Friday, May 9, 2014

Colombia - Country of Conflicts

La Guajira residents protest against a proposed rerouting of the Rancheria River.
We know that Colombia has the world's longest-running domestic armed conflict, now closing in on a half-century. But Colombia is also a world leader in environmental and other conflicts, according to several recent reports.

The two phenomena, likely, aren't unrelated.

Houses near the Marmato gold mine in Caldas Department.
Mine neighbors won a lawsuit against
the mine for damage to their homes.
A report issued in March by the awkwardly-named Environmental Justice Organizations, Liabilities and Trade (Ejolt) counted 72 environmental conflicts in Colombia, primarily around hydroelectric dams, petroleum production and agroindustrial projects, second only to the 112 conflicts they counted in India. Colombia had far more conflicts even than much bigger countries such as Brazil, where they counted 58. Tiny Ecuador had 48 conflicts, Argentina had 32, Perú 31 and Chile 30, according to Ejolt's count.

The study, which has to be subjective (what exactly rates being a conflict?) still provides a measure of the accelerating exploitation of natural resources in Colombia and across the region, which inevitably generates conflicts between the projects' often impoverished neighbors and the huge corporations carrying out those projects.
The Marmato gold mine in Caldas Department.

For his part, Prof. Mario Alejandro Pérez of the Universidad del Valle, counted 110 environmental conflicts in Colombia, of which he was able to gather sufficient information about 72. (Perez worked with the Ejolt).

According to Perez, 59% of the conflicts are related to mining and oil production, and slightly more than half involve foreign multinational corporations.

In La Guajira, a desert peninsula, the Cerrejo coal mine has proposed rerouting the Ranchería River to expand the mine. In Caldas Department, owners of the centuries-old Marmato gold mine want to displace a town to expand the mine.

All across the country, many of the generally poor communities near mines and petroleum fields have protested against the health and environmental impacts they suffer, while receiving few benefits.

In recent years, Colombia has opened itself up to resource extraction, including mining and oil drilling, bringing powerful corporations into conflict with poor people and the natural environment. In a nation in which power is very unevenly distributed and poor people feel powerless against sophisticated corporations, it's not surprising that tensions often break out into conflicts, some of them violent.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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