Colombia - indigenous defender murdered in gold mining frenzy

| 10th April 2015
A typical informal gold-mining operation in Colombia's gold belt. Photo: Josh Rushing via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
A typical informal gold-mining operation in Colombia's gold belt. Photo: Josh Rushing via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
An indigenous leader in Colombia's 'gold belt' has been killed by unknown gunmen as tensions grow between indigenous communities and outside gold mining interests, many of them linked to illegal armed groups and the drug trade.
Despite the ongoing serious security threat the Resguardo's latest concerns about security were dismissed as "rumours" in a recent letter from the local prosecutor's office in Caldas.

At 8pm on Tuesday 7 April, prominent indigenous human rights defender Fernando Salazar Calvo was gunned down brutally outside his home.

A community member of the Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lomaprieta (Caldas) in Colombia, 52-year-old Salazar was a long time member of the Resguardo's Ancestral Miners' Association (ASOMICARS).

He was also a key spokesperson for implementing the Traditional Authorities' rules and regulations for ancestral mining taking place within the Resguardo Territory.

Community leaders believe that the murder was committed by one of the illegal armed groups operating in the area in connection with gold mining.

The Resguardo Territory encompasses rich gold resources which the indigenous communities are trying to secure for their own use, however it is frequently invaded by gold miners seeking to establish claims on their own behalf or for other outside interests.

The position is complicated because the government has illegally granbted numerous gold concessions that overlap the indigenous territory. Criminals connected to the drug trade are also turning to gold mining as a means to launder their money and to diversify their activities.

Death threats dismissed as 'rumours'

Several members of ASOMICARS and the Cabildo, the highest authority of the Resguardo, have received death threats in the past in response to their exercise of their authority within the Resguardo.

In November 2014 a Risk Report, issued by Colombia's Early Warning System (SAT), determined that the Resguardo and surrounding areas are affected by the activities of illegal armed groups.

The Cabildo (Community Council) is calling urgently for a speedy and exhaustive investigation into Fernando Salazar Calvo's murder.

"We don't want a shoddily run, local investigation of the case," says Hector Jaime Vinasco, Coordinator of Mining Issues for the Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lomaprieta, and former Governor of the Resguardo. "We've had too many awful, local investigations. We need pressure for a top-level investigation, now.

"What is under attack are our rights to self-determination and autonomy," says Vinasco, "Our rights to regulate our own ancestral mining, under our own jurisdiction."

This is not the first time that community leaders from the Resguardo have been killed. Previous incidents include the 2003 La Herradura massacre, when the then governor and three other leaders were killed.

These and other incidents have led the Constitutional Court to issue precautionary measures for the communities and their leaders.

Despite these measures and the ongoing serious security threat facing Resguardo members (as confirmed in a risk assessment carried out by the ombudsman's office in 2014), the Resguardo's latest concerns about security were dismissed as "rumours" in a recent letter from the local prosecutor's office in Caldas.

Strict rules for sustainable gold mining

Under the Special Jurisdiction recognised under Colombia's Constitution, the Cabildo of the Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lomaprieta has established a series of rules and regulations for mining within its territory.

These include implementing environmental and labour management plans, prohibiting the use of harmful substances such as mercury and cyanide, and prohibiting foreign miners and investors.

The Cabildo has declared the Resguardo a no-go zone for large-scale mining, and has also developed its own community protocols around consultation and consent. These measures are particularly important in light of the small size of territory the Resguardo has for its steadily growing population: some 23,000- people reside within the 37.6 area.

"While the Cabildo has managed to stave off incursions by outside miners with interest in its territories, the entire Resguardo is criss-crossed with concessions issued without the Cabildo's consultation or consent", reads a statement issued by the Cabildo.

"The State has also issued a Special Interest Mining Reserve that overlaps with Resguardo Territory, and that could go out for company bidding shortly.

"The Cabildo calls for a national-level investigation of the murder of human rights defender Fernando Salazar Calvo, and the punishment of both the perpetrators of and co-conspirators involved in this heinous crime."



Source: Forest Peoples Programme.