It is official policy to provide all kinds of support to Big Transnational Mining despite its record of negative environmental impacts, abusive labor conditions, and meager royalty and tax payments. Big Transnational Mining also controls a very high proportion of mining land concessions.
We have two other types of miners who do not belong to the Big Transnational Mining club: small and medium-size entrepreneurs who can hire workers and utilize machine tools and artisanal miners who use hand tools and work either by themselves or in association with small and medium-size entrepreneurs.
It is common for these two types of miners not to have mining titles. This is not their fault. Rather, an unequal system designed against them and corrupt to the core refuses to recognize their mining heritage and keeps them from becoming formal enterprises.
We have no statistics as to how many of these miners are operating. We know there are multitudes of them, because mining became an escape valve to the ruination of production, especially in agriculture, as a consequence of ‘free trade.’ And more FTAs are on their way! If these mining activities disappear, a most profound and unmanageable crisis will desolate large swaths of Colombia. The employment they generate and other economic activities related to that employment will disappear. As the parish priest from Caucasia, Antioquia, said: “No mining equals zero economy.”
Mr. President, these Colombian miners are not criminals, but informal entrepreneurs, something very different and easily demonstrable. This should not surprise anyone in a country where there is abundant informal activity in all sectors of the economy, so much so that your government enacted legislation to formalize entrepreneurial activities. It is quite telling that the legislation left out the mining sector.
Our self-employed artisanal and our small and medium-size miners constitute a respectable group which carries on its activities amidst a complete lack of official support in terms of decent credit, technical assistance, social security, environmental education, and legal advice. When combined with the monopolization of land titles by transnational mining it becomes quite difficult for them to grow and prosper, despite their wishes and best efforts, as they have formally communicated to the Minister of Mining. Finally, it is common for our compatriots engaged in mining activities to suffer from extortions of various kinds, including those from official sources, the government being incapable of protecting their lives and properties. That there are illegal organizations active in the mining sector does not make every miner a criminal. Can anyone point to any economic sector in Colombia in which some illegal activity does not take place?
Given this reality I am in complete disagreement with the scandalous, irresponsible, and frequent statements of Minister of Mines Mauricio Cárdenas Santamaría that depict, as part of an official smear campaign, small and medium-size mining entrepreneurs as criminals similar to narco-traffickers. The minister is free to prefer a certain kind of mining. But that gives him no authority to stigmatize other forms, much less to violate democratic judicial criteria which include the presumption of innocence, respect for individual rights, due process, and the government’s duty to clearly specify which individual is being charged with a crime. The use of broad, sweeping accusations would by logic make the government treat bankers as money-launderers given that the financial system permits the circulation of narco-moneys. Or treat commercial firms as contrabandists since contraband is a commercial activity.
Recently a gold miner lodged a complaint in Cartagena against police officials who, after landing in a helicopter on his property without legal authorization, used explosives to destroy his machinery. This atrocious incident should come as no surprise given the rampant atmosphere of official condemnation and persecution of small and medium miners. Such a flagrant and brutal violation of the law (http://bit.ly/Hy7xOr) represents the interpretation in remote areas of Colombia of the verbal aggression which emanates from the official government voices in Bogotá.
Then there is the case of a mine in Taraira (Vaupés). Despite its use of government-sourced machinery during twenty years the office of the Colombian Attorney General chose to close the mine, a decision beneficial to a transnational mining giant. Obvious also is the lack of support, nay, the hostile attitude of the Colombian government towards Colombians who have been in the business of coal mining for years.
The government ought to enact policies that allow all forms of mining to operate in the country and to maintain their respective legal, labor, environmental and economic obligations. The government should not transform economic realities and contradictions between foreign and local mining interests into a police action against the weaker local entrepreneurs. The national interest and the most elemental economic democracy demand that the State offer special support to artisanal as well as small and medium-sized local mining firms.
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