Colombia: mine opponents assassinated

Cesar García, a campesino leader who opposed the mining operations of AngloGold Ashanti at La Colosa in the central Colombian department of Tolima, was assassinated Nov. 2 by an unknown gunman as he worked his small farm at the vereda (hamlet) of Cajón la Leona. Supporters said he had been targeted for his work with the Environmental Campesino Committee of Cajamarca, the local municipality. In a statement, the Network of Tolima Environmental and Campesino Committees said the Cajamarca group had been "stigmatized as enemies of progress in the region," and falsely linked to the guerilla movement. The statement noted a growing climate of fear in the area.

On Oct. 25, a team of experts from the Alexander Von Humboldt Institute and the Agustín Codazzi Geographic Institute conducting ecological studies in a remote area of Cajamarca were attacked with thrown improvised explosives, leaving one member with burns on her arm. The team had been demarcating the boundaries of páramos, the alpine meadows that protect watersheds and are off-limits to mining. Authorities said the team may have been mistaken for personnel of Gold Fields, another company with a lease in a region. (Rebelión, Nov. 4; Noticias Uno, Nov. 3; Radio Caracol, Oct. 25)

On Sept. 30, Adelinda Gómez Gaviria, an activist who opposed plans by AngloGold Ashanti to expand into her southern department of Cauca, was assassinated by two gunmen in her home village of Almaguer. The mother of the three was with her teen-age son, who was wounded in the attack. Gómez Gaviria was a founder of the Women's Process of the Colombian Massif (CIMA), which advocates for campesino land rights in the region. It had recently held a Forum on Mining and the Environment in Almaguer, attended by some 1,500 campesinos. Gómez had received telephone death threats as she organized the forum. (Patria Grande, Venezuela, Oct. 9; Amnesty International, Oct. 4; Frontline Defenders, Oct. 3)
Local autonomy against the mineral cartel
On Oct. 30, the Administrative Tribunal of Cundinamarca agreed to hear a class action suit brought by lawmaker Iván Cepeda on behalf of various social organizations seeking a halt to mineral company leases in Colombia on the grounds that impacted communities had not been properly consulted and protected areas not fully demarcated. The case cites the constitutionally protected autonomy of indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombian communities. (El Espectador, Nov. 3)

Earlier in October, the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) called a protest campaign across the country to press President Juan Manuel Santos to open dialogue with indigenous communities on outstanding issues of autonomy and human rights. On Oct. 17, National Police attacked indigenous protesters at the Pacific coast town of Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca department, leaving some 20 injured. In Santader de Quilichao, Cauca, the ESMAD special anti-riot force used tear gas and fired their rifles in the air to break up an indigenous roadblock on the Pan-American Highway. The clashes came despite a meeting that day in María Piendamo, Cauca, between indigenous leaders and a commission led by Interior Minister Aurelio Iragorry. Talks broke down when indigenous leaders demanded the removal of ESMAD from the region. (CRIC, Oct. 18; Colombia Reports, Oct. 17)

In coordination with the indigenous mobilization, Afro-Colombian protesters occupied the offices of the Colombian Institute of Rural Development (INCODER) in Popayán, Cauca's capital, to press grievances regarding restitution of usurped lands. The occupation was "violently evicted" by the ESMAD on Nov. 7, according to a statement by the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES). (Pueblos en Camino, Nov. 7; ONIC, Oct. 6)

In July, ONIC together with the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC) and Indigenous Authorities of Colombia (AICO) issued an "ultimatum" to the government demanding direct dialogue, especially naming the issues of "prior consultation" on development projects and resistitution for paramilitary violence under the Victim's Law. (CRIC, July 17)

On Nov. 1, the Colombian prosecutor's office, the Fiscalía, officially interred the remains of three indigenous leaders from the communities of Dos Bocas, de Juradó, and Aguas Calientes, Chocó department, who were determined to have been assassinated between 1996 and 199 by paramilitaries of Bloque Élmer Cárdenas. The bloc was commanded by Fredy Rendón Herrera AKA "El Alemán"—who publicly detailed after his "demobilization" a long reign of terror in Chocó. The Fiscalía's special office for Justice and Peace has documented 2,000 targeted slayings of indigenous Colombians between 1995 and 2006. (El Tiempo, Nov. 5)

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