By Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo.

Bogotá, Colombia. 11 January, 2008


Millions of Colombians are living at risk. For decades, every winter, more and more inhabited areas are flooded and face crushing landslides, while others await catastrophe at the base of active volcanoes and occupy buildings constructed without anti-seismic techniques, constituting 80 percent of the total. In Armero, 25,000 people died in a foretold slaughter that could have easily been averted. In Manizales, for example, 2,700 homes were constructed on mountains that should never have been developed. Not one person has been held responsible for many disasters described as “natural” but which, in reality, are political and social and manipulated in impassioned appeals to the public’s emotions, ignoring the victims.

In contrast, the eradication of the urban sector of Marmato, in Caldas department, silently advances through an area where not a single death has been caused by flooding, landslides, or earthquakes. For three decades, the area has been declared “at risk” by Ingeominas [the Colombian geological and mining survey]. In 2006, the Administrative Tribunal of Caldas urgently declared the area “at high risk” and ordered its observation and relocation, though the Tribunal later rejected these measures. The Caldas administration has used quite a lot of pressure and funds to remove the municipality to an area called El Llano, where several homes have already been built and visited by government offices.

What is the force pushing this relocation of a 470 year-old place inhabited by 2,000 people, including Afro-descendents and Indigenous peoples, and which in 1982 was declared a National Historic Site? Why destroy buildings that hold 315 homes, 58 businesses, 18 localities, and 23 institutions (a high school, a mayor’s office, churches, etc.), not to mention the culture of a distinct community that is resisting what is destroying the place where they and their elders built both their homes and their traditions? What is the norm that permits this forced displacement? Why, in this specific case, is a blatantly exaggerated risk such a worry?

The “crime” of the Marmateños is that their community is located on the slope of El Burro, a hill where Colombia Goldfields Limited, the Canadian transnational and owner of the Compañía Minera de Caldas, hopes to extract 375,000 pounds of gold commencing in 2011. This will involve the exploitation of an open-pit mine with serious environmental impacts; there is no doubt that the cultural impacts will eradicate the remaining 8,500 inhabitants of the municipality. The affected area will cover 32,000 hectares and encroach on the neighboring municipality of Caramanta, Antioquia.

To seize the gold from Marmato, which has been extracted since the Spanish Conquest, Colombia Goldfields has purchased the rights to close to 100 small mines and hopes to procure another 150. The area has been zoned for small mining since 1954, having set aside another area for larger projects so that Marmato would not be monopolized later. According to one Marmateño, the exploitation has meant “apocalyptic threats of complete disaster, while the multinational buys century-old possessions for ridiculous prices,” including the historic buildings. To apply further pressure, the municipality’s authority over mining was revoked, the applications to legalize 150 new mines were suspended, and they handed over the attainment of the dynamite required for exploitation.

The vice president of the Compañía Minera de Caldas wrote to the Minister of Mining, Hernán Martínez (1 December, 2006), claiming that the project demands the “integration” of 250 mines, which was “a responsibility of the ministry of which you are in charge” and requires that “you suspend titling in the area” and be “flexible” with the “grounds for suspension” of current exploitation projects. Does that imply grounds for introducing into Congress a reform of the Mining Code friendly to big mining, which would include the integration of small projects with large projects and permit the expropriation within 30 days of any building deemed an obstacle to a mining company? Is it so far-fetched to say that the removal of people “has the backing of the government”? (

And for damages with incalculable costs, the transnational will pay royalties of 1 percent, though the law currently demands just 4 percent, and enjoying the rights of the small miners, it has won for itself an exemption of 70 percent.

[Translated by Micheal O’Tuathail]