Indigenous Controlled Mining Under Fire in Colombia Following Death of Human Rights Defender

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Viviane Weitzner, Forest Peoples Programme, email: vweitzner@gmail.com
Tel: (+57) 316 800 2234

Indigenous Controlled Mining Under Fire in Colombia Following Death of Human Rights Defender

Leading indigenous human rights defender has been killed by unknown gun men

COLOMBIA - At 8pm on Tuesday 7 April, Fernando Salazar Calvo was gunned down brutally outside his home. He was a prominent human rights defender and community member of the Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lomaprieta (Caldas) in Colombia.

A long time member of the Resguardo’s Ancestral Miners’ Association (ASOMICARS), 52-year-old Fernando Salazar was a key spokesperson for implementing the Traditional Authorities’ rules and regulations for ancestral mining taking place within Resguardo Territory.

While the facts are not yet clear on why Salazar was killed, 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 addition, a November 2014 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. In these circumstances, these leaders fear they may be targets for illegal armed groups and individuals with interests in the rich gold resources embedded in Resguardo Territory.

The Cabildo 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), it is disturbing that the Resguardo’s latest concerns about security were dismissed as mere “rumours” in a recent letter from the local prosecutor’s office in Caldas.

The full text of the Cabildo’s declaration following the incident is below.

Indeed, located high in a mountainous area known as Colombia’s Gold Belt, the Resguardo Indígena Cañamomo Lomaprieta has been home to ancestral gold miners since well before the establishment of the Colombian State. Exercising its 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 amount of territory the Resguardo has for its steadily growing population (it has a land base of some 4862 hectares, equivalent to some 37.6 km2, home to 22,823 Embera Chami community members). 

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. The State has also issued a Special Interest Mining Reserve that overlaps with Resguardo Territory, and that could go out for company bidding shortly. 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. The State has also issued a Special Interest Mining Reserve that overlaps with Resguardo Territory, and that could go out for company bidding shortly. As well, it is now regularly reported by the media that illegal armed actors are increasingly turning to mining as a means to launder their money and to fuel their activities.

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.

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Forest Peoples Programme supports the rights of peoples who live in forests and depend on them for their livelihoods. We work to create political space for forest peoples to secure their rights, control their lands and decide their own futures.

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