A farm workers’ leader and fierce opponent of a controversial mining project in central Colombia has been assassinated, reported an activist website on Monday.
Cesar Garcia was an environmental activist and a prominent member of a farmer-lead opposition to “La Colossa”, a partially-developed mining proposal set to take place in the state of Tolima, about 50 miles west from Bogota, the Colombian capital.
Garcia was shot in the head Saturday afternoon on his farm in Tolima, in what is being declared an assassination by investigating authorities.
The “La Colossa” project, a large-scale gold mine being developed by AngloGold Ashanti, the world’s third-largest gold multinational, was suspended in 2008 on environmental grounds, though a partial permit was later granted.
The project sparked heated protests over the last two years in the Tolima department, due to its location in an area of concentrated agricultural production and what environmentalists say are sensitive ecosystems.
Despite local opposition, however, the company successfully lobbied the Colombian government to allow exploration efforts in a forest reserve area.
The organizations mobilized against the mine are calling on governmental authorities and human rights organizations to investigate Garcia’s murder and provide better protection in the future for protesters threatened by assassination and/or displacement.
No accusations have been made publicly, but AngloGold Ashanti has a tarnished human rights history, with widespread accusations originating from the state of Bolivar that the company worked in close collaboration with paramilitary groups to murder and kidnap activists, displace local populations and generally intimidate the communities surrounding its mining activities.
Large-scale gold mines of the kind being proposed in the “La Colossa” project typically use cyanide leach pads to separate gold particles from other minerals. This process has raised concerns among environmentalists, who, in the case of “La Colossa,” warn that the cyanide could seep into local water supplies and contaminate agricultural products.