Colombian Miners not recognized by the Government

(Translated by Beatriz Vejarano, a CSN volunteer translator)

Dear friends of RECLAME: 
We regret to inform you that yesterday the National Confederation of Miners of Colombia, Conalminerco, which is part of our Network, left the negotiation table with the national government given the impossibility of negotiating a mechanism to formalize mining by nationals.  
The Confederation had every intention of talking with the government about environmental, technical, economic, and social standards, but the government did not accept any of the formulas proposed.  The only solution offered by the government is that it is going to apply the full weight of the law to prosecute national producers. In the meantime, transnational companies are given all guarantees and protection so they can go ahead with their open-pit mining projects. Yesterday, government functionaries made absolutely clear that the only possibility is to carry out barequeo or open-pit mining. The government is going for the latter, the most harmful to national interests.  Below is the Confederation’s statement inviting all to unite in collective action to confront the great transnational mining interests.  Thank you for disseminating it. Cordial greetings. 
Mario Alejandro Valencia,
Bogotá, January 11, 2012 
 Talks broken regarding formalization of mining


This past November 30 2011, the National Confederation of Miners of Colombia, Conalminercol, signed an agreement with the national government putting an end to the strike planned for December 1.  In the document, it was agreed to begin talks to identify “points that will lead to formalizing traditional or informal mining,” involving two million Colombians carrying out this activity. 


In the framework of this agreement, on January 10, 2012, Conalminercol met with the Viceminister for Mining, Henry Medina, and the Viceminister for the Environment, Adriana Soto, as well as with delegates of the Ministries of Defense, Labor, and the National Police.  During the meeting it became clear that the agreement was in fact a trick to block social protest and to avoid finding solutions to a problem that could turn into a “social bomb.”


The government representatives ignored [the agreement] repeatedly; as the Director of Mines, Carlos Andrés Cante, said, “In my view, there is no agreement.”  The government insists that Conalminercol must hand over a list of miners, which the Confederación refuses to do because it does not represent all of the informal miners and because it is the government’s duty to define a legal framework for formalization rather than to demand a list of names. Or perhaps the government intends to solve a problem of national dimensions with laws tailor-made for just some of the miners? 


The government was inflexible and did not accept the various negotiation mechanisms proposed by Conalminercol.  The most radical position was expressed by the Viceminister for the Environment, Adriana Soto, who said that there is no possibility of changing the law or of acknowledging that the requirements must be different for big mining and for other forms of mining in order to find a solution to a situation that goes beyond the laws: Informal mining has been carried out as a traditional activity for centuries or as a way of subsistence in the face of the ruin of agriculture and of growing rural poverty. The government’s response is “to apply the full weight of the law on illegal mining,” slamming the door and closing any possibility of dialogue with Colombian miners. 


The government’s intransigence demonstrates what is evident: We Colombian miners are destined for ruin or for the most backward forms of mining, such as barequeo, the only one that will not be prosecuted.  In the meantime, all legal guarantees and millions in tax exemptions are granted to foreign capital to develop large-scale mining, which brings no social or economic benefits but irreversible environmental impact, as was the case in La Guajira, Córdoba, and Cesar.  The government should explain to Colombians, how it is that the Caterpillars of the national businessmen are degrading but those of El Cerrejón mean progress?


In the face of this situation, Conalminercol invites all Colombian organizations that oppose present mining policies – environmental, student, workers’, informal miners’ and academic organizations – the Colombian Network Facing Transnational Mining, and others, to identify joint actions to keep the government from continuing to give away the Colombians’ natural resources and to demand a change in mining laws for the benefit of the national majority populations. 


Luis Ramiro Restrepo


Luz Stella Ramírez
Executive Director
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