(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
For the third time this July, the small-scale miners of those two municipalities of northeast Antioquia are making public their demand that the government and Gran Colombia Gold create real and fair conditions for their formalization process.
By Yeison Camilo García, IPC Press Agency, July 22, 2017
Because of the uncertainty about carrying out their ancestral livelihood, small-scale miners in Segovia and Remedios find themselves in an indefinite protest that began early last Friday. The demonstration was organized by the Mesa Minera (Mining Committee) of Segovia and Remedios. The Committee represents the small-scale producers before the Committee for Mining Solutions established by the government of Antioquia and the multinational Gran Colombia Gold.
According to Eliober Castañeda, president of the Mining Committee, there are several reasons for this public and peaceful demonstration. Among them, the most important is “the lack of implementation of measures that are necessary, appropriate and proportional for the formalization of the employment of the traditional and ancestral miners and of the new businesses and marketers of gold who complete the chain of production.”
Precisely in order to advance this process, the Committee for Mining Solutions has been meeting since October 2016. In spite of that, the proposals that the small-scale miners have brought forward for the formalization of their mines have not been accepted by the multinational. Instead, they say, it is trying “to impose an unfair contract for operation, keeping the largest percentage of earnings from gold exploitation for themselves.”
Another of the reasons to protest is the mining legislation. In fact, the miners disagree with Bill No. 169 of 2016 that would reform the criminal code to punish the “illegal exploitation of mineral deposits” and thus would put an end to informal mining. And they reject Decree 1102 of 2017 that would adopt measures related to the marketing of minerals.
Because of this situation, “we will no longer put up with the worry that the government will come at any minute and will evict all of us, in order to favor the multinationals. The government has given the multinationals such power, almost as if they are being turned into little governments. Because of that, we are making use of our constitutional right to protest,” explained Castañeda.
The Mining Committee made an agreement with the municipal administrations that, during the protest, roads would not be blocked and business and school activities would not be interrupted. Photo: Apus Productions, Segovia.
The conditions required for formalization are “unfair”
Fernando Gómez, Secretary of Agriculture, Mining, and Environment for Segovia, explained that Gran Colombia Gold enjoys Recognition of Private Property (RPP) 140 in perpetuity, under which it exploits an area of approximately 2,800 hectares in the mining district of Segovia-Remedios.
The mines of El Silencio, Providencia, and Sandra K are located in the part of that area that lies in Segovia. The mine known as Carla lies in Remedios. They generate some 1,400 jobs. It should be pointed out that, of the more than 40,000 residents of that town, nearly 90% of the families depend on mining, since they work in the production chain that is derived from every one of the informal mining units located on RPP 140.
Nevertheless, pointed out Gómez, the multinational does not want the small-scale miners to be working on its titled property if they are not working under the conditions imposed by the company through contracts of operation. [Such contracts of operation] “are disadvantageous for the miners, very unfair; they are almost trying to impose a modern method of slavery.” And, by doing that, [the multinational is] “trying to reject the ways of our ancestors and the way we have always lived”.
With respect to that, the metallurgical engineer Andrés Castellanos, who has worked in the mining section of the Segovia Mayor’s Office, explained that, in exchange for issuing this kind of contract, the multinational requires that all of the gold extracted by the informal mining units has to be delivered to their María Dama plant, where it will be processed and assigned a value.
“There the technical team will examine and analyze it and pay the miners. The summarized invoices show that they will be able to keep between 20 and 30% of the mineral matter that they send to the plant. The company will keep some 70% and sometimes more. And the miners complain that the “tenores” (grams of material per ton) that the miners report are always more than what the plant will recognize”.
Eliober Castañeda insists that, because of that, the Mining Committee on last May 22 delivered a proposal for formalization to the multinational. It suggested that “they allow small-scale miners to keep at least 40% of their production” so as to guarantee subsistence for the other participants in the small-scale miners’ production chain.
But there has not yet been any response, partly because the Committee for Mining Solutions, which is supposed to meet monthly, has not met since May. José Noguera, vice president of Gran Colombia Gold, claimed to the national media that the deadline for negotiating formalization had passed in November of 2016, but in spite of that, they would have a response for the next session of the Committee: July 26.
The indefinite protest was supported by approximately 5,000 residents of Segovia and Remedios who took part last Monday in the second demonstration of this month. Photo: Apus Productions, Segovia
There is fear of attacks by authorities against informal mining
The tension between the small-scale miners, represented by the Mining Committee of Segovia and Remedios, and Gran Colombia Gold has increased in recent months. A lawsuit was filed by the multinational, requesting that the supply of energy to some mining units be cut off. In response, the Mining Committee filed a civil rights action challenging the environmental impacts of the Company. This has intensified the conflict.
Besides that, there are rumors regarding the presence of environmental authorities who have infiltrated the miners’ organization to investigate how the mining units work, the processing plants, and the points of purchase of the gold. At the same time, there are rumors about possible interventions by legal authorities against the small-scale miners, by means of administrative challenges.
In fact, one of the reasons that the protest was initiated was the information obtained by the Mining Committee about interventions that might be filed regarding sales of gold and at least one mining unit: Cogote. [This protest may arise] because the miners and their families have settled there, ready to defend the source of their employment from the operations of the Armed Forces.
Based on that, the provincial government and other competent authorities asked the Highway and Energy Battalion No. 8 in Segovia to meet with the Mining Committee. At the end of the meeting, Antioquia’s Secretary of Government, Victoria Ramirez, emphasized that that municipality is the only one in Antioquia where there is recognition by decree of the miners’ ancestral labor. She denied publicly the rumors that there would be punitive actions taken against traditional mining.
“There will not be any punitive action either by technical closures of mines or by disconnecting energy sources; not in Cogote and not in any of the businesses (mining units) that are negotiating with the provincial government in the Committee for Mining Solutions. I want it to be clear that not even the national government has claimed anything like that. What we are interested in as an outcome is getting the municipality organized.”
The protest will last until there are some guarantees
Eliober Castañeda, President of the Mining Committee of Segovia and Remedios, confirmed that the small-scale miners will continue the peaceful protest indefinitely. “We will keep fighting until they give our people guarantees that tomorrow and in the future the multinational will not accuse us of crimes and try to evict us with administrative procedures.”
Only that way, he insisted, will they stop “blocking the production chain of traditional and ancestral mining in these two municipalities.” That chain is integrated with the scrap dealers, who live on the rocks discarded by the miners; those who beg for portions of mined material; the motorcyclists and mule drivers who handle transportation; and the managers of processing and points of purchase of the gold.
He stated that, to sustain this production chain, they have for a long time been disposed to receive orientation from environmental authorities who could show them how to carry out mining in a sustainable manner. “We want to learn to work with clean technology, but we need the government to stop putting us down and, instead of that, to come and help us obtain the tools and the alternatives.”
Meanwhile, small-scale miners, like the union members in the Mining Association in Lower Cauca, have expressed their support of the Mining Committee of Segovia and Remedios. And, like our group, they are calling on other informal miners in this country to reject publicly the policies that are intended, simultaneously, to exterminate them and to favor the multinationals and private individuals who have mining permits.
*Prior to contacting the communications team and by email, the IPC Press Agency requested an interview with employees of Gran Colombia Gold, with the intention of learning their versions with respect to the opinions expressed by the local miners about the demonstrations that have been carried out this month. Fifteen days have passed without any response.