Two key gold mining towns in the north of Colombia went on a massive strike Monday amid government attempts to shut down small mining operations and after the assassination of the local miners’ attorney.
The residents of Segovia and Remedios, two towns in the northeast of the Antioquia province shut down mining operations, schools and public transport in a deadly dispute about mining titles.
Locals under both legal and criminal pressure
According to the locals, 97% of whom depend on small mining, Gran Colombia Gold subsidiary Zandor Capital has been seeking mining titles in areas where locals are carrying out mining activities, in some cases for decades.
The multinational received support from President Juan Manuel Santos, who on September 1 issued a decree in which he ordered the shutdown of all mining enterprises that do not adhere to a series of administrative and environmental regulations imposed on the mining industry.
Two weeks later, the attorney assisting the local miners was assassinated in provincial capital Medellin and regional authorities began operations to shut down mines.
This spurred the locals to massively take to the streets and demand legislation that allows them to formalize their businesses. According to the locals, they have increasingly received death threats while the government is running them out of business to favor the multinational.
“In Segovia there are more than a 100 enterprises that have been there for decades and pay taxes to the state. The owners seek to use clean technology, but the government itself does not provide the tools” to do so, Eliober Castañeda of the Mining Roundtable told newspaper El Tiempo.
Instead, these operations are dubbed criminal and shut down while the locals are terrorized by what seems to be a paramilitary group seeking to benefit Gran Colombia Gold, a company with several prominent members of Colombia’s economic and political elite in its board of directors.
The company claimed earlier this year to be the victim of extortion attempts by paramilitary successor group AGC after another mining leader was killed.
But according to the locals, it is not the multinational but the local people who are being threatened and killed.
“Since last year we have been the target of death threats through phone calls and leaflets. These were reported before the Antioquia Governor’s Office, before the police and the army, before the National Protection Unit and they haven’t given us attention,” Castañeda told Caracol Radio.
“We told them that it was a matter of time that that would begin killing us one by one and, well, we are now witnessing that this is what’s happening.”
Miners respresentative Eliober Castañeda
Although mining has taken place in this region for 450 years, many of those employed in the sector work in smaller, informal operations, often without the necessary titles and permissions.