Colombia’s Resistance to Corporate Mining Excess has Lessons for the World

Voluntary guidelines are not enough. We must ensure our critical gaze on exploitative mining firms does not waver.

Source: The Guardian/PovertyMattersBlog

I was recently sent a new film by an old friend, Hollman Morris. Morris was once the bete noire of the Colombian political class. His searing and powerful attacks on the role of the state in violence and displacement prompted the country’s former president, Álvaro Uribe, to describe him as a “publicist for terrorism”. Today, Morris is the boss of Bogota’s regional TV channel, Canal Capital.

His latest film, produced with Minority Rights Group International, is about a community of small-scale gold miners in the Cauca department of Colombiamining company’s attempts to dig on their land. The community has worked the mud and rivers of their territory for decades, even centuries, eking a living from the small finds they make. They have engaged in a successful campaign to defend their way of life, which is as important to them for its culture as its steady (if minimal) income. and their resistance against a

The film, which tells a story I have seen and heard so many times, prompted reflection on how much has actually changed in the world of mining after decades of work by civil society and UN representatives to force mining companies to behave better. For all the talk of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and new ways of doing business, can we be any more confident that large-scale mining activities will benefit the communities they almost always displace?

This is not just a Colombian story – although the link between multinationals and paramilitary violence is a well-known phenomenon that makes the Colombian experience particularly gruelling – but a global one. Colombia aside, I have visited mines as far apart as Peru and the Philippines, and the story of community upheaval is invariably the same.

The promise of progress is bound up with provisos, but the threat to wellbeing is real and brutal, prompting communities to resist.

In Morris’s moving film, one woman compares the community’s treatment by those seeking to exploit their land to the experience of her ancestors arriving in slave ships from Africa. “They don’t believe we have souls or hearts,” she says. In many ways she is right – the job of a mining company, following the inexorable logic of the market and seeking to drive down costs, is to remove obstacles from the picture as quickly as possible.