In this first installment of the series, "Globalization : Inviting Corruption", Sean Comiskey reflects on how multinational corporations profit from Colombia's 40 years civil war
On 26th April, the Minority Rights Group(MRG), which supports disadvantaged minorities and indigenous peoples, along with Hollman Morris, acclaimed journalist and Colombian film director, presented their new documentary “Suárez Gold: Afro-Colombian miners defending their heritage”.
The documentary highlights the problems ancestral Afro-descendants colombian communities face today. That is to say, defend their livelihoods against the invasion of multinational mining companies. "A story that needs to be told" according to Emma Weastwood, Media Officer at MRG, and also "the story of gold which we can all relate to."
Enslaved Africans were first brought by Spanish colonists to Cartagena in the sixteenth century. For hundreds of years, these communities have been carrying out this small-scale mining.
Over recent times, Afro-Colombian communities living on the Pacific coast of Colombia have faced repeated death threats, killings and forced displacement by paramilitaries, often backed by security forces. These human rights violations are often motivated by what Hollman Morris refers to as the “fever for gold” resulting in efforts to secure control over lands rich in resources. Between 2002 and 2010, Colombia’s government gave out 7,500 mining exploration titles to national and foreign companies.
Legislation was passed in the 1990s for the protection of Afro-descendant communities that allowed them to have ownership of their land formally recognized. When we asked Morris if they weren't any existing laws for the protection of these communities he answered: “they simply want to turn this ancestral mining into an illegal activity”
“I'm not a slave … I'm not a slave” was repeating a women from La Toma's Brave community: “People have been mining from the abolition of slavery up to today and that's how people have survived and endured in this territory”. In addition to being a means for earning a modest living this ancestral activity inherits a history of chains and freedom, a cultural milestone that revives the Atlantic triangular slave trade and our own colonial history.
This documentary offers a special focus on the North of Cauca, a region located in the Sout West of Colombia. This country has the second largest African descendant population in Latin America, but this peculiar region counts over 65% black population. Now, data shows that as the percentage of Afro-populations' displacement rised, the number of companies entitled to mining exploration went up. In short, economic development seems directly related with displacement and violence.
This region also counts an important indigenous community and campesino farmers. All these groups are threathened by the government's policy which is to encourage mining. Dr Andy Higginbottom, secretary of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign, told us that about two years ago these people feared for their lands to be taken away for the benefit of a corporation called AngloGold Ashanti.
In June 2005, a report by Human Rights Watch detailed how AngloGold Ashanti had developed links with a “murderous armed group” in the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to gain a foothold in the area. Colombia has suffered over 40 years of civil war between left-wing guerrillas and government troops backed by paramilitary forces, a conflict which has already left thousands dead and caused the internal displacement of approximately three million people. AngloGold Ashanti’s presence is fuelling conflict and human rights abuses by the Colombian army, in particular the murders of trade union and community leaders who oppose the company’s activities in the region.
International mining companies have long been criticized for the impact of their operations on local communities in developing countries. Today, their propensity for increased conflict and violence treathens to destroy not only a livelihood but a legacy, an entire culture's identity. Brought from slavery to modern imperialism, these populations now risk to be taken away the few rights they've earned since early 19th century. The London-listed AngloGold Ashanti recently explored and proposed a new mining project in Cajamarca. Local communities are fiercely voicing their opposition to the project in a march expected to attract 30,000 people. Movimiento 22 and the Colombia Solidarity Campaign are organizing a solidarity march in London on Friday 1th June. What's at stake in Colombia clearly overrides borders, and calls for our attention.
Afro-Descendent Communities. Rep. Amnesty USA. Web. <http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/countries/americas/colombia/afro-descendent-communities>
Minority Rights Group International : Colombia : Afro-Colombians. Rep. MRG, 20 July 2011. Web. <http://www.minorityrights.org/5373/colombia/afrocolombians.html>
Anglo American - The Alternative Report. Rep. War on Want, Aug. 2007. Web. <http://www.waronwant.org/attachments/Anglo%20American%20-%20The%20Alternative%20Report.pdf>
The Curse of Gold. Rep. Human Rights Watch, June 2005. Web. <http://www.anglogoldashanti.com/NR/rdonlyres/CBB6C75C-EE9C-439E-962F-DDB5C52FB968/0/HRWDRCreport.pdf>