Magazine article New Internationalist

Last Frontier

Magazine article New Internationalist

Last Frontier

Article excerpt

Afro-descendant communities in Colombia are fighting to retain control of their ancestral goldmines in the face of pressure from private interests, which are apparently assisting the transnational AngloGold Ashanti. Local authorities in the town of La Toma, Cauca province, had planned to evict local miners on 6 August, but drew back at the last minute.

'Thanks to all the pressure from within Colombia and from abroad, the mayor didn't carry out the eviction order,' says Lisifrey Ararat, a spokesperson for the estimated 400 miners affected. 'Everything was ready for the eviction, including the security forces. But we're ready too. No-one is going to leave the mine. We're not going to let ourselves be moved on to Bogotá or to Cali. Who knows what we'd do there?'

La Toma is a town of around 6,500 inhabitants, located in the western Andes with constant guerrilla, paramilitary and army presence. The eviction order against its miners stems from the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining's decision to grant a private individual, Jesús Sarria, a 99-hectare permit for exploitation. Yet AfroColombians have lived on the land since the 17th century and are in the process of formalizing their collective ownership of it. Under Colombian and international law, any mining project on collectively owned territory must first receive the community's consent.

Locals have demanded that the authorities rescind the eviction order and that Sarria hand over the mining title. Sarria has refused, saying he paid handsomely for the concession. New talks are pending, with the miners' eviction still imminent.

Sarria and Raúl Ruiz- who has been granted a 314-hectare exploration licence in the same municipality - are likely to be working as proxies for AngloGold Ashanti. The South Africa-based company has recently accumulated permits covering more than 42,000 hectares in Cauca province.

In Suárez municipality itself, Ararat reports that the company has been seeking support by sponsoring social events and hiring local leaders: 'We realized that this is a strategic area that AngloGold Ashanti wants. I have been pressured by AngloGold Ashanti through their social organizers.' Ararat has also received threats from unidentified sources.

For Carlos Rosero, leader of the Black Communities Process organization, the struggle in La Toma represents a central part of Afro-Colombian subsistence and identity. …

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