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Interviews with Two Colombian Labour Leaders: Idarraga and Ramirez Castigate Canadian Mining Companies

By Asad Ismi

Joining in the release of my report, Profiting from Repression: Canadian Investment in Trade with Colombia, on May 3 in Ottawa was the Colombian Network Against Large-Scale Transnational Mining (RECLAME), a coalition of 50 rights and environmental organizations in Colombia. I was greatly honoured by RECLAME’s participation. The coalition was represented by Andres Idarraga, who was on a speaking tour of several Canadian cities. Idarraga is a labour organizer who works with the National Union Institute in Colombia.

“It’s a very valuable and very good report that explains the true role of Canadian corporations in Colombia,” Idarraga told me, commenting on Profiting from Repression. “It also explains well the role of the Canadian government, whose policy in Colombia during the last 15 years has come close to criminal complicity because it has hidden the injustice and impunity in the country. Canadian corporations in Colombia are engaged in criminal behaviour. It is criminal that a Canadian company such as Cosigo Resources insists on undertaking exploitation of minerals in a territory that is protected from such activity in Colombia by national and international legislation, while knowing about such legal protection.

“Cosigo has gold mining exploitation rights over more than 9,300 hectares of territory in the Colombian Amazon. We must also note the link between the militarization of certain areas and the arrival of mining companies. We have to really make this part of the discussion about Canadian corporations in Colombia because the mining companies are generating violence in Colombia [there are 26 Canadian mining companies in Colombia, more than from any other country].

“Canadian mining companies generating violence in Colombia include Cosigo Resources, which did so in the north of Cauca department [province]; and Gran Colombia Gold Corp., which did so in the north of Narino department and in the town of Marmato in Caldas department. Cosigo Resources is linked to armed groups, and the communities living in the areas they operate in, say so. This link is also shown by the fact that the start of Cosigo’s mining activity has been accompanied by the militarization of the areas the company was entering. This militarization included death threats to the leaders of the community in the mining area, to people who opposed large-scale mining. These death threats were made by paramilitaries known as the “Black Eagles” and “The Rastrojos” [Human Rights Watch calls paramilitaries ‘the sixth division’ of the Colombian army]. The facts say that there is a relationship between Cosigo Resources and the paramilitaries. The real facts and events that happen do prove this.

“Regarding the resistance of the Colombian people against Canadian mining companies, communities in Colombia know that only by working together will they be able to stop the activities of such companies. It is to facilitate such cooperation that RECLAME exists. RECLAME unites indigenous people, environmentalists, employees of the mining companies, farmers and peasants and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These groups are joined in the effort to defend the people’s right to territory through public actions, conferences and news publications, all of which highlight the impacts of the mining companies. In October 2011, 15,000 Colombians assembled in the People’s Congress, a conference held to oppose large-scale mining.

“RECLAME aims to not only to remove Canadian mining companies from Colombia, but also all transnational mining corporations. Mining capital in Colombia is mainly Canadian. Foreign mining investment in Colombia is one of the major sources of international finance capital for the country, and our struggle against the mining industry is also a struggle against capitalism. Canadians can help us in this struggle by applying public pressure to ensure that their taxes do not finance violence in Colombia.”

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Francisco Ramirez Cuellar is a prominent labour leader in Colombia and former president of the Colombian Mineworkers Union. State-linked death squads in Colombia have tried to kill Ramirez seven times. I talked to him in May when he visited Toronto soon after the release of my report.

“It is an excellent report,” Ramirez told me, “and very important at this moment because it shows that what the Canadian and Colombian governments say about the situation in Colombia is not true. We are preparing lawsuits against two Canadian companies in Colombia: the oil company Pacific Rubiales and the mining corporation Greystar [now called Eco Oro Minerals]. We ask the Canadian people to prevent their pension funds from investing in Canadian companies active in Colombia. We also call for Canadian solidarity with the indigenous people and Afro-Colombian people in Colombia because Canadian companies are destroying entire such communities and fomenting genocide.”

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Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, July/August 2012

Asad Ismi is the CCPA Monitor’s international affairs correspondent and author of the book Profiting from Repression: Canadian Investment in and Trade with Colombia (2012–Third Edition). He is also author of the anthology The Latin American Revolution which can be ordered from the CCPA as well as of the radio documentary with the same title (2010) which has been aired on 40 radio stations in the U.S., Canada and Europe reaching about 33 million people.

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