by Pierre Shantz
Gold is the new way for illegal armed groups in Colombia to finance themselves, according to a new report by Bloomberg Weekly. But both paramilitary and rebel guerrilla groups have profited from gold mining in Colombia for years, so why has it become an issue now? Colombia’s gold reserves are some of the largest in the world and large mining companies are eager to exploit them but some of their biggest obstacles are small scale artisan miners. One example of this resistance is the Southern Bolivar Agricultural-Mining Federation (FEDEAGROMISBOL), who Christian Peacemaker Teams has accompanied since 2006. They are a network of primarily subsistence small-scale miners and peasant farmers throughout the San Lucas mountain range in the Southern Bolívar region. Our partners in FEDEAGROMISBOL say that the government is trying to say that the illegal armed actors financing is through these small scale miners as a way to shut them down and give all mining rights to large corporations. If we dig a little, we might see something different.
Five of the world’s10 largest gold mining companies are based in Canada and as the 2006 MacLean’s magazine article, New CIDA Code Provokes Controversy, shows the Canadian government is giving them as much help as possible to do business in Colombia. The article uncovered how the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded a process to change the Colombian mining code making it far more favorable to corporate mining interests. The new code squeezes artisan miners out of the equation by making it nearly impossible for them to meet standards set which can only be completed by large-scale and well-financed projects. And in October 2010 the Canadian government voted down Bill C-300, a law that would have held Canadian mining companies to higher environmental and human rights standards around the world.
So as the Colombian government tries to make the small scale miners to be the bad guys financing illegal armed groups, we only have to look in the past at how large corporations paid paramilitary death squads to protect their business interests. A well known example is the case of Chiquita Banana which paid paramilitary death squads linked to massacres and the killing of union leaders.
On August 17th 2011, dozens of heavily armed men in uniform identifying themselves as the Black Eagles paramilitary group entered the town of Casa Zinc in southern Bolivar where they detained, tortured and killed three people and left a fourth person wounded. Just two weeks later, on August 29th, 2011, Canadian owned Midasco Capital announced in Digital Journalthat they received mining licenses in the southern Bolivar region, including Casa Zinc. On September 1st, 2011, unknown assailants assassinated Father Jose Reinel Restrepo Idairraga. Father Restrepo was parish priest in the community of Marmato and a strong opponent of Canadian owned Medoro Resources open pit mining project. These are just two recent events showing how large corporate projects benefit from armed groups use of terror to quiet opposition.