Gunning For Gold Print
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Resources - Mining
Tuesday, 26 September 2006 19:53

By: Gear?id ? Loingsigh

Kedahda is an unusual word, but it is not difficult to find out its meaning. Any good encyclopedia should tell you what this geological term means. It is public knowledge, no one is keeping the term a secret. Why should they? It is just another geological term.

Kedahda S.A. is another matter. It is not a geological term but the name of a mining company registered in Colombia in 2003. Take a look on the internet, there is not that much information to be found about the company and most of the articles are recent items expressing concern about the company?s intentions in Southern Bolivar and other regions of Colombia. It is a secret and they have much to hide.

The company is the Colombian subsidiary of Anglogold Ashanti, one of the largest gold mining companies in the world. Angogold Ashanti is the fusion of two ?African? mining companies one being Anglogold of Apartheid fame and the other being the Ghanan company Ashanti founded as part of Britain?s imperial adventures in Africa. One would expect a company like Anglogold Ashanti to be proud and fortright about its operations in Colombia, but not so. The annual reports refer simply to exploration in Colombia without mentioning the name or composition of the company unlike their operations in other parts of the world. Kedahda S.A. is their big secret and they don?t do interviews, they understand that there is such a thing as bad publicity.

What then is the company? and who runs it?

Kedahda S.A. is the Colombian subsidiary of Anglogold Ashanti (AA) and its board of directors is made up of key functionaries of AA at an international level. Eric Roth is the head geologist at AA with responsibility for exploration in all of Latin America. Marques Tiberio is the Financial Director for all of Latin America and also the head of their operations in Brazil where they have their largest operations. The subsitute directors are Christopher Van Tienhoven and Alejandro Eguren business director for Latin America and head of AA in Peru respectively (although AA is now in the process of closing its Peruvian operations) along with Jos? Margalith the Corporate Secretary for AA.

The manager of the Company Chris Lodder is also a foreign national and is the Director of Exploration in all of Latin America. In many countries he has underlings but in Colombia he has direct responsibility and is also a representative of Anglo American the largest shareholder in AA.

However, it is not just the foreign functionaries that makes Kedahda S.A. interesting. The Colombian nationals of which there are only two are also interesting. One is Luisa Fernanda Aramburo, a member of the board of directors and Rafael Antonio Alfonso Roa the subsitute manager.

Aramburo is well known to the small craft miners of Colombia. It was Aramburo who drew up the mining code of Samper government. She included articles in that mining code which blatantly sought to favour the companies she represented. At that time Aramburo represented Corono Gold Fields and the Illera Palacio family who were busy trying to get their hands on the largest gold mine in the world. They had failed in their attempts to coax and con the craft miners. The legal manouvers of Aramburo also failed as the Constitutional Court declared the mining code to be unconstitutional. There then followed a wave of killings by the paramilitaries who openly declared that they had come for the mines to hand them over to those who would make better use of them. That was 10 years ago. Aramburo has returned to haunt the small miners of Southern Bolivar.

Her abortive mining code was followed up by the Pastrana government with another code also drawn up by lawyers of the mining corporations present in Colombia. The small miners lost their rights over the mines. They were told that they had to ?legalise? them, a euphemism for reapplying and competing with large coporations: enter Anglogold Ashanti through its subidiary Kedahda S.A.

AA began with scare tactics claiming to have sought permission to begin exploration on a massive claim of 1,200,000 hectares in Southern Bolivar. It further claimed that it had been granted permission to being immediately on an area of 37,000 hectares. The claims were designed to frighten craft miners into thinking that they had already lost their mines and that there was no point in applying for a permit to exploit the mines that had being working for the best part of two decades and more.

There was no truth to the claims. Nowhere is there any public document that shows that AA sought permission for over a million hectares. Neither were they granted the 37,000 hectares that they claim. The total number of hectares in the entire department of Bolivar under exploration or exploitation is just 32,000. That includes all the small miners and the multinationals. In fact Kedahda received its first permit to carry out gold prospecting in September 2005 long after it had made its outlandish claims. They were granted a mere 2000 hectares. However, that is not the full story: enter Sr Roa, the substitute manager. There are a further 10,000 hectares in Southern Bolivar which were granted to Sr Roa. It is doubtful that these licences are for him, though they were granted to him the individual. There are other gold mining companies in Colombia which have used this mechanism of asking for prospecting licences in the name of members of the board of directors or managers. However, it has recently come to light that AA has applied for a total of 500,000 hectares in Southern Bolivar and neighbouring Antioquia. It applied for licences to exploit gold resources withouth having previously applied for licences to explore.

It is clear that the mining code which paves the way for the handover of the mineral resources to the multinationals will be implemented in full and will lead to an increase in the murders of craft miners, small farmers and human rights leaders through increased militarisation. The regional government of Antioquia hosted a mining fair in the city of Medellin with the aim of attracing more mining companies to country. It is State policy that mines be exploited by large multinationals and not craft miners. The craft miners are an impediment that has to be dealt with.

In the context of the International Mining Fair the Colombian newspaper El Espectador quoted a representative of an international gold trading company Glaxco as saying ?The word has spread and the big mining companies have begun to think about what was previously unthinkable: investing in Colombia... Capital is always temerous, they look for security above profits... ?Mining companies that invest US $100 million in a mine have no problems spending two or three million on building a military base in order for the government to send the required number of soldiers to protect the zone...The profit margin in some mines could be in the region of 40%, but if there is no security, then it is useless. Investors prefer mines with a profit margin of 10% that are secure.?

Quite. In the mid 1990s when Corona Gold Fields and Anglogold tried to get their hands on the mines in Southern Bolivar there was a dramatic increase in the number of murders. Now under the regime of Alvaro Uribe the mining companies are talking openly of sponsoring the military. In the case of Kedahda S.A. this should not surprise us, not only due to the presence of Aramburo, a key person in the mid 1990s but also the companies reputation in other parts of the world. Human Rights Watch in a report published in July 2005 entitled The Curse of Gold accused AA of sponsoring paramilitary organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Ghana the home of Ashanti the local press has accused the company of murdering and covering up the deaths of a number of small craft miners. They have further accused the company of having openly stated that it would deal with craft miners that enter their land.

The situation for the miners of Southern Bolivar is ominous faced with a government that clearly wants rid of them, mining legislation that facilitates that and an increase in the militarisation of their communities and lastly companies such as AA who have shown in the past that they will go to any length to protect their investments: not to mention Aramburo. The Colombian newspaper summed it up in a recent headline ?Gold Fever is Back?. So too is the repression that is required for the fever to continue.