March was a big month for our team in the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. The team started off with a round of meetings in Apartadó, including meetings with the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ombudsman Office, the Urabá Police, and finally the 17th Brigade, which operates in San José de Apartadó. We held these meetings to express concerns about violations of the Geneva Conventions and protection measures that are guaranteed to the Peace Community and to gather information about the region to keep the team safe.
Then Adilah left the initial training in Bogotá to join the team in the field just in time to accompany with Nikki to a nearby Peace Community hamlet. On March 23rd, Adilah, Nikki, and Michaela all joined in the celebrations of the San José Peace Community’s 18th anniversary – 18 years of being a community that actively resists all armed forces in the area.
By Rafael Emiliano Molina Romero, translated by the FOR Peace Presence team
Para español, haz clic aquí
The community of Boquerón, in the mining zone of the department of Cesar, is facing forced relocation due to the high level of air contamination because of coal mining. Throughout the process, Tierra Digna, who FORPP accompanies, provides legal council and community strengthening for those in Boquerón. Below is a lyric reflection about the cultural effects of mining on the community of Boquerón.
Locals of Boquerón, including Flower Arias Rivera y Zeneida Martínez Molina, remember that it was approximately 40 years ago when the mining company Glencore, along with Mr. Carlos Rodríguez, arrived to the area with the intention of exploratory mining. Over time, the same territory was invaded by new organizations expert in mining exploitation, especially in natural coal, and among these Drummond, Ltd.
In this time, the inhabitants of the town of Boquerón preserved the rudimentary customs of a more natural life. Traditions ranged from hunting and fishing to the physical labor they did for some farm-owners with cattle or who grew cotton, rice, sorghum, and other things too. The value of the wage they received in compensation, fair or not, was enough to sustain their families.
These companies, protected by legal permission given to them by the national government, began what is known today as open-pit and subterraneous mining of the valuable mineral. Under the assumption that there wasn’t qualified manual labor in the area, they brought their own servants. They still do this, even though they have left little to no benefit to the town. On the contrary, they have contributed to the deterioration of a social fabric that, until that point, was solid.
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Barges and cargo ships dot the distant horizon off the white shores of Santa Marta. Seated on the Caribbean Sea between sandy beaches, small fishing villages, and the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Santa Marta was destined to be a centerpiece of Colombia’s growing tourism industry.
But in the 1980s, as the country pushed to open doors for foreign investment and mineral extraction, the region underwent an industrial transformation. In 1982, the first coal port arrived in Santa Marta—a wide, metal pier linking shipments to off-shore barges. Slowly it became a platform for coal exports, threatening local tourism, destroying natural habitats and traditional ways of living, dividing small communities, and pillaging mineral resources.
In a country with the largest number of internally displaced people in the world, the communities in nearby La Jagua, the country’s most productive coal mining region, contain the newest experiences of forced displacement. They are caught between the contamination of once-fertile lands that are no longer apt for food production, local waterways no longer suitable for human use, and carcinogenic air-quality responsible for respiratory diseases and skin rashes.
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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.
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A century of neglect, drug trafficking, and civil wars had made the “wild-east” Colombian department of Vichada a publicly designated “wasteland”. By the 1990’s, however, reduced hostilities allowed the government to open it up in specially regulated parcels for poor landless peasants. With Colombia as the second most unequal land distribution in the hemisphere, the redistribution scheme seemed to address the reasons that have sparked the civil war. Courageous legislative measures, such as Article 72 of Law 160 in 1994, allowed these groundbreaking changes. Furthermore they specifically prohibit one person or entity from owning multiple agricultural family units in this territory.
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