Empires of Gold and Colombian Extractivism Today

Empires of Gold and Colombian Extractivism Today

2166

Coal Mine, El cerrejón. Photo Credit: Tanenhaus, Wikimedia Commons.

By Luke Finn

Before there was Colombia, there was the extractive industry.

The legend of El Dorado stems from a Spaniard, Juan Rodriguez Freyle, watching a High Priest of the Muisca getting covered in gold dust and jumping in Lake Guatavita, near Bogotá, in a religious ceremony that makes the Pope’s big hat and incense burning look fairly underwhelming. Naturally, the Spanish saw this profligacy and wrongheaded veneration of the Sun God Sue, decided that they themselves were far better placed to use all the gold responsibly, and set about destroying the complex societies that had flourished in Colombia prior.

Legends of cities of gold (La Ciudad Blanca, the Seven Cities of Cibola) drove men who nowadays would rightly be considered genocidaires (or go-getting entrepreneurs in the global commodities market) across the Atlantic, far from their families, to an uncertain fate—an alien environment full of strange gods, beautiful birds, jeweled beetles; the sort of landscapes working class Europeans hadn’t seen since they’d left the Rift Valley and laid it to waste.

The Spanish Empire was built on this gold (and other commodities they could “extract,” worked by the stolen people of another ravaged continent.) The Muisca did less well.

Such was the conquest of the New World, and the Spanish didn’t know the half of it.

Colombia is the world’s fourth-largest producer of coal; it has 60 percent of the world’s emeralds and is the world’s second-largest nickel mine; it is a net exporter of oil; it has copper and rare earths and all the other weird stuff you never think about in spades—silica sands, coltan, and so on—that totals more than the worth of Belgium. And gold.
READ MORE >>>