Environmental Defenders Met with Paramilitary Death Threats in Tolima, Colombia

By Hannibal Rhoades. Originally posted by The Gaia Foundation, 10th June 2016

Environmental and indigenous groups, who recently protested peacefully for their right to water and a healthy environment in the Colombian province of Tolima, have received death threats alleged to be from the ‘Aguilas Negras’ (the Black Eagles), a right-wing paramilitary group.

Local farmers, human rights defenders, environmental activists and indigenous people were threatened in pamphlets disseminated at Tolima’s Great Carnival March on the third of June, threatening to ‘make [them] fall, one by one’ if they continued to oppose large scale mining projects in the region.

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(Aerial view of Tolima’s Great Carnival March. Photo: Comite Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida)

“Our armed group is well aware of your intention to keep blocking roads, organising marches and misinforming the public, soley to impede progress in ideology and the development projects in Tolima and across our country… You are ordered to cease your activites NOW! No more strikes, because we have you where we want you, and our fighters will make you fall, one by one”, wrote the paramilitary group.

Tensions emerged around this year’s Great Carnival March, a cultural gathering of over 120,000 people, as campaigners and citizens used the march as a platform for popular education on the impacts of mining, ahead of what could be a momentous event in Colombia’s democratic history.

The city of Ibague has agreed to hold what would be the first city-wide referendum on mining in Colombia, perhaps the world, giving citizens of the city a chance to vote on whether or not London-listed mining companyAngloGold Ashanti’s contiversial La Colosa gold mine should go ahead.

The La Colosa mine is a proposed open-cast gold mining project located in an area of lush, tropical cloud forest that has an invaluable ecosystem rich with biodiversity.

Many local communites, especially local farmers, and environmental organisations have fought a fierce campaign opposing the mine, suffering intimidation and violence as a result. They are opposed to La Colosa due to concerns about the devastation caused by large-scale gold mining elsewhere in Colombia and that their rivers will become contaminated with cyanide and acids produced in the mining process, causing food production to suffer.

Activists from Tolima have fought hard to win their democratic and constitutional right to a popular consultation despite opposition from Colombia’s central government, AngloGold Ashanti and paramilitary groups.

The consultation could be a watershed moment for anti-extractive struggles in Colombia, counteracting the government’s pro-extractive policies that frame mining as central to social and economic development.

The Gaia Foundation has been supporting groups in Tolima in their struggle. In 2013 they facilitated a solidarity exchangebetween the people of Doima, a small settlement in Tolima threatened by AngoGold Ashanti’s planned mine, and the communties of Balcombe in the UK and Krobo in Ghana – who are both at risk from the extractive industries.

The success of this exchange gave new energy to the resistance in Doima, which suceeded in holding its own popular consultation and sucessfully rejected AngoGold Ashanti’s waste dam in 2013.

The people of Doima’s story also inspired a film, In Solidarity, and the creation of the Yes to Life, No to Mining network; a global solidarity network of and for communities, like Doima, who wish to reject mining and pursue life-sustaining alternatives. Yes to Life, No to Mining has continued to support popular consulation processes in Tolima and recently wrote a letter to Ibague’s Mayor, Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo, offering solidarity.

At the Great Carnival March, activists handed out thousands of copies of the Gaia Foundation’s report, UnderMining Agriculture, which reveals the true extent of mining’s impacts on farming. In a largely agricultural region, the report and accompanying infographic have great value as a public education tool.

Sadly, Earth defenders like those in Tolima face a worldwide campaign of violent supression. According to Global Witness, an environmental advocacy organisation, two environmental activists are killed every week and many more suffer intimidation and assault as a result of their work to protect their places and the planet for future generations of all species.

The Gaia Foundation condemns the intimidation of activists, farmers and other members of civil society in Tolima. All those who stand up in defence of life and their communities should be celebrated and protected, not vilified and harmed. They are our guides towards a future of harmony rather than destruction.

We join Tolima’s Comite Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida in their call to the following authorities:

  • We call on the Colombian government to guarantee the safety of every member of the Network of Environmental Committees in Tolima, and the other organisations mentioned in the threatening pamphlet.
  • We call on the Attorney General of Colombia to quickly move to investigate and establish the facts.
  • We call on the Colombian government to grant the measures of protection necessary to safeguard the work, integrity and honour of those working to protect water, life and territory.
We encourage you to take action in solidarity with our friends in Tolima

Send letters of support demanding the safety of those threatened in Tolima, calling for an investigation to establish the facts, and measures to guarantee the work, integrity and honour of those working to protect water, life and territory.

Please send your messages to:

JUAN MANUEL SANTOS CALDERON; President of the Republic; Carrera 8; No. 7-26 Palacio de Cauca Bogotá; Email: comunicacionesvp@presidencia.gov.co

LUIS CARLOS VILLEGAS, Minister of Defence; Carrera 54; No.26-25; CAN Bogotá DC; email: siden@mindefensa.gov.co, infprotocol@mindefensa.gov.co, mdn@cable.net.co

JUAN FERNANDO CRISTO; Minister of the Interior; Carrera 9a; No.14-10; Bogotá DC; email: ministro@minjusticia.gov.co

JORGE FERNANDO PERDOMO; Attorney General; Diagonal 22B; No.52-01; Bogotá DC; email: contacto@fiscalia.gov.co, denuncie@fiscalia.gov.co

ALFONSO CAJIAO CABRERA; National Ombudsman; Calle 55; No.10-32; Bogotá DC; email: secretaria_privada@hotmail.com, agenda@agenda.gov.co, defensoria@defensoria.org.co

ALEJANDRO ORDONEZ MALDONADO; General Inspector of the Nation, Cra.5; No.15-80F; Bogotá DC; email: anticorrupción@presidencia.gov.co, reygon@procuraduría.gov.co

COLOMBIAN OFFICE OF THE UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS; Calle 114; No.9-45; Torre B Oficina; 1101 Edificio; Teleport Business PArk; Bogotá DC; email: oacnudh@hchr.org.co

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