In the weeks following the Festival of the Sun that culminated June 26th in the park of the town of Gigante, the Movement for the Defense and the Liberation of Mother Earth has been preparing for the next Minga. A traditional Andean practice of collective and communal work, in recent years the Minga has gathered strength in indigenous communities as a collective and communal mobilization in defense of territories that have been assaulted by state policies of militarization and resource extraction.
In the weeks following the Festival of the Sun that culminated June 26 in the park of the town of Gigante, the Movement for the Defense and the Liberation of Mother Earth has been preparing for the next Minga. A traditional Andean practice of collective and communal work, in recent years the Minga has gathered strength in indigenous communities as a collective and communal mobilization in defense of territories that have been assaulted by state policies of militarization and resource extraction. In recent weeks the media has focused on the Nasa people in north Cauca liberating their territories of the presence of armed groups. However, not much has been mentioned about the weeks-long Minga of Resistance in the Sibundoy Valley in Putumayo against the San Francisco Highway and mining in sacred territories, as well as national mobilizations against mining and energy projects that kicked off August 1st that have brought people into the streets from la Guajira to Medellin.
In the opening days of July, despite photos continuing to surface from the Quimbo construction site showing the retention walls cracked and the river continuing its resistance to being diverted and workers from the site claiming that the tunnel in which the river was to be diverted in is also cracked, the press continues to neglect the story. Emgesa, the energy company responsible for the dam’s construction and operation, has still not been able to fully divert the Huacayo-Magdalena River and Emgesa and the Director of Environmental Licenses of the Ministry of Environment, Luz Helena Sarmiento, still have not made any announcements or have given explanations about the first and second die-offs of fish that have occurred in the dam´s construction area.
In attempts to criminalize the Association of Affected of the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project (Asoquimbo) and South Colombian University Professor Miller Dussan, Colonel Juan Francisco Pelaez Ramirez of the National Police of Colombia, ordered on March 7 an investigation of Dussan for his behavior caught on video during violent and illegal displacement of local inhabitants from the banks of the Magdalena River on February 14 and 15. Days later, on March 16, Emgesa´s legal representative for Judicial and Administrative Affairs Jairo Ernesto Arias Orjuela, requested information from the South Colombian University regarding Professor Dussan´s resume, later clarifying that it was to solicit a background check through powers of the Attorney General’s Office. As a result of these hostile actions, an international campaign led by academics has come out in support of Professor Dussan and the work he has done in defense of the affected communities.
On July 10, the first communities that Emgesa supposedly successfully negotiated with in 2009, la Escalaereta and Balseadero, formed a strike at the entrance of their community after local inhabitant, day laborer and renter Carlos Alberto Marín, was displaced when Emgesa workers destroyed the house he was living in after the owner sold the property.
“To date we do not want leave this territory, though we feel forced by the government to leave our lands. The environmental license says that we are to be relocated to an area where we will be set up in conditions that ‘are equal to or better’ then how are living now, though to date the company is showing its true colors and is going back on its words” explained resident of la Escalereta, Estela Gutierrez. Inhabitants of the two communities formed the strike demanding that the company keep its end of the negotiations made in 2009, that renters be recognized as part of the affected population, and that a new census be opened.
While Emgesa agreed to relocate the entirety of the two communities to the Llano of the Virgin, director of the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project Julio Santafe told local media days later during roundtable assemblies that the company did not have the land to relocate the communities so land owners would be compensated for their property, but that communities of la Escalereta, Balseadero, San Jose de Belén and Veracruz will not be relocated and that the company refuses to open another census. Upon finding out that there would not be another census and that they would not be relocated, the communities of Rioloro and Veracruz, members of Asoquimbo, have also taken up a blockade denying entry of representatives from Emgesa into their community. While lacking funds to meet with the demands of the Environmental License, Codensa (Colombian Endesa Conglomerate) and Emgesa had a 29.43% net increase in the first 6 months of 2012, which translates to $247 million in profits for Codensa and over $349 million for Emgesa.
In the final weeks of July, the Social Pastoral of the Colombian Episcopalian Church and Conservative Party Deputy of the Regional Huila Assembly Sandra Milena Hernandez exposed that even before the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project has been completed, a team of 17 geologists, hydrologists, architects, and civil and hydraulic engineers have been touring southern Huila performing the preliminary studies and preparing to purchase more lands for more dams. Chinese company Hydrochina, along with CORMAGDALENA (Autonomous Environmental Corporation of the Magdalena River), have been surveying the sites of Pericongo Canyon, the Guarapas River and the Sombrerillos Canyon that would cover the world famous Estrecho del Magdalena in San Agustin. As a result of these actions, the potentially affected communities in the municipalities of Pitalito, San Agustin, San José de Isnos and Oporapa have been having public forums to inform local inhabitants about the social and environmental impacts of these projects and prepare for the upcoming struggles against Hydrochina.
Governor Cielo Gonzalez and other regional politicians of the Department of Huila were not aware of the presence of the survey team in Huila told inhabitants of the Municipality of Palestina on July 22 that during her term as governor she “would not allow any more hydroelectric projects in Huila.” Hernandez, who denounced the survey team to local media, also sent a formal complaint to the Ministry of Defense to only be reprimanded and threatened for her actions by Colonel Pelaez Ramirez. The actions against Hernandez and Dussan are treated as clear evidence and are being denounced for the criminalizing of freedom of speech and expression.
As a result of this advance in the transnational-corporate takeover of the Magdalena River and territory of Huila, on July 30 a public debate was held in Neiva regarding the impacts of the Quimbo Hydroelectric Projects and future dams in the Department of Huila, while once again invited guests such as Minister of Environment Frank Pearl and Director of Environmental Licenses Luz Helena Sarmiento did not attend. Secretary General of the department of Huila, Julio Cesar Triana, guaranteed that “the Departmental Government was making sure that the commitments made to those affected by the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project are being met.”
Zoila Ninco, day laborer, fisher-woman and member of Asoquimbo from the community of La Jagua reminded those in the public debate that do not even live in the affected region that, “I am here to demand answers from the government regarding the destruction that has occurred in our region and to remind everyone that where the Quimbo Dam is being built is where we will have our Campesino Reserve, we do not want this dam or any dam in our territory.”
In response to continued assault of the Upper Huacayo-Magdalena River Valley and the Colombian Macizo (Highlands) Asoquimbo, the Regional Indigenous Council of Huila- CRIHU, the Civic Movement of La Plata and the other entities in Huila that make of the Movement for the Defense and Liberation of Mother Earth will commence a Minga for the Recuperation and Liberation of Mother Earth in the following week.