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Ancestral peasant mining communities facing multinational invaders
Cahucopana / Friday 15 September 2017 / Español

"What I see is that here the Spanish history is being repeated, the outsiders come to loot this and leave us in ruin" Mining peasant from San Roque, Northeast Antioquia

Some representatives of the peasant mining communities had a meeting in Providencia, a township of the San Roque municipality in the Northeast Antioquia, due the irruption of the company Anglo Gold Ashanti (AGA), the problematics they have brought and the alteration of the dynamics and social relations in the region through the Gramalote project.

Different communities accepted the Provincial Committee for the Defense of Human Rights invitation in association with Cahucopana to recover the memory of the conditions in which men and women have developed their peasant and mining work in San Roque and its townships, also to contextualize the moment and to propose activities as defense mechanisms.

In that way, through colliers and peasants’ voices it was possible to remember how the region has kept mixed economical practices. Fields have been worked to produce bread, some projects based on the crops and cane processing have been also developed seconded by cattle raising and the artisanal mining is left as the main economical pillar (both vein and alluvium).

With regard to cultivation, every time the possibility to work is smaller because the multinational has been taking all the farms and in that context, community had said they had never seen such encroachment. One of the coalers who went to the meeting said:

“Prior to, one worked the mine here and the law didn’t use to bother us, neither the army, paramilitaries nor the guerrilla. Everybody could rummage wherever they wanted, nobody could pass over the other. Suddenly we got Gramalote over us and we are all now low mood.”

The environmental license granted to the Gramalote mining project in 2015, was the first one bestowed by the Colombian authorities in decades. From that moment on, the persecution of artisanal mining has intensified in San Roque. Ancestral miners are branded as invaders and their job is criminalized. Denunciations focus on environmental risks, although Gramalote is the largest open pit-mining project in Colombia.

Genaro* said he has been working for six decades in the mine, since he was eighteen. With respect to the mercury, he remembers how they have always manipulated it and how some people that liked playing guitar used to smear it on their fingers – he never knew why. He mentions that the government never developed a capacitation or an intervention to warn the mining peasants and their families about the damage mercury can cause:

“Now is when it (mercury) becomes dangerous and harmful, just after the multinational came. What is going to happen when, every day, they burn from 4 to 5 dynamite tons? There are going to be uncontrolled gas spreads, contaminated with mercury (when indumil) and with aluminum (when superanfo). Whenever the drop of the water comes, those gases will not fall directly into the well that they are doing, they will fall scattered throughout the region, then the damage will reach a regional level. "

On its first stage (2015-2018), the project main goal is to "Resettle people living in the area and to do the bank feasibility study to determine the economic viability of the project." In the territory, the stage has started with perforations that are causing the disappearance of water births, the deflection of water sources and, therefore, starting the water shortage for the communities.

h the company speaks about the fulfillment of high social and environmental standards, population of the San Roque township is witnessing how with each intervention they cut them the possibility and freedom to mobilize by the territory and by the main roads. They are expropriating or destroying productive projects, crops, community-meeting spaces that they consider heritage, flora and fauna, natural resources and even pride:

"In this region we were pride of being coalers, nowadays they added to the subsistence miner a last name: criminal. They used to congratulate us on the municipal seat, because we fed the local government with the royalties of the miners, but today, even from the same municipal head, they treat us as illegal. "

In this way, the community identifies that the company is implementing a series of legal, economic and socio-political tactics as part of a strategy, which first purpose seems to be the rupture of the social fabric and the economic destabilization in order to encourage the displacement of the settlers.

In legal terms, the company has used the term ‘recognized’ to identify and characterize the ancestral miners. However, local miners coincide in pointing out that are more those miners who are not recognized, and that most of those who are, and work for the company, are persons who the company had brought from other places.

Thus, the peasant mining population is divided in the different Northeastern Antioquia municipalities in two types, those subcontracted by the multinationals and those who the government and the company have referred as illegal / criminal.

The hiring of people from the municipality to become guards and "rangers" responsible for denouncing, pointing out and preventing their neighbors to keep subsisting as they have historically, is a repeated tactic of pushing people to fight or discriminate each other in San Roque.

"That is the multinational way, always to pass over the peasant, now, they are more intelligent, and they get guards from right here in the town to see if we fight against them but are not going to fight them."

Among others, the company has lately demanded to its contractors, to cut all type of relation with the ancestral miners under penalty of dismissal:
“Even coalers that have been hired in the multinational, from the moment they start to work on, are divided by them between those who are working and those who are new, and those old ones can’t even transport us in their motorbike, they forbid them to hang out with us.”

Instead of dialoguing with the community, the company fracture their values. They attack solidarity into the community according to their own interests. Before, say those present in the assembly, they had the possibility of a daily incoming and even of being able to lend to those who could not, now is difficult.

They also indicate that autonomy has been lost, since people used to work as long as they wanted and if they wished they could spend time growing food or doing other jobs:

"Here it was very easy-going, because if a coaler felt like going out for two or three days to plant his yucca stick, he could."

Now, with the imposition of day trip, says one of the younger miners, "we have to dedicate our youth to that and with such salary we can’t even get a house, you cannot aspire to anything, nor education for children, or for oneself”. AGA presented another aggravating to the subcontracted, since seeking other income is cause of dismissal:

"That wage is very low for me, for one to pay for services, to eat, to pass by... on Christmas they gave us just a few days, we went out and went to rummage. Then they did not call us, we got the mocha, they gave us the acid, do you understand?”

With similar imposition, the interests of the company are hovered over the president of the Community Action Board of Providence. Inhabitants of the community say, since he is working for the company, he has not been able to collaborate the community, under the threat of cancelling the contract; and to the owners of the farms, to whom the demand has been not to facilitate the cultivation of the land, nor mining.

In addition to all of the above, the public forces have confiscated work material and Castilian gold without any record, which has prevented the community to monitor and recover the retained assets.

The context is closed by allegations generated by several of the 153 miners with whom the company began negotiation processes more than three years ago, in which the methods used for submitting to the negotiation and non-compliance with the agreement are exposed:

"They sent me the police, they sent me the army, I did not want to negotiate and I did not want and I did not want to. What did they do last? They lay up there on the hill of Gramalote Hill, put a machine there and then? They turned it all over. All that, including the machinery collapsed and took the pipe away and left us ready. We had to negotiate, or to negotiate.”

From all the projects offered by AGA, and which the community considers as toys, they only developed few new ones, and in the meeting, they insured they had never promised the others. Due the lack of real and honest commitment from the company to the community and the environment, population considers determinant the departure of the multinational from the territory.

We are going to ask the company to leave, because if they stay, the problem keeps growing. The thing is the multinational is neither going to create jobs nor to help the community, then, what are they going to bring? Poverty, unemployment… and they are going to displace us, who knows where!”

At the end of the meeting, with many elements in common to articulate the community, they pointed out some tasks to do. For example: to access the information of a census done by AGA, but never socialized, to train the peasants in new ancestral mining practices to mitigate environmental impact; to recover and promote productive projects, as well as to participate in the possible decision-making spaces. All of that, pro defense and permanence in the territory.

* For the security of the inhabitants, given the permanent criminalization by the multinational and the authorities, we changed or cut the names of the peasants cited in this document.

Translated by: Lina Castillo Joya

Web Sources:

Comunicado y Licenciamiento Ambiental a Gramalote at:

“En San Roque estará la mina de oro más grande de Colombia”. At: