area of Bomba in
the municipality of Achí.
On December 6 2010, Pedro Baldovino, an agriculturalist in Tiquisio, was killed.
On December 18, Señor Inocencio López, vice president of the Junta de Acción commune
in San Pedro Frío, was attacked with a dagger by Denys Anaya, a.k.a. “little ears,” who
exchanges marijuana for weapons with members of the army quartered in the area. This
deed occurred in Mina Vieja in the jurisdiction of Santa Rosa.
On December 24, Señor Isidro López, vice president of the Asociación Agrominera de San
Luquitas, and a miner by profession was killed. This man was killed near the farmhouse
MINA QUEMADA in the jurisdiction of the CORREGIMIENTO San Pedro Frío.
On January 7, 2011, the merchant, Albín Navarro, resident of Puerto Coca, was killed in the
township of Puerto Mango in Tiquisio.
Cases of abuse are:
About 3 p.m. on Saturday, January 29 in the municipality of Arenal, a young man named
Eder, a professional soldier, passed by the police station accompanied by a friend. They
were made to stop and were asked for documents that, at the moment, they weren’t carrying.
The police asked for a requisition. Eder was reluctant; they asked him what he did for a
living and he responded that he was a professional soldier. The lieutenant told him, “You
have the face of a gamin.” At that moment Eder sent someone to look for his documents at
his house. During 15 to 20 minutes while waiting for them, the police verbally abused him,
took photographs, made him sign a document and then let him go. But, upon leaving the
station, accompanied by four adolescents, a policeman fired a shot in the air and said, “look
at me well because you are going to see my face again.”
On Sunday, January 30 at 8 p.m. Señor Cesar Urquiza Florez, c.c.13881887 of
Barrancabermeja, was seen in the bar of Señor Victor Pacheco together with a friend. The
police came and asked his name. When he responded, they immediately told him to come
with them. He asked why and they responded that they had an order for his capture. Cesar
asked them to show the order but they didn’t have it with them. Señor Urquiza refused
to go with them even though they tried to coerce him. He ran out of the bar and into a
house. The police entered the house, found him, and began to beat him. On seeing this, the
community reacted and defended him. They kicked out the five policemen and made them
remove the handcuffs. Señor Urzuiza was seriously beaten up; he couldn’t walk because
of blows to his hips and legs. During the struggle, he lost his cell phone and 300,000 pesos
that he was carrying.
Cases of harassment:
Leaders of the community of Las Pavas in the municipality of Peñón denounced the
During the month of January 2011, 123 displaced peasant families from Las Pavas were
found at a site in the township Buenos Aires in the municipality of Regidor. The palm oil
group Daabon with the help of the Esmad squadron of police had expelled them from their
land. These are people from outside the community who presumably are sent by the palm
oil company to spy on and terrify those displaced peasants who are taking legal action to
try to regain their lands. Several of these people from outside have been identified as the
paramilitaries who threatened and threw the 123 families of Las Pavas off their land.
On January 16, 2011, about forty police were traveling in a boat towards Papayal. When
they got to the township of Buenos Aires, they stopped to have lunch in the house of one
of the people living there and then continued on their way to Las Pavas in the afternoon.
While at the house where they had lunch, they encountered children displaced from the
community of Las Pavas. The children were very afraid because they recognized the men as
those who had displaced them.
In the days before a popular referendum on the creation of a new municipality called
Brazuelo de Papayal, several leaders of Buenos Aires and of Las Pavas identified several
people employed or associated with the palm oil company who came to Buenos Aires
with great quantities of money fur the purpose of buying votes. They also reported that
on Sunday, the 23rd of January with the end of the referendum, while the “winners” were
celebrating their victory at night and members of the Christian community, Rose of Sharon,
were celebrating a vigil in which the majority of partners of Asocab participated, an arbor
area was burned that had been built as a room for Asocab meetings.
The community of Las Pavas also reported that, Eliiud Alvear Cumplido, a teacher at the
Education Institute of Buenos Aires, had been the target of a persecution campaign on the
part of the rector of the Institute because of his agreement with the fight for the return of the
community of Las Pavas. According to reports by residents, the rector has been coopted
and is in the service of the palm oil company who dispossessed these peasants of their land.
National authorities, departmental authorities and those at the municipality level have
facilitated this serious situation of aggression and dispossession. We call on sister
organizations at the national and international level to demand that these authorities respect
the communities and respect the fundamental rights of the people of southern Bolivar
The Agromineral Federation of Southern Bolivar
February 2011
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