Open Letter No. 10: From government rhetoric to community actions: we have agreements, we want implementation

From government rhetoric to community actions: we have agreements. We want implementation

Open Letter No. 10

Given the Ministry of Defense’s failure to act immediately to eradicate illegal mining in ancestral territories in Northern Cauca per the agreements signed by the national government and the Northern Cauca Afro-descendant Women’s March on December 11, 2014, and given the resulting increase in mining machinery in territories belonging to the La Toma Community Council, on December 29 at 10am the community decided to demand once again pressure the government to keep their word and demand that illegal miners remove their equipment. A group of more than 30 men and women gathered on the banks of the Ovejas River, in La Toma Community Council territory, where we found fully operational two backhoes that had arrived that Saturday to the region. We made them cease their exploitative operations, seized the two machines and awaited the arrival of the District Attorney so that we could turn the machines over to their office.

As a result of our pressure the Technical Investigative Body (CTI) from the Cauca District Attorney’s office arrived and we were able to turn over the backhoes to them and request that they confiscate them and investigate the owners of the 17 pieces of mining machinery that remain in La Toma Community Council territory. However, we repeat that this is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defense, who promised to begin operations on December 4, and the National Attorney General’s Office under the supervision of Sandra Gonzales, who promised in a December 12 meeting with us to coordinate actions with all relevant institutions to advance an effective process to seize illegal machinery, and investigate and prosecute those responsible for this activity in our territories.

We reiterate the immediate risk that we are facing as a result of the lack of implementation of the agreements signed by local and national authorities. Our action on December 29 has attracted more threats against our leaders, especially against those that participated. Francia Marquez and Lisifrey Ararat, for example, have been harassed and threatened in their homes by unidentified armed men. The most recent threats occurred on January 4, and caused the leaders to flee the community.

We demand that the Vice minister of Participation and spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior, Carmen Vasquez, as the coordinator and guarantor of the implementation of the accords, urge the relevant entities to implement each of the agreed-to actions. On December 29, her response to the imminent danger that we faced in confronting illegal miners was an excuse. Government excuses and incompetence toward addressing the issue of illegal mining has led to deaths, an increase in the vulnerability of our people and grave human rights violations in northern Cauca.

Taking into account that the security situation has worsened with these new threats and other attempts at retaliation for the actions taken, we demand that the government activate an emergency plan for the La Toma Community Council and the municipalities of Suarez, Buenos Aires, Guachene and Santander de Quilichao, as per the agreement. This was one of the promises made by the National Protection Unit and requires support and accompaniment from the Ministry of the Interior’s Human Rights and Black Communities directorates to ensure that holistic, culturally-appropriate protection and prevention measures are adopted.

At present, the national government has not complied with 98 per cent of the actions that were promised as part of the accords and this affects Afro-descendent communities in Suarez, Buenos Aires, Guachene and Santdander de Quilichao.

On December 1 in the Casa La Giralda, the Ministry of Defense agreed to a high-level meeting on December 4 with vice ministers, the Cauca provincial government and other relevant entities, with the purpose of defining the steps needed to eradicate illegal mining in ancestral territories in Northern Cauca, without putting the communities at risk. However, the objectives of the meeting were not met because the authorities convened a mining roundtable at which the owners of the illegal mining equipment were present, which obviously impeded discussing security issues and the dismantling of illegal mining. For this reason illegal miners felt they could increase their presence in our territories, which forced our action on December 29. Meanwhile, the owners of the seized equipment continue at large, threats have not been investigated and our communities remain at high risk.

The agreement also contains guarantees that workers, who earn their living risking their lives under backhoe shovels, as occurred in the San Antonio mine incident, not be made to pay for the owners of illegal mining businesses, and that to the contrary they be the beneficiaries of measures that offer them the opportunity to engage in safe and dignified work. Therefore we insist on the implementation of the accords signed on May 1, 2014, which contain measures intended to improve conditions and prevent social and economic crises in the region.

  • On December 11, Sandra Gonzalez, the representative of the National Attorney General’s Office, promised to coordinate a meeting the week of December 15 with the Assistant Director of the regional CTI en Popayan and other provincial and national entities responsible for eliminating illegal mining, with the goal of planning coordinated and therefore more effective actions. That meeting was supposed to lead to a concrete plan for coordinated actions. The fact that we had to take action on our own on December 29 demonstrates that this promise was not met.
  • Also on December 11, the National Protection Unit promised to activate emergency protections, meaning that imminent risk to all of the men and women that participated Northern Cauca Afro-descendant Women’s March had been satisfactorily established as to justify priority processing for immediate individual protection measures. In spite of the fact that the UNP received all required forms and documentation on December 22, as of today only two people have received their individual measures, while the rest of the community remains at risk.
  • The National Protection Unit also committed to sending protection resources to the La Toma Community Council on December 8. We verify that the Council received 25 nonworking cellphones and four motorcycles in an advanced state of disrepair, of which only one was immediately operational. They were delivered with no maintenance resources. The equipment was not delivered to the Community Council in La Toma; rather, members of the Community Council had to pay for their own travel all the way to Cali to claim them. This equipment is part of the protection measures that the UNP promised to the Council as part of the agreement guaranteeing their collective protection. While it’s true they provided the equipment, we want to make it clear that it does not work.
  • Immediate, holistic protection measures and actions require permanent institutional presence in the regions. We testify that in the regions where threatened communities and individuals live, there is no oversight or institutional presence that can guarantee the necessary emergency actions.
  • We wish to additionally highlight the total absence of the National Inspector General in the accords process, in spite of the fact that the investigation and prosecution of those responsible by action or omission for illegal mining and its violation of our rights, is that office’s responsibility and is a part of the accords. Their absence illustrates the lack of political will to investigate the corruption surrounding the issue of illegal mining in Northern Cauca.

These agreements are part of a series of commitments made by the government in response to the demands of the Northern Cauca Afro-descendant Women’s March for the Defense of Life in our Ancestral Territories that they take appropriate action to combat illegal mining in Northern Cauca, where there are 2000 illegal backhoes and 267 mining titles and concessions authorized by the government without prior consultation, in violation of its legal and constitutional mandate, and to address the vulnerable situations in our communities in a holistic and culturally-appropriate manner. The agreements comprise five acts signed by the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense, the Attorney General, the National Police, the Ministry of Mining and Energy, the Ministry of the Environment and the guarantors of the process, which include the National Ombudsman’s Office, the United Nations, Colombian elected officials and national and international human rights NGOs.

We also highlight the political will demonstrated by the Cauca provincial government’s Women’s Office, the Governor’s Secretary and the National and Regional Ombudsman Offices, which were the only entities present at the meeting in which the agreements were presented to the La Toma Community Council on December 20, 2014, and the only authorities that responded to our urgent action on December 29. We would like to see other national and local authorities show the same level of responsiveness and commitment. We also hope to see decisive action from the guarantors to urge authorities to follow through on the commitments they made and achieve the agreements’ purpose.

We emphasize that since we began our occupation of the Ministry of the Interior’s offices on November 27 we have remained in permanent assembly until the government’s agreements are implemented, and within the framework of permanent assembly we are ready to take whatever actions necessary to achieve this.

The Cauca provincial government declared a red-level environmental alert in the northern region of Cauca, the National Ombudsman’s Office published a report on the imminent risk for La Toma and the guarantors of the negotiations process have repeatedly corroborated that the lives of women, the men of the Maroon Guard and their children are at serious risk. The negligence and lack of political will on the part of national and local authorities put us at even greater risk during our march, on December 29 and each additional time that we have had to intervene to defend our territories and lives. Therefore, we hold all of the national and local authorities in charge of implementing the agreements responsible for the current vulnerable situation in which we find ourselves and for anything that happens to us as a result of their lack of implementation.

We continue in permanent assembly, building peaceful and democratic alternatives in Northern Cauca that may be examples for peace and democracy in all of Colombia, and defending life in our ancestral territories.

We support responsible and sustainable mining

Our territories and lives are not for sale. We love them and defend them.

#EscuchenNuestrosPasos #MujeresNegrasCaminan



For our friends in solidarity;
For our friends in the media that are concerned with the truth of our journey;
For all women

Our love for life is greater than our fear of death. We are in the Ministry of Interior with the Vice Minister of Participation, the Director of the Elite Command for Combatting Illegal Mining, the Unit for Formalizing Mining Titles, the Ministry of Mining, and the Ministry of Environment among others.

Many of our friends had to hold in their cries of righteous indignation in order to talk about how we are tired of the fact that this is the only way to make people listen to us. We are tired of having to explain again and again the ways in which our bodies have been violated. We are not going to put up with being forced to escape our homes at midnight because of threats. We are not going to put up with the fact that after so much time, they don’t understand that we don’t want to leave our territories where we buried our navels. We are tired of hearing the rhetoric that was repeated 7 months ago after the San Antonio tragedy that killed 50 of us. We ask the institutions: How many more displaced people? How many more dead? How many more violations could have been avoided if Constitutional Court Order 005 and Sentence 1045ª had been implemented?

As good mothers, sisters, cousins, daughters, and women, we are full of love and patience. It is our love and patience that pushes us, as black women, to continue moving and planting the seeds of our ancestors. Therefore, we – 22 black women – declare that we are in permanent assembly in the offices of the Ministry of Interior of Giralda as of today, November 27, at 5 pm.

We will be here until illegal mining is stopped in Cauca; until the mining titles that were granted without prior consultation in Cauca are revoked; until Constitutional Court Order 005 and Sentence 1045ª are implemented. The prolonged absence of compliance with these established requirements and commitments are the reasons for which we will stay here.

We convene all of the solidarity of those opposed to illegal mining and opposed to the threats against the people that protect Life and the Ancestral Territories.

The following entities are responsible for the safety of those of us in Bogota and those of us in the territories, even though the Ministry of Interior is saying that we are not here: the Colombian State, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Mining, the National Mining Agency, the Public Forces, the National Environmental Agency, the Human Rights Ombudsman, and all of the institutions responsible for guaranteeing our rights. This generates doubt in a climate where the institutions want to build confidence.

From Bogota, La Giralda

Black Women’s March Arrives in Bogota

Nearly a week since the start of the Afro-Colombian Women’s March for Life and Territory, the women arrived in Bogota today (see photos here). The women and youth that organized the march have met thousands of people along their journey to the Colombian capital. From Santander de Quilichao to Bogota, each successive town welcomed the black women and youth from Northern Cauca with material and emotional solidarity. Many of these towns are engaged in their own struggles to assert their rights in the face of multinational and national economic and political interests that threaten to displace them from their lands by destroying their livelihoods and environment. In Bogota, the women will meet with the Colombian Constitutional Court and various government institutions. They plan to remain in continuous protest in Bogotá until their demands for the removal of the illegal mining equipment from their territories are met.

Read the marchers’ most recent statement and their demands here.

March organizers are asking for donations to help meet the cost of the mobilization, please donate whatever you can.

Upon arrival in Cajamarca on November 22, local residents and members of the Youth Socio-Environmental Collective of Cajamarca met with the marchers. The Collective is also struggling against the collusion between the Colombian government and South African mining giant Anglo-Gold Ashanti, who intends to build one of the largest open-air mining projects in Latin America in Cajamarca. Within an hour of their arrival, military and police units approached the youth from La Toma that make up their security detail called “The Maroon Guard” (Guardia Cimarrona). But instead of reassuring them of their intent to collaborate, the police went on to harass the youth, referring to them as “niches” and expressing concern about “strange and special groups” arriving in Cajamarca to “mess with things”. Despite received prior information about the details of the March from the organizers and their supporters in Cajamarca, the police and military went on to stop and frisk a number of youth and their supporters. This was particularly concerning given the recent murder of one of the members of the Cajamarcan Socio-Environmental Youth Collective.

For updates on Black Women’s March for Life and Territory: https://afrocolombian.org/

ACSN Concerned about the criminal allegations against Afro-Colombian human rights defender Felix Banguero

The Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network is very concerned about the detention of Felix Manuel Banguero, a long-time community leader and human rights defender; member of the Community Council El Pílamo; in the municipality of Guachené, Northern Cauca region; and a founder member of the Black Communities’ Process (PCN). (more…)