On July 1st Canada celebrated Canada Day. This is the day Canadians celebrate the creation of an independent nation since 1967; the national anthem sings, “The True North strong and free.” Canada is often named by the United Nations as one of the best countries in the world to live in: public healthcare, public education, good infrastructure, friendly and welcoming people – everything a healthy society needs to develop and flourish. This makes any Canadian proud. If only Colombians could enjoy the same thing.
San Pedro Frio, a mining town in the hilly southern region of the province of Bolivar hosted over three days – the 27th-29th of June – approximately three hundred people from local communities and fifty people from the provinces of Nariño, Cauca, Chocó, Huila and Antioquia for the second preparatory hearing of the “Ethical and Political Trial against Dispossession.” They gathered to share and document their stories about how multinational mining company AngloGold Ashanti has committed or supported grave human rights violations to acquire mining rights in these different territories. The community of Bolivar shared about the Exodo Campesino (Farmers Exodus) of 1998 where a mass mobilization of farming and mining communities from the south of Bolivar rose up, demanding their rights of access to healthcare, education, potable water, roads and the right to work the land or mines without the threat from right wing paramilitary groups. This mobilization led to agreements signed with then President Andres Pastrana. Unfortunately instead of fulfilling the agreements, the army and paramilitary groups began a harsh campaign of repression against the communities and the now identified leaders who had negotiated the agreements.
The ‘Colombia Nunca Más’ (Colombia No More) project, documented 330 assassinations, 80 forced disappearances, 88 cases of torture and more than 57 thousand people displaced by paramilitary violence. Paramilitary groups and the Colombian army assassinated key community leaders Luis Orlando Camaño in June 1997 and Alejandro Uribe Chacon in September 2006. A military intelligence report said that Alejandro Uribe as a leader was organizing and instigating the masses to fight against multinationals, especially against AngloGold Ashanti. Other leaders also have been threatened with judicial persecution. Teófilo Acuña, president of FEDEAGROMISBOL, who is leading the resistance against large corporate mining and mass evictions from the territory was wrongfully detained in 2007 because of a military intelligence report that named him as a member of a guerrilla group.
Leaders from the other provinces also shared similar stories about how AngloGold Ashanti is attempting to take over the land to make way for large open pit gold mines. The experience was an eye opener for many local people. While other communities shared their stories a young man from San Pedro Frio commented, “This is happening all over the place. For those of us who hardly ever leave the area we sometimes think that we are the only ones living this situation.”
So how does Canada come into all of this? A past CPT Colombia article The Deadly Cost of Gold Mining showed how Canadian gold mining companies have invested a lot of resources to get access to Colombia’s gold, including in southern Bolivar. These companies have directly and indirectly fueled the economic and armed violence that continues to kill and forcefully displace hundreds of people each year. In October 2010 the Canadian parliament voted down Bill C-300, a law that would have held Canadian mining companies to higher environmental and human rights standards around the world. When asked why this law was struck down, the response from a Canadian embassy representative was that this law would have restricted Canadian companies from being competitive. So it would appear that the Canadian government believes that only Canadians are allowed to live “Strong and Free” and that Colombians must suffer the consequences of the competition for their gold.
So as Canadians celebrate, let us remember that we must – as the national anthem says, “God Keep our land Glorious and Free, O Canada we stand on guard for thee,” – not just stand on guard for Canada but for all nations, because everyone deserves to live “Strong and Free.”