The general context is that multinational companies together with the Colombian state are working in alliance with the CIA and the paramilitaries so that North American capital gets access to exploit the mineral wealth.
[MAP CAPTION: Another key conflict area is the gold mining zone of the San Lucas mountains. Minerals from both La Gabarra and San Lucas have a potential export route along the Magdalena River. The port city Barrancabermeja is key to controlling the river. It too has been attacked by the paramilitaries.]
The operation of the CIA and the paramilitaries is open, in that the Colombian press reported in November 1999 that the president of Panama Mireya Moscoso publicly asked the CIA to stop robbing helicopters in Panama and giving them over to the paramilitaries here. They were civilian Bell helicopters. When you see pictures of the helicopter in Panama, and the Caracol television video of the paramilitaries’ helicopter that has been bombing civilians in the south of Bolivar then you can see that it’s exactly the same helicopter. Another helicopter robbed by the CIA is in the La Gabarra and Tibú zone of North Santander on the Venezuela border where there are important coal deposits, of very high quality. The paramilitaries arrived in La Gabarra to throw out the insurgency [the guerilla movements] and the people This area is known as Catatumbo. So the paramilitaires are there, throwing out the insurgency, and throwing out the small and medium coal miners so that the Canadian multinational Greenstone can exploit the coal deposits.
The Magdalena River is the biggest in the country. Its mouth is near Barranquilla on the Caribbean. The paramilitaries are descending onto Barrancabermeja, the river port which is also in Santander province. They will take coal to Barrancabermeja, take it along the Magdalena River and export it from Barranquilla to the USA. This zone is mountainous. Without control of the river the costs of transport would be immense.
The other alternative is that they get the coal out via the Lago de Maracaibo in Venezuela, but Chavez has said no. The Colombian peasants say its very easy to take cargo from Tibú only three or four hours to Lago Maracaibo, but Chavez has said no. So the paramilitray takeover of Barrancabermeja is not only about oil and gas, its about coal as well. A journalist for El Espectador newspaper interviewed Stan Goff, an ex-US official involved with the army and its counterinsurgency programme. He said that the US is basically here for oil and gas. We have information from the oilworkers union USO that all over this region there are agents of oil companies seeking exploration rights. The paramilitary groups throw out people, so that these multinational get access to the oil, gas and coal. What can the poor peasants do against these paramilitary groups?
Then there is the case of gold production in Bolivar. 42% of the country’s gold production comes from South Bolivar. We estimate that half the country’s gold reserves are in this small part. Before the incursion of the paramilitaries Rio Viejo used to be the country’s biggest gold producer.
In 1995 the Palacio family bought ten mines, supposedly in this area. But the details which it filed do not correpond to the geopgraphic location of any real mines. Normally the multinational companies bribe state officials. MINERCOL, our employer, is responsible for all mineral production in the country.
A lawyer called Luisa Fernando Aramburo* realised that there was a good business to be made out of gold in San Lucas. She was given legal power to represent the Palacio family. And she formed Compania Mineras San Lucas Ltd. with Norman Greenbaum an official of the North American company Corona Goldfields. Now, the Compania Mineras San Lucas signed a contract with the Palacio family for $250,000 a year that gave them the right to mine gold from these 10 mines. But they did not exist! An official owner of the subsoil no private property of 6 months automatically it reverts back to the nation. This family didn’t use the mines for fifty years. Corona Goldfields is itself a subsidiary of Conquistador Mines, which has just signed a contract with Anglo-Gold [of Anglo American] to exploit gold in the San Lucas mountains.
* The same lawyer was employed to draft a new Mining Code. The latest version of the Code is before the Colombian parliament. SINTRAMINERCOL has held a series of public forums to present a better way forward – details in the next issue of Colombia Solidarity.