viernes, 31 de agosto de 2007

Lets Defend Our Land

Only united can we assert our right to life, peace and permanence in our territory.

A poem about the entrance of mining company Kedahda, affilliate of Anglo Gold Ashanti, to the Serrania de San Lucas of Sur de Bolivar department. Author - resident of Mina Caracol.

If they ask me where I come from
Im going to tell them
I'm of peasant origin
But now I find myself here

I have no bacheloriat
Nor have I a diploma to defend myself with
But what I tell you now
Concerns you as much as me

I am an artisanal miner
That works day and night
One who risks his life
To earn bread for himself and his family

But what will become of us and our children
If this soon all changes?
What will be of this people
Without their mining customs?
If our Government, in search of self gain
Displaces us from our land.

So people lets defend out land
It belongs to us like the light from the sun
This violence is of our Governments making
You have nothing to lose by saying no

You hear them saying that they want to put an end
To the nature reserves of the small scale miners
With heavy machineries they call multinationals
Without thinking of the needs of our children.

That is why the world is as it is
With its one future and one tomorrow
Turned into nothing
By everyone seeking their own benefit

From the city I have seen many people
With expensive diplomas they have earned themselves
They come to the mines in search of work
Because there they dont serve for nothing

So what will become of us in the cities
The people who dont know shit
We sure havent got a hope in hell
Because for society we will just be beggars

So people lets defend out land
It belongs to us like the light from the sun
This violence is of our Governments making
You have nothing to lose by saying no

The miners of the San Lucas mountain range go on resisting and we will not tire for the love of our territory

viernes, 17 de agosto de 2007

El Cerrejon Coal Report (Anglo American mining)

'Cerrejon, Coal for the world, progress for Colombia' (To the rear: town of Roche, mostly abandoned due to effects of mine displacement, pollution and health effects)

El Cerrejon Report

On the 9th August myself and Steve Mathers from the Colombia Solidarity Campaign attended the international mining conference - ´Dialogue about Mining in Colombia and its International Connections’ in the town of Riohacha (Guajira province). The date commemorates the the forceful expulsión of the Afro-Colombian Community Tabaco from their land in August 2001. Jose Julio Perez (who came to the UK in February) subsequently invited us on a two day trip to the communities close to the mine that are suffering the brunt of its expansion. We started in Albania - the local town to where he and many other afro-Colombians from Tabaco are displaced. From there we went to the villages of Remedios, Amakito, Chancleta, Roche and Patilla

Jose Julio Perez (President of the Tabaco Relocation Committee at an international mining conference 9 August (date comemorates the violent expulsion of the town of Tabaco)

The aim of the conference was to make a call to the national and international community for a definitive relocation of the peoples displaced by the Cerrejon coal mine - the largest open pit mine in the world. On the part of the delegates, the aim was to construct a work agenda. A central theme was the ethno-cultural identity of the communities. This is a fundamental issue in asserting the extent of the damage caused and the nature of the indemnification required. Also discussed was the need for collective negociation, both locally and internationally. A big problem in the area is fatigue; most communities have been in resistence for at least 10 years and have not moved forward.

7 Year girl in Patilla. Like many she suffers skin rashes from the effects of the mine dust. Local health provision is woefully inadequate and reliant on ineffective handouts from El Cerrejon.

The same process of pressure and displacement is still taking place here. Indigenous fishermen of Amakito are prevented access to the river to fish by the mine vigilantes. Remedios is suffering the inconvenience and expense of a road closure by the mine. There is also talk of plans to build a new road directly through the communities. In Patilla electricity (controlled by the mine) is cut for periods of upto 25 days. Unemployment is also a massive problem. There is almost no land left to cultivate here and the mine appears to be outsourcing skilled lobour whilst operating a de facto employment bar against communities in resistence and those already displaced such as Tabaco. In all of the places visited there is talk of sytematic “encirclement” or “suffocation” of the communities by the mine. In pressuring individuals to sell for lower and lower amounts the mine is breaking the community´s collective resistence. Those lucky enough to be relocated are recieving no more than a house of equal size – disregarding the ethno–cultural and psychosocial damage and the breaking of work practices and social fabrics. Perhaps the gravest effect is the uniform health effects (cancers and complaints of the lungs, heart, intestines, skin and eyes).

“We are contaminated. The children are ill, we are unemployed and we are selling our houses to buy food...we want negociations rapido or we are going to die here!”
(Quote from interview with elderly resident of Chacleta)

Pete Bearder 17/08/2007

Mine's own train track that cuts accross landscape. Despite denouncements El Cerrejon refuses to cover the carridges. The giant trains blow coal dust over the neighbouring communities, polluting and contaminating.

Unable to displace - one of the few remainders of Roche

Jose Julio Perez with computer courtesy of Oxford and District Trades Coucil UK

Wayuu community of Tamaquito. Their land has been taken by the mine. Mine security prevent access to fishing waters. The most recent resident to suffer effects of the coal dust is a ten month baby with diarrhea.

Cerrejon propaganda in Bogota airport

viernes, 3 de agosto de 2007

Petrol Delegation to Casanare, BP and OXY

United against the transnational monster. Sewing, fighting, constructing. Arauca lives!

miércoles, 25 de julio de 2007

Sur de Bolivar (Gold Mining Zone)


“Here we can build a fair lie for ourselves and send money to our families. If this goes we will end up in the city to live a life of misery. If you don’t work you don’t eat and if you don’t know how to steal you die of hunger”
(Resident of Mina Vieja, Sur de Bolívar)

The southern zone of the Department of Bolivar has been home to some of the worst Colombian human rights atrocities in recent years. In the late 1990s, thousands were murdered and tens of thousands displaced by paramilitary activity that accompanied the arrival of the mining corporations Conquistador Mines and Anglo-American. Today the region is facing incursions from the mining giant Kedahda (a subsidiary of Anglo Gold Ashanti). Since the mining applications the region has seen an increased presence of the Anti-Air Batallon Nueva Granada. The local agro-mining federation (FEDAGROMISBOL) is sounding the alarm bells for the extinction of small scale gold mining communities. They claim that their mountain paradise - rich in locally grown organic food, forest and water – will be tuned into desert by the arrival of open pit mines.

FEDAGROMISBOL - Federación Agro-Minero de Sur de Bolívar (Agro-mining Federation of South of Bolivar) - alludes to the dual interest of the mining communities; they are essentially a mining society sustained by agriculture. The two economies in the region are inseparable and in large areas (especially the North of the region) are used simultaneously in a small scale artisan way of living. The Federation administers mining titles, environmental plans and taxes. It is also the custodian of the rights and security of the miners. Their slogan is ‘for the right to life, integrity and permanence in our territory’.


On the19th 2006 FEDAGROMISBOL President, Alejandro Uribe Chacon was shot dead by the Batallon Nueva Granada. FEDAGROMISBOL and the local community claim he was executed extra-judicially by the Batallon. The Army claim he was a functionary of the ELN guerillas and was killed in combat. One of the justifications for this position is his work organizing against Kedahda. In the enquiry is ongoing.(3)

This loss, by no means a precedent, appears to be compounded by an extra-judicial campaign against the Federation. On the 26th April of this year, its President - Teofilo Acuña, who now resides in Bogota for security reasons, was violently arrested by members of the Anti-Air Batallon Nueva Granada. He was illegally detained without warrant until the 5th May when he was released with the help vocal local opposition and international pressure. The incident is one of countless such incidents that form a strategy of detention directed towards such leaders. The Federation, like so many organizations, has to constantly reassert its legitimacy and its right to resist the entrance of multinational interests. Their activities are monitored, tracked and photographed by authorities who carry out regular stops and searches.
Democratic Resitence

The civil population has made considerable headway in advancing this platform of the left through local electoral politics. There has been an extensive registration drive in the rural zones and electoral committees have been established in an effort to strengthen the electoral process. Some of the participants in this process have been signaled out as guerilla collaborators - acts which led to national and international complaints. Organizers believe that the importance of the mining sector in investing money into the local towns is not reflected by the political representation of the region. Electoral mobilization is, however, fraught with difficulties in a zone where so many armed groups and powerful financial interests are in competition. Armed groups often compete for a protection tax that endangers the security of the civil population. The regular armed forces of the State appear to be disinterested in tackling those armed groups from the right. On the contrary, they have been heavily implicated in the direct cooperation with them and numerous testimonies tell of their harassing of civilians. (2)

On the 6th and 7th May of this year the mining community of Mina Mocha held an assembly on the human rights situation in the region. It was attended by 22 mining communities plus two mining associations. Also present were representatives from 17 human rights, social and peace organizations – national and international. ‘Is it legal that the army carries out patrols with civilians and demobilized paramilitaries (sometimes masked) – uniformed with garments and arms designed for the private use of the National Army?’ asks the subsequent report by the national and international commission. The report went on to conclude that civic activities are being controlled and monitored by intelligence agents; children youths and women are being used as civilian intelligence actors in counter insurgency operations [in violation of the Geneva Convention] and that public resources, as well as locations of residence, were being used as part of a military build-up to protect the entrance of large scale mining from guerilla attacks.(1)

“The soldiers have arrived to this region with the pretext that they come following the footsteps of the insurgency. But we see that they are not coming for the insurgency, they come contracted by Kedahda as the most effective resolution to divide us so that we leave our territory and de-occupy our land. That is the strategy of the Colombian Government directed towards us."

(Interview with President of local Council of Communal Action)(4)

Environmental Health

Apart from guerilla slurs, the small scale miners are denounced by the Government and Anglo Gold Ashanti for working with outdated practices of health and safety and polluting the environment. It is certainly true that there have been many cases of mercury pollution to the rivers and streams. Minor accidents are frequent and basic equipment such as decent torches are mostly not provided by mine owners. These facts must, however, be considered in the context of a complete lack of State training and provision to alleviate the problems. What is more, the juntas de acción comunal (councils of communal action) regulate the local environment to protect water supplies and forest. The felling of a tree, for example, must be authorized by the Junta. There is no argument that large scale open pit mining will bring any improvements to the social and environmental wellbeing of Sur de Bolivar. On the contrary, it will displace and destroy - turning one of Colombia’s most untouched areas of natural beauty into a barren, scarred landscape.

In the Southern part of the region, coca fumigations have had the effect of destroying other crops that stand in its path. They have caused grave skin complaints to members of the local population and have contributed to nothing less than a humanitarian crisis.(5) It is the belief of many of that the government is using these fumigations to displace the populations to help facilitate the entrance of the multinational Kedahda.

Tactics of Entrance

Beyond such crude methods of displacement the inhabitants of Sur de Bolívar are threatened by what they call an ‘economic blockade’. The multiple concessions applications of Kedahda is demoralizing the miners who lack the long-term legal muscle to defend their territorial integrity. In the long term this amounts to a form of economic encirclement. For the last three years La Junta of Mina Vieja have been in a legal battle to defend their mining titles. The company is now baring its full influence on the Government to reform the National Mining Code – thereby facilitation greater ease of entrance to the trans-nationals and threatening what little legal protection the small miners have. FEDAGROMISBOL complain of the use of figurehead third parties by Kedahda to avoid taxes and increase applications.

Social Composition

The population of the mining communities is transient and varied. Many workers are seasonal or contract workers from outside the region. Some men even come from Ecuador for a few months of each year - an impressive job hunt of some 900 kilometers. Society is very matriarchal and there are many young men who come in search of work. One human rights observer told me that the powers that be require drinkers to leave their machetes at home whilst on drinking sessions. The sessions are many, only on a Monday night is there no “rumba”. Football is a prominent pastime and is a way for neighboring villages to socialize.

There are few deep roots in these settlements - which shift in a semi nomadic fashion across the mountains in search of gold or displacing themselves for the same. The oldest villages are only around 15 years of age. One striking feature is the lack of elderly people. The few elderly that you encounter are likely brought in by families from outside. “I don’t know what will happen to us when we get old”, mused one mother half joking.

Pueblo Organizado

It is not unthinkable that provision for the elderly can be created by these villages. After all, the people of Sur de Bolivar have a proud history of dignified existence in the face of State neglect. All public works (such as clearing paths and constructing communal facilities) are coordinated by the Las Juntas and carried out by citizens on a rotary basis. There are schools, churches, shops and nightclubs. Some villages work to organize their own security, registering the leavers and arrivers and their destinations as a form of “early communication” on possible disappearances.

For most residents of these small scale mining communities, the only manifestation of the State is the National Army. It is ironic that the same forces that claim to protect the security and integrity of the civilians has brought so much fear, insecurity and human rights abuses. Their utilization appears to manifest itself as private security for the mining trans-nationals. In the words of one miner “the Government doesn’t want us to be here”. Amongst this frame of events, village meetings are no trivial affairs. Leaders make impassioned calls for unity and talk of the “cursed fear” that is breaking their morale. Nevertheless there is a high level of political consciousness and participation. The houses are fragile but the community is strong. Whether they are strong enough to weather the threats to their way of life depends on the success of the national and international mobilizations against Kedahda and the proposed reforms to the Mining Code.

To find out how you can help contact


1/ Informe de la Comision de Segimiento y Monitereo a la Situacion de Derechos Humanos y Derechos Humanitario de la Comunidades Agromineros del Sur de Bolivar (6,7 Mayo 2007)

2/ Comunicado de Comision de Interlocución del Sur de Bolivar, (CISB) Aguachica, Cesar, 23 y 24 de Junio

3/ Declaracion Publica de La Asamblea General Extrodianaria de la Federación Agrominera del Sur de Bolivar (7 Mayo 2007)

4/ Interview: Presidente Junta Accion Comunal Norte de Sur de Bolivar (10 Julio 2007)

5/ CONTINUA CRISIS HUMANITARIA EN EL SUR DE BOLÍVAR,COMUNICADO A LA OPINIÓN PÚBLICA NACIONAL E INTERNACIONAL. Municipio de Cantagallo, Sur de Bolívar, Magdalena Medio. La Asociación de Familias Campesinas del Sur de Bolívar, (AFCSB) y La Federación Agrominera del Sur de Bolívar, (FEDEAGROMISBOL),

viernes, 20 de julio de 2007

Univive! Privatization and Murder in the Universidad de Valle

*The following article part based on interviews with lecturers, students and student leaders of the University of Valle who’s names cannot be referenced for security purposes. Sources at bottom of feed.

‘Education is a right of everyone - socially based. Equally, knowledge is a social entity without exclusion to age, sex and ethnicity.’ (El Educador)

The Universidad de Valle (Univalle), South West Colombia, is known for its radical politics and tolerant liberal environment. It is also one of the most respected academic establishments in Latin America. As the third largest of Colombia´s 14 remaining public universities it has much to lose from privatization. It is currently baring the full weight by a state that seems determined to dismantle all public goods for the benefit of international `free trade ´ and the accumulation of private wealth. Cardboard coffins can be seen placed outside the campus as a reminder of the students who have been murdered because of their resistance against it.

Neoliberal Resructuring

The Dean of the Humanities Faculty is very worried about the implications of the Ley de Transferencias (the legislation pertaining to the regions budgetary allowance). Between 2009 and 2019 these cuts will amount to 51.3 billion pesos. Higher education will be one of the services hardest hit.

The cuts make up part of the National Plan of Development 2006 – 10, a long term legislative package being pushed by the Uribe administration. Of particular worry to the staff is Article 38 of the Plan which will devolve the State’s responsibility to provide pensions at a ratio of 80:20 to the universities. The aim is to make the institutions self- managing and self-sustaining. The effect will be a financial burden around 1.4 billion pesos annually for the payment of pensions alone.

This burden will be transferred to the students in the form of higher fees. After graduating, students will be obliged to make a return payment as a form of education tax. Subsidies will also disappear. The subsequent rise in the cost of food, transport and housing is a big concern for the lower income students of this public university.

These World Bank approved measures of decentralization are pending the approval of the new Free Trade Treaty with the United States. This treaty does not treat public education as an essential service; as such it will be submitted to the laws of the market. Private universities - as profitable enterprises - look set to flourish. Their public counterparts will experience larger class sizes and affected academic standards say FECODE (Federacion Colombiano de Educacion) - the national teachers’ federation.

A Curriculum for 'Development'

Under the changes the curriculum will be re-orientated to technical, more ‘rentable´ vocations. In effect, the establishments will be reconstructed to create ‘qualified workers’. This is in keeping with the Free Trade Treaties ‘development´ of Colombia as an exporter of cheap primary goods with no value added. According to analyst Andrés García, we will see the devaluing of higher education “in as much as the priority will no longer be knowledge but to know how to do”.


In the month of May Univalle was in a state of "anormality" – a strike linked up to a national movement of protest against the changes. The period saw frequent police blockades, acts of intimidation and clashes with protesters. In spite of this students remained in the university carrying out other academic activities and holding regular forums on the subject of the privatization. On the 12 June the campus held a national assembly of students and teachers to debate the future of the university. Over 1000 packed into the auditorium to participate in an impressive example oratory and direct democracy. The assembly voted to change from "anormality" to "flexibility" - thereby reinstating classes, though without examinations. Uncertainty characterizes academic life here.

As with universities across the country, Univalle staged a permanent encampment during the student/teacher strike. The aim of the campamentalistas is to form a peaceful resistance based on the principle of permanence in the face of the changes. They are also a space of self-education and the formation of methods of protest. One such method has been to embark busses and deliver a brief seminar of public awareness-raising. On the national Day of the Fallen Student 08 June over three thousand students made symbolic human chain around their campus. The atmosphere was jubilant and defiant. For one lecturer I interviewed this was an attempt “renovate the language of protest”.

Provocation and Stigmatization

The concern of many is the threat of provocation from police violence and infiltrators. Student protest can be used as a pretext to close down the university thereby breaking the resistance as occurred with the Universidad Nacional in Bogota (4 June – 10 July), when the directorship instigated a forced vacation. In the worst case scenario the institution can be reopened with reforms imposed, as was the case in February 2006 with Universidad de Atlantico (Barranquilla). The establishment reopened with its staff drastically cut, fees raised by 1000% and many buildings and assets sold off. The justification for this closure was corruption. As such, Univalle maintains complete administrative transparency to avoid what one staff member described it as “dar papaya” (to give papaya fruit) or to tempt fate.

To add to the sense of siege, the Government seems intent criminalizing the name of student protest. Alex is documenting the protests on his camera. He showed an image of the local Mayors publicity billboard that he found at a bus stop. It claimed that the local government was fighting terrorism and showed a large image of a capuche (masked protester) wearing a Ché Guevara T shirt and holding a rock in his hand. “They are associating students with terrorists for protesting with rocks”, he complained, “meanwhile they are entering our campus with rifles.”

Police Assassinate Students

Graffiti outside the campus reads `Danger - Police assassinating Students in the area’. In recent years, 3 local university students have been murdered by police and paramilitaries in an attempt to suppress social protest: Jonny Silva (22 September 2005), William Ortiz (10 April 2006) and Julian Hurtado (05 October 2006). There have been the frequent occurrences of police entering the campus grounds in armored vehicles and using violence against the students, carrying out searches and even burning possessions. This is in direct violation of the autonomy allotted to Colombian universities by their constitution.

The three fallen students of Univalle

I met the parents of Jonny Silva were very keen that I tell the people in my country to write to the Fiscalia (the Prosecutors Office) demanding that the security and rights of protesting students be respected. Their son was shot indiscriminately in the back by the heavily armed ESMAD public order squadron who had illegally entered the university grounds. He was unable to run from the Police as he had polio. Human rights groups in the city have recently been sending out early warnings on the presence of armed intelligence agents inside marches. On the 20 June, ESMAD entered the campus and violently reacted against protesters with crowd dispersal devices fired at head level. Several were injured and two were detained and later transferred to the local Police intelligence department.

“The Systematic Suppression of Civil Society in the Universities”

“The militarization of the universities is both physical and symbolic. We have a heavy police presence around the ground and infiltration of intelligence and paramilitaries inside the grounds. On the other hand there are national service conditions that restrict access to courses and block graduations. What we are witnessing is the systematic suppression of civil society in the universities”
(Student delivering a workshop on the Day of the Fallen Student 09 June, 2007).

Since the murder of student councilor Julian Hurtado (by paramilitaries in October of last year), there have been acts of police violence, intimidation and stigmatization against student leaders in Univalle and its departmental branches. There have also been at least three death threats by the reinserted paramilitary group Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles) that has resulted in the recipients having to leave the region. I am told by members of the student council that this has had marked effect on the strength and effectiveness of their organisation. Nationally, the last 18 months has seen the murder of 8 student leaders, the displacement of more than 20 students, and the imprisonment of 10 students accused of rebellion.

'All species evolve in Colombia except the rights: Police assassinate students'

Teachers are also frequently found on paramilitary hit lists in Colombia. Indeed the highest number of murdered Colombian trade unionists belong to this profession. Univalle’s teachers' body CORPUV have not been immune to the threats. One lecturer described this as nothing less than the “suppression of critical thinking”.


Resisting the dismantling of these most cherished of public goods, is the most vibrant contemporary mobilizations of social protest in Colombia. Their creativity and consciousness is inspiring to observers from countries with a more depoliticized student population. Yet the changes, if successful, will serve to neutralize one of the last bastions of free thinking Colombian civil society; one step closer to the cultivation of a passive workforce of obedience and productiveness. Stand against this and you may well be met be met by State led methods of oppression, complemented by more illicit, para-state structures. The relationship is perhaps best described by the Spanish metaphor - ‘like dirt under the fingernails’.

In one sense this is just one more symptom of a State that seems intent on rolling back what little state provision is available to the 50% of Colombians who live below the poverty line. Today the stakes could not be higher. The students of Univalle are at the forefront of a national movement to save popular, public education in Colombia. The time to express our solidarity with them is now.

Please write to your local Colombian Embassy demanding that the security and rights of the student protests be respected…or do something more imaginative:

In the UK, also send your e-mail to Colombian Embassy: with a copy to

If you are in the USA, these are the Colombian Ambassador's contact points in Washington, DC:
Sr. Luis Alberto Moreno
Ambassador of the Republic of Colombia
2118 Leroy Place NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Teléfono: +1 (202) 387 8338
Fax: +1 (202) 232 8643


'We call on the Student Council of Palmira, Univalle, not to continue with its activities that only serve to fuel this war and plunge the country into disgrace.

This call is for you to abandon the city and not continue carrying out marches or closing the university - depriving the students and workers of their fundamental rights.


We are not going to allow that you, alongside the Polo Democratico [party] bring these guerilla rats here.

We await for you to adhere to these orders, open the university and leave.




ACCION URGENTE: AGRESION Y DETENCION A ESTUDIANTES DE LA UNIVERSIDAD DEL VALLE POR PARTE DEL ESMAD, (Fundación Comité Solidaridad con Presos Políticos Sección Valle, 21 junio 2007)

Siguen las amenazas y los hostigamientos contra el movimiento estudantil (Comunicado a la Comunidad Universitaria y Comunidad en General, Junio 2007)

Alerta Temprana: Hostigamientos en Contra las Lideres Estudiantiles (SINTRAUNICOR, CPDH, CUT, Santiago de Cali 2007)

Ideas: Boletín de Opinión (Facultad de Humanidades, UNIVALLE, no.4 Junio 2007)

La Palabra: Periodico Cultural de la Universidad de Valle (Junio 2006)

Posicón de los Departamentos Frente al Proyecto de Acto Legislativo que Midifica el SGP (Federaci{on Nacional de los Departamentos, 2007,

‘Unificar el Movimiento Social para Defender la Educacion Publica y Popular’, El Educador Caucano (No.24, Marzo/Abril 2007)

'The Universities: Boosting the Fight Against Tyranny', Gloria Florez,