Community, Indigenous and Worker Alternatives to Transnational Mining

Four dozen labour, indigenous, peasant farmer, small and medium scale mining, and environmental organizations recently met in Bogotá at the Andean Forum in Response to Large Scale Mining to discuss the experiences struggling against the powerful transnational mining industry.


The Indigenous Panel at the Forum

"We’re human beings and we deserve respect," exclaimed a municipal councilor from the Department of Guajira in northeastern Colombia.

Known as "the Forgotten Guajira" the councilor revealed the devastating impacts of Cerrejón, one of the largest open pit coal mines in the world, on surrounding communities that are principally indigenous and afro-descendent.

"It appears that when the state granted the mineral concessions to the companies that they also handed over our lives," he stated, referring to the imminent displacement of their people and lack of access to the River Ranchería that has historically sustained them.

The experiences of affected communities as well as small and medium scale miners were the focus of the Andean Forum in Response to Large Scale Mining: Community, Indigenous and Worker Alternatives that took place in Bogotá from September 26th to 27th.

The forum is part of the struggle against the powerful transnational mining industry and was organized by the Hemispheric Social Alliance, roughly four dozen labour, indigenous, peasant farmer, small and medium scale mining, and environmental organizations participated.

Compounding social and environmental impacts of mining, numerous testimonies indicated the role of violence and repression – both state-led and private – to enable large scale mining expansion in the region.

But despite frequent persecution, assassinations, criminalization of protest, human rights violations and environmental destruction, companies enjoy impunity and favourable public policies, while communities like La Guajira face the bulk of the impacts and are often ignored by the state.

ImageMining expansion in Latin America

Since the mid 1990s, Latin America has been a major site of global mining expansion. Neoliberal policy development along the logic of free trade has been essential to its implementation.

International agreements and legal reforms promoted by the World Bank and various foreign governments in collaboration with friendly national representatives "put states in a bind, preventing them from being able to promote national development policies," says Executive Secretary Enrique Daza of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, "making countries dependent on foreign investment and international trade."

Ensuring that "transnational corporations are the major beneficiaries," he reflects, "Communities are the principle victims."

Luis Manuel Claps, journalist and editor of Mines and Communities, says that the profit-driven "compulsive consumption" of industrial mining of energy, minerals, water and other common goods is best characterized as "bulimic."

According to Earthworks, mining is responsible for up to 10% of world energy consumption and around 13% of global sulfur dioxide emissions.

It also produces tremendous amounts of solid waste. The same source also says, for example, that 79 tons of mine waste is generated for every ounce of gold. Quantity and quality of water supplies are also often both at risk.

Additionally, as a short term activity contemporary mines last on average between 10 and 15 years and employ fewer workers as technology improves.

Claps adds that through company mergers and diversification into fossil fuel and agro-fuel production, in order to service their energy needs, that transnational corporations are becoming "extractive company complexes that require ever more energy, water, and territorial space causing cultural, environmental, political and social impacts that are frequently irreversible."

A point of entry

In Colombia’s experience, small and medium scale mining operations have been one notable site of conflict. Senator Jorge Robledo from the Alternative Democratic Pole says that one key objective of recent policy reforms was the "Abandonment, persecution and weakening of small scale mining."

Small scale mining in Colombia provides employment for about two million families and its mining code has been working against them.

Robledo indicates that their Ministry of Mines and Energy has expressed clear interest in "eradicating" small scale mining for being "illegal." However, he states, "It is not legal, but rather informal."

Several small and medium scale mining associations testified during the forum to the persecution and threats they are facing as part of attempts to undermine their activities and to make way for transnational operations.

A representative from the Colombian Federation of Gold, Silver and Platinum Miners challenged the common assertion that "large scale mining does not contaminate like small or medium scale operations." He also described how systematic delays inhibit small scale operations from fulfilling legal requirements while transnational companies move through bureaucratic processes with ease.

Another pointed out that local authorities are generally unaware of the overarching aim to displace their activities.

From the Department of Bolívar, observations were made about how transnational corporations have used third parties to obstruct permitting processes and how paramilitary and state violence threatens workers and leaders.

Robledo proposed that national governments should invest in small and medium scale mining operations while ensuring strong environmental and fiscal policies promoting nationalization of mineral resources and national participation in mining activities.

The mining model

However, indigenous leaders from across the continent and from communities which are saying "no" to any type of mining, such as in Ecuador, urged an even deeper reflection on the nature of large scale mining.

Mario Palacios from the National Confederation of Peruvian Communities Affected by Mining (CONACAMI) commented that "The root problem is not just the laws, nor the constitutions, but rather the development model." He described the western model of development as "a culture of self-extermination" that is "putting human survival at risk."

Suggesting that Peru may be the current model upon which further mining expansion is being considered in Ecuador and Colombia, Palacios noted that despite Peru’s status as a major mineral producer that it is facing major impacts and a rising number of social-environmental conflicts.

Sixteen out of fifty rivers that flow from the Peruvian Andes are contaminated with heavy metals, he stated, and more than half of the country’s 6,000 highland communities are affected by mining. Despite this, the government continues deepening an already favourable legal framework to further guarantee protections for transnational mining companies.

For those who resist, he said in contrast, penalties have become increasingly stiff. Providing an illustration, he said that about ten years ago the penalty for blocking a highway in Peru was four years in prison. Now it can be up to twenty five years, surpassing penalties even for premeditated murder.

He and others expressed the immediate need to recuperate the Andean philosophy of life based upon concepts of "Good Living" and "to live well in harmony with Mother Earth and without destroying the land." They also prioritized recognition of indigenous rights and the right of local communities to free, prior and informed consent over possible mining investments.

Considering the future generations

"We are demanding respect for the lives of our peoples," exclaimed Salvador Quishpe, member of the Pachakutik Movement of Ecuador. He pointed out that his home country is in the unique position in which no large scale metal mining has yet to begin despite numerous projects in various stages of development.

After forty years as an oil producing country, he commented that people still need to strike "just to fix up the roads in areas of oil extraction." Now that oil reserves are running out, he says, mining is being presented as next solution for the Ecuadorian economy, but this "does not reflect the needs of the people and our ways of living."

Reflecting on various attempts to divide communities that are opposed to mining, including gifts, job offers and criminalization, he lamented the persecution that anti-mining activists are currently facing from their government.

The final declaration respected differences between countries like Ecuador where communities are resisting all forms of mining, and specified the relevance of proposals concerning small and medium scale mining to the case of Colombia.

Overall, however, agreement was expressed toward combating impunity of transnational corporations, the need for strong environmental and human right protections toward the aim of good living for all, as well as opposition to the whims of sumptuary consumerism of metals and metal products.

Finally, calling for "greater unity between all those resisting the devastation caused by large scale mining," the declaration expresses hope that this will be a step toward "bringing these experiences together … contributing to other actions at a continental level." The next Andean Forum is anticipated to take place in Quito, Ecuador in 2009.

The Bogotá  Declaration: Community, Indigenous and Worker Alternatives

Participants in the forum created the following declaration:

The Bogotá Declaration

Following a broad debate, peoples and indigenous communities from the Andean and Amazonian region, mining workers, small and medium miners in Colombia, together with social movements and fraternal organizations from Guatemala and the United States, who have coexisted ancestrally with mountains and clear waters according to ways of life founded on a good life for all that is both complementary and values reciprocity and who are today affected by mining and brought together by the Andean Forum in response Large Scale Mining, declare:

Considering that:

1. Peoples and communities of the Andean region are suffering the consequences of large scale mining operations by multinational companies that have caused extensive impacts on the environment, threatening to exhaust and contaminate our water supplies, and that destroys the soil, contaminates the air, degrades biodiversity and displaces communities, also jeopardizing our sovereignty and food security.

2. Many governments have granted natural goods, such as minerals, to the voracious appetite of these companies without demanding adequate conditions concerning the environment, labor standards and taxes, nor with regard to human rights whether economic, social or cultural; and that mining does not represent significant state revenue.

3. Throughout the region and the continent, affected communities and indigenous peoples have widely denounced the fatal consequences that mining has on life, Mother Earth and human survival.

4. Labor conditions within transnational mining operations are precarious and violate the right to health and the right to association for their workers, leading to degenerative illnesses.

5. Small and medium scale mining is persecuted and banned by several governments with the aim that foreign investors take control over their production; not recognizing, as in the case of Colombia, their contribution to local development which generates employment for two million families and causes fewer environmental impacts than large scale mining.

6. Protests against these situations have been repressed, criminalizing those who participate and violating the right to freedom of association and to protest.

7. Mining aggression is accompanied by regressive legislative reforms, dismantling of rights, paramilitarism and a range of political violence, as well as assassinations and persecution of thousands of popular leaders that defend the right to life.

8. Mining is a key part in the domination imposed through neoliberal globalization that aims to extend its reach through free trade (including Free Trade Agreements with the US, Canada, and the European Free Trade Association, as well as Association Agreements with the European Union), mega-projects (IIRSA, Plan Puebla Panamá) and bilateral investment agreements, as well as agro-fuels, transgenic crops, the export and extractive industry oriented economic model, leading to the abandonment of possible food sovereignty, sustainable development and self-determination of peoples and their alternatives for Good Living in harmony with Nature.

We resolve:

a) To call for continent wide action such that states, peoples and communities recover control over their territories, natural goods and biodiversity, respecting their various ways of life.

b) To strengthen and consolidate territories, as well as the social and productive strategies of peoples and communities based upon Good Living, autonomous development and economic relationships that are socially equitable, sustainable and respectful of inter-cultural differences, and as alternatives to the neoliberal model based upon economies that are reverting to dependency upon primary industry and mineral production; and that includes the struggle of indigenous peoples to recover and strengthen their cosmovisions and spiritualities.

c) To struggle for the recuperation and nationalization of control over natural goods by local communities, indigenous peoples, workers and citizens, as an alternative to privatization, plunder and de-nationalization.

d) To develop a popular movement across diverse spaces that includes the promotion of alternative public policies with regard to mining pertaining to prior consent, prohibition of the use of groundwater supplies in areas in which there is little rainfall, contamination, labor rights, benefits and others.

e) To build campaigns and actions through broad networks of indigenous movements, labor unions and social organizations uniting those affected by similar companies, including alliances with unions and leading to withdrawal of shareholders from parent companies.

f) To foster exchanges between various struggles through visits, tours, leader caravans, at both the national and international level.

g) Investigation and documentation of emblematic cases to be distributed as means of influencing public opinion and international political actors.

h) To support struggles currently taking place and to emphatically denounce the criminalization of social protest as is occurring in various cases in Colombia (Cerrejón, the Ranchería River dam, Marmato, Támesis, Cauca), Perú (Cerro de Pasco, Doe Run, Majaz, Antamina, Bambas, Yanacocha), Chile (Pascua Lama), Bolivia (Inti Raymi-Newmont, Sinch’I Wayra-Glencore, San Cristóbal-Apex Silver), Argentina (Bajo La Alumbrera), Ecuador (Intag, El Pangui, Cóndor Mountain Range, Northwest Pinchincha), Guatemala (San Miguel Ixtahuacán in San Marcos, Ixcán El Kiché, Polochic, Alta Verapaz, El Estor in Isabal, San Juan Zacatepeques), United States (Western Shoshone).

i) To show solidarity with popular struggles in Colombia including sugar cane cutters and legal workers.

j) To reject the criminalization, court processes and repression that popular struggles against mining throughout the continent are facing.

k) In the case of Ecuador, to call on its government to respect the decision of communities opposed to mining projects and to stop persecuting those who prefer Good Living over Mining.

l) To demand that the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities be binding and prioritized with regard to decisions pertaining to mining investments (in accord with Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and that states adopt effective means for environmental control and to ensure adequate labor standards, community protection and redesign of projects including their possible suspension in cases where the lives of communities, the environment and regional development are at risk. And that states recognize the local votes that have taken place in various communities such as in the Majaz case in Perú and in San Marcos, Guatemala, as well as others.

m) To support the declaration of Colombian organizations in opposition to mining code reforms and proposals for change from small scale mining organizations.

n) To promote broad based alliances toward the use of international mechanisms pertaining to racism, indigenous peoples, the environment, water, human rights and others, presenting documented cases to the Inter American Human Rights Commission and Court, the United Nations and through Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, and others.

o) To defend the autonomous decisions of local communities, whether to stop all mining investments or to prioritize national small and medium scale mineral production, such that sovereignty over development within countries be respected.

p) To promote and develop communication networks involving local alternative and community media to strengthen our voices at a continental level.

q) To develop legal actions toward the recognition of indigenous legal and constitutional rights; the creation of a tribunal to judge transnational corporations; advancement of constitutional changes to reestablish natural goods as common property and to create a legal observatory for indigenous peoples for the fulfillment of international agreements.

r) An awareness and action campaign against consumerism especially regarding sumptuary metals toward reduction of their demand and impacts.

s) To call for participation in the following days of international resistance:

* October 12th: Continent wide mobilization of indigenous peoples

* November 7th: Nationwide popular and labor mobilization in Colombia

* Organization of national referenda to declare water as a fundamental human right, such as is taking place in Colombia

* To promote a continent wide forum concerning indigenous and popular alternatives to large scale mining to strengthen networks and to establish a continent wide day of action

The struggles of Andean peoples against large scale mining projects by which their lives are affected are growing in strength and breadth. The Andean Forum in response to Large Scale Mining: Community, Indigenous and Worker Alternatives is step toward bringing these experiences together that we hope will contribute to other actions at a continental level; along the way, we call for greater unity to bring together all those who are resisting the devastation caused by large scale mining, including peoples who are directly affected, intellectuals and writers denouncing its impacts, lawyers – indigenous or not – who defend the rights of peoples, human rights organizations, unions acting in overall defense of human rights, small scale miners according to the particularities of each country and area, NGOs that respect the autonomy of our organizations for technical support; consumers who are challenging sumptuary consumerism of metals and alternative communication media.

Bogotá, September 27th 2008

Hemispheric Social Alliance

Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indígenas – CAOI

Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia – ONIC

Consejo de Ayllus y Markas del Qollasuyo – CONAMAQ (Bolivia)

Confederación Nacional de Comunidades del Perú Afectados por la Minería – CONACAMI

Confederación de Pueblos de la Nacionalidad Kichwa del Ecuador – ECUARUNARI

Federación Regional Única de Trabajadores Campesinos del Altiplano Sud Bolivia (FRUTCAS)

Coordinadora en Defensa de la Cuenca del Río Desaguadero y Lagos Uru Uru y Poopo-Bolivia – Coridup

Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales – Caso Pascua Lama (Chile)

Red de Veedurías de Colombia – Redver

Movimiento Pachakutik del Ecuador

Convergencia Nacional Wakib Kej (Guatemala)

Western Shoshone People (United States)

Consejo de Pueblos de la Comunidad San Marcos (Guatemala)

Organización Indígena Yanama

Central Unitaria de Trabajadores de Colombia – CUT

Unión Sindical Obrera – USO

Sintracarbón, Cerrejón

Pueblo Shuar Arutam del Ecuador

Asamblea de los Pueblos en Defensa de la Naturaleza – Ecuador

Coordinadora de defensa del nor occidente de Pichincha (Codecono)

Asamblea Nacional Ambiental de Ecuador

Ecuador Solidarity Network – Canada, United States

Comunidades en Resistencia del Consejo de Pueblos del Occidente – Guatemala

Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lomaprieta Rio Sucio Supía Caldas

Organización Indígena Wayuu de Mayabamgloma

Asociación de Mineros del Bajo Cauca

Asociación de Mineros del Nordeste Antioqueño

Corporación por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos del Nordeste Antioqueño

Grupo Cívico de Nanmatu

Asoguayabal – Asociación de Artesanos y Alfareros Barrichara

Sindicato Nacional de la Industria del Carbón – Sintracarbón

Red Colombiana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio – Recalca

Instituto de Investigaciones y Estudios Energéticos de Trabajadores de América Latina y el Caribe – Ieetalc.


Sintramienergética, seccional El Paso


Federación Colombiana de Mineros del Oro, Plata y Platino – Fedoro

Federación Agrominera del Sur de Bolivar, Fedeagromisbol

Corporación Aury Sará

Centro de Estudios del Carbón y la Gran Minería

Federación de Mineros de Santander – Fesamin

Organización Colombiana de Estudiantes – OCE

Federación de Areneros y Balasto del Eje Cafetero

Ecuador Decide

La Chiva – Canada

Comités de las minas El Caño, La Esperanza, San Martín y La Vega de San Martín de Loba

Centro de Estudios del Trabajo – Cedetrabajo

Congresistas del Polo Democràtico Alternativo: Orsinia Polanco, Germán Reyes y

Jorge Enrique Robledo.