Online Tramadol(Translated by Lucy Daghorn)
The Amazon region of Colombia is harmed by mining and other activities carried out by companies, such as the use of chemical pesticides and the fishing industry. This situation is difficult to change in Colombia due to the government’s interest in mining activity.
Speaking to The Prisma on this topic are Mariana Gómez, coordinator of the network ‘Yes to Life, No to Mining’ in Latin America, and Nelson Ortiz, expert in environmental and cultural governance with Gaia Amazonas, and collaborator with ACIYA. In the first part of the interview they explained the Yaigojé-Apaporis National Park’s defence process against the mining company Cosigo.
Mariana Gómez was also part of the resistance in Tolima against the company Anglo Gold Ashanti, which “started to drill without a licence in an area close to the town, but thanks to community action this activity was suspended”.
On the other hand, Gómez states that in “Cajamarca there have been cases where environmental leaders have been murdered”, and she also points out that “connections have been found between the mining company and members of guerrilla and paramilitary groups”.
La Guajira, another area of Colombia where she has worked, has been affected by mining for decades.
The company and the landowners privatised the river there, which caused around 5,000 children of Wayuú ethnicity to die of starvation, according to figures. Regarding this tendency by companies to exploit the land, Nelson Ortiz believes that “long term changes will be difficult because government policy is not clear”.
He participated in the defence process in Yaigojé along with the organisation ACIYA, and although he assures that there are proposals to make changes, he says that “the problem is that in this country they are seen as terrorist demonstrations”.
With regards to this statement, Mariana emphasises that “these movements are seen as trying to curb development”. Nonetheless, she points out that “the communities have shown they want to be heard and participate in decisions that will affect their future and that of their children”.
Nelson: Due to contact with other cultures, the shamanistic practices of the traditional communities have diminished, though they have preserved their language.
As a result, the traditional indigenous people agreed that a special plan should be made concerning the management of the park in Apaporis based on cultural knowledge.
In accordance with the policies that they created, the traditional indigenous communities teach the young people about the mythological culture and characteristics of each territory.
Similar research processes to that of Apaporis have been carried out in other areas such as Pira Paraná, a river that is recognised by UNESCO as a site of intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
Mariana: The most similar aspect is the strategy that companies use when they come to a local community. They went to Piedras offering televisions, blenders or fridges. In Yaigojé they promised money to share amongst the communities. Moreover, the companies use another name, disguising their true motives.
In this situation, the communities were motivated to defend their territory because of the bond they have with the land.
This is the incentive that drives the inhabitants to begin a process of resistance, and they have had certain victories.
The problem is that these companies buy out the communities in these regions, pollute the environment and ten years later they leave them with nothing.
Mariana: In Piedras we managed to hold a popular vote to express the residents’ disapproval of the mining in their region. In other areas such as Cajamarca, however, the arrival of mining companies has had an impact on the division in the community.
Some people believed in the jobs and riches that these companies promised them. The company began to mine without a licence in an area close to the town, but the environmental authorities suspended the activities thanks to the actions of the citizens.
In Piedras they were going to carry out the last step of the process of gold extraction: the tailings dam to dump the toxic waste from the mine.
The open pit mine is located 100km in a straight line from Piedras, in Cajamarca, where they have carried out activities without having extracted an area of forest reserve.
Mariana: It’s a desert region with little access to drinking water, which depends on specific periods of rain. The mine has been there for many years, and has affected the course of the river Ranchería, one of the only rivers that provides the region with water. Furthermore, the country is affected by the El Niño phenomenon, and there has been a shortage of rain.
Nelson: There are situations that need policy at national level and where it’s difficult to have an impact, but there are small groups that show it’s possible. However, the government’s policies are not clear with regards to changing this type of intervention in the long run. There are alternative political movements that put forward environmental proposals, but in this country they are seen as terrorist demonstrations.
Mariana: A lot of political will and willpower from the general population is needed. In Colombia, the indigenous people who are against the extracting industries are branded with the label of wanting to curb development.
It’s a slow process of change, but communities such as ACIYA in Yaigojé or in Piedras in Tolima, show that people are at least willing to raise their voices.
I don’t know if this will have a real impact on the economy and on development models, but in Latin America there are examples of people wanting to be part of decisions that will affect their future and who look for the means to do so, and many such cases are silenced.
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