HÉCTOR ABAD FACIOLINCE. Gifts of Quebradona

The Colombian wilderness has been protected from mining by the 50 years civil war with the FARC guerrillas. No investor was prepared to take the risk of its infostructure being blown up and its personnel assassinated. Now that the civil war is over, mining companies are moving in to bribe local communities with false promises to gain popular support. [more] Simply because there are minerals in the ground does not mean they have to be dug up. Many other things have to be taken into account.

It seems that there is a lot of copper, gold, silver and molybdenum in the subsoil of parts of Colombia blessed by nature. By perforating the earth, rocks, aquifers, hectares or kilometres of the surface, making necessary tunnels and removing thousands of tons of material, Ali Baba’s cave is opened. The treasure makes the eyes spin, the pores of the skin dilate and stirs up greed for gold and dollars. Many mouths are watering, and especially those of the transnational mining company, the South African AngloGoldAshanti (AGA), now with very active and ambitious projects for Colombia.

I am not a mystic ecologist, I do not believe that the earth is sacred and untouchable. I recognize that there are conveniences of the contemporary world (electricity, computers, housing, land and air transport, internet and cell phones) that are impossible without mining iron, aluminium, clays, copper, nickel, etc. I have defended hydroelectric dam projects that provide us with drinking water and electricity. However, after analysing the pros and cons of a project such as Quebradona, in the Antioquia province of Colombia, I am on the side of most of the residents of its main town, Jericho, whose mayor and Council have until now been firmly against the huge copper extraction project.

Large-scale mining, such as oil exploration, cannot always be done anywhere, simply because of the presence of minerals, and simply because the State and the mining companies with licenses want to extract them. The voice of the community and the warnings of ecologists have to be heard, and the landscape and the cultural traditions of the region analysed. The immediate and short-term advantages, royalties and future dividends cannot be the only criterion to define whether mines of this size should go ahead. Even without starting work on the mine, AGA is already allocating billions aimed at sweetening the will of the people by making false promises to them. After the failure of the gold mine in La Colosa, in Cajamarca, Tolima, whose development was stopped after consultation with the people, AGA now wants to “invest” in the Jericó community so that at the next elections the town is at least very divided on whether the mine should go ahead, and, if possible with a majority in support.

It has set up a Foundation promising the earth: artistic and musical workshops for children, consultancies, trips and courses for heads of schools and teachers, renovating places, tidying up village pathways, cultural projects for bands and music groups, among other cultural initiatives that no one, in principle, could oppose. And it would be great if all this philanthropy was all that it is cracked up to be. If they wanted to be so kind and generous to share part of their profits in distant gold mines to improve Jericó, it would be magnificent. But there is another way to see it. It is nothing more than a public relations exercise which amounts to vote buying. These may be strong words, but they reflect the truth.

They are giving handouts which they suggest will continue in the future as an indication of the supposed economic benefits that the mine will supposedly bring, without being transparent about the ecological, cultural and scenic damage. And so a dazzled community, blinded by the gifts, will vote for the mining company’s preferred candidates in the Council elections. It is a very clever strategy, disguised as benevolence, that must be unmasked. Nobody, and even less a mining company, goes to so much trouble by making gifts like this without expecting something in return. These lunches are going to be very expensive.

AGA has an appalling record in the Congo for human rights violations, ecological damage and the exploitation of people. In Jericó it puts on its friendly face, before starting the mine. It goes to show how much they are going to earn when they can hand out gifts before they even take out a gram of gold.

Héctor Abad Faciolince is a Colombian author and regular columnist for El Espectador. He is the author of the bestselling El Olvido Que Seremos, published in English as Oblivion: a Memoir, about his father, a Professor of Public Health who was assassinated by the right wing paramilitaries in 1987. This article appeared in El Espectador on 12 July 2019, and has been translated by Kieran Tapsell. https://www.elespectador.com/opinion/regalos-de-quebradona-columna-870735

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