The black communities of the Community Council of La Toma, in the state of Cauca, Colombia, have denounced the presence of illegal mining operations in the area since May 2014. Currently, there are at least 12 confirmed illegal mining machines along the Ovejas River. These machines arrived on August 19, 2014, in a region of the community known as “Dos Aguas.” Armed groups appear to be providing private security to these illegal mining operations. An international delegation led by the Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network (ACSN) in late August confirmed the presence of illegal mining throughout the region.
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The regions identified as La Canoa and El Remolino in the community of Yolombó have also been invaded by seven (7) retro excavators on both sides of the river that divides the municipalities of Suarez and Buenos Aires. Retro excavators have also been detected in the regions known as La Playita, on the Yolombó side of the river. More illegal mining operations were detected in the regions of San Juan and Aganche, in the community of El Hato.
The presence of illegal mining operations and armed groups has led to new death threats against the leaders of the Community Council of La Toma; fear within the communities; and the environmental degradation of the Ovejas River – the community’s only remaining source of fresh water following the environmental degradation caused by the Salvajina Dam.
We have repeatedly denounced the illegal mining activities throughout the region of Northern Cauca. It is allowed thanks to the complicity, either by omission or negligence, of local and national authorities, as evidenced by the lack of implementation of the May Accords to end illegal mining that followed the tragedy of San Antonio. The government recognized the devastating impacts of illegal mining in Cauca after the May 1, 2014, tragedy in San Antonio, Cauca. The collapse of the mine killed 30 people and the remains of several more were ignored by government-led rescue efforts. The international outcry after the tragedy led to the May Accords, but the government continues to lack the political will to implement the agreements that were intended to end illegal mining in Cauca.
The Colombian State prioritizes the economic interests in “development” over the rights of Afro-descendant communities, and this is demonstrated by the systemic violation of their rights. For example, in 2009 the former government mining agency INGEOMINAS awarded mining concessions to foreigners in violation of the Community Council of La Toma’s right to free, prior, and informed consultation and consent. These mining concessions nearly resulted in the forced displacement of more than 1,500 Afro-descendant families for their ancestral territories in June of 2010. The local and national authorities continue to fail to respond appropriately to the risks posed by illegal mining in the region in spite of Colombian Constitutional Court Ruling T-1045A in 2010 that ordered the suspension mining permits to foreigners, and the suspension of non-artisanal mining in the region.
Given the imminent threat to the physical integrity of the Afro-descendant people of the Community Council of La Toma and its leaders, we urge the government to immediately take action in order stop the grave economic, environmental, and social consequences of illegal mining that are heaved upon communities ancestrally located in these lands since 1636:
- The Ministry of Interior and its Office for Black Communities should implement the May Accords and guarantee the immediate protection of the community of La Toma and its leaders;
- The Attorney General, Inspector General for the Environment (Procuraduría Ambiental) and other relevant authorities, immediately confiscate the illegal mining equipment present in the region and develop an effective strategy that prevents future presence of illegal mining operations in the region;
- Local authorities: Mayor’s Office of Suarez and Buenos Aires, Police, Military, Inspector General’s Office, and the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, activate safeguarding actions that effectively prevent illegal mining activity from shifting to another site or to continue generating threats in the Northern Cauca;
- The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Municipality of Suarez and the Regional Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman guarantee the protection of the Afro-descendants in the region affected by the presence of illegal mining operations and the armed groups that protect them.
Please take a few moments to e-mail or contact the following Colombian government officials. We have included a sample text in English and Spanish. Feel free to send the message in whichever language you feel comfortable.
Yo digo NO a la minería ilegal—y los Ministros?
NO mas tragedias-San Antonio
My name is [Name] from [Affiliation], and I am very concerned by the lack of political will from the Colombian government in ending illegal mining in black communities. Armed groups and outsiders exploit the ancestral lands of the black communities with retro excavators and dredging equipment. I am especially concerned with the illegal mining in the towns of El Palmar in Santander de Quilichao; Yolombó and Hato in the Community Council of La Toma, as well as the towns of Honduras and Betania in the Community Council of AfroRenacer in Micay.
The communities do not agree with or support this mining and it goes against Law 70/93 and Sentence 1045-A of 2010. We urge your office to take action to confiscate the machines and investigate the owners in order to protect the communities and their leaders who are threatened for defending their right to the territory.
Yo soy [nombre/afiliación] y estoy muy preocupad@ por la falta de voluntad política del gobierno colombiano para acabar con la minería ilegal impuesta por grupos armados y foráneos que explotan el territorio ancestral de comunidades negras con retroexcavadoras y dragas. En particular quiero denunciar la minería ilegal que se esta llevando a cabo El Palmar, municipio de Santander de Quilichao; en el Consejo Comunitario de La Toma en las veredas de Yolombó y Hato y en el Consejo Comunitario AfroRenacer del Micay en las veredas de Honduras y Betania.
Esta minería no esta auspiciada ni promovida por las comunidades y va en contra de la Ley 70/93 y la Sentencia 1045-A del 2010. Quiero urgir a su oficina que tomen acción para confiscar las maquinas e investigar a sus dueños y para proteger a las comunidades y sus líderes porque son amenazadas por defender su derecho al territorio.”
Twitter: @MinInterior, @CristoBustos @MinMinas @ViceMinasCol @DefensoriaCol
E-Mail: (email@example.com, AmbassadorB@state.gov, Liliana.firstname.lastname@example.org,email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com,firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org,email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com,firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com)
Embassy of Colombia to the United States
Ambassador Luis Carlos Villegas
Embassy of the United States to Colombia
Ambassador Kevin Whitaker
Ministry of Interior:
Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo Bustos
Liliana Mera, Office for Black Communities
Ministry of Mining and Energy
Minister of Mining Tomas García
firstname.lastname@example.org; @MinMinas (Twitter), +57-220-1321 ext. 2600
Vice-Minister of Mining Cesar Diaz Guerrero
email@example.com; @ViceMinasCol (Twitter);
Human Rights Ombudsman:
Human Rights Ombudsman Jorge Otalora
Vice Human Rights Ombudsman Esiquio Manuel Sánchez Herrera
firstname.lastname@example.org; (57+1) 691-5466 ext. 2718 – FAX (57+1) 691-5466
Regional Human Rights Ombudsman for Cauca Mauricio Redondo Valencia
email@example.com; +57-310-853-9404 – FAX (57+2) 824-4874
Ethnic Human Rights Ombudsmen Patricia Luna Paredes
firstname.lastname@example.org, FAX : (57+1) 691-5255
Community Ombudsman Carolina Fernandez +57-311-639-5977
Inspector General’s Office (various)
Charo Mina Rojas: email@example.com
Anthony Dest: firstname.lastname@example.org
Manuel Matos: email@example.com
*ACSN includes Global Rights, Chicago Religious Leadership Network (CRLN), the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), International Working Group of PCN, Colombia Land Rights Monitor, and activists and scholars Joseph Jordan, Eunice Escobar, Ajamu Baraka, Manuel Matos, Naila Rosario, Tianna Paschel, Arturo Escobar, and Nicole Lee (Lee Bayard Group). Peace Brigades International (PBI) serves as an international observer.