Last week I shared the following reflection at an earth day service at Westminster College in Missouri. It’s an attempt to bring together the themes of creation care and peacemaking. The last 3 paragraph are a postscript.
The community I’m going to share about today is located in the San Lucas mountains in north central Colombia. They are small scale gold miners who work their own claims in 16 remote communities scattered around the Sur de Bolivar region. They work with picks and shovels to extract enough gold to feed their families and little more.
In early 2006 the Colombian military began a campaign of intensified military operations in the area. The small scale miners see it as an attempt to intimidate them and force them off their land to make way for the transnational mining corporation Anglo Gold Ashanti and its subsidiary Kedahda to begin industrial scale exploitation of the gold deposits in the region.
On September 19, 2006 Alejandro Uribe, a leader in the small scale gold miner’s federation was walking home from a community meeting when he was stopped by the Colombian army. The federation has been an important voice for the communities in organizing to defend their way of life and their right to the land. On that evening in 2006, the army shot Alejandra dead. Two days later soldiers told residents, "He won’t be your only death. There will be more dead leaders."
In response to the killing of Alejandro, 1300 gold miners from the region converged on Santa Rosa, the regional center of power. Their demands were that the Colombian government investigate Uribe’s murder, stop army abuses, and ensure their land rights. They occupied the central square of the city for 45 days until they reached an agreement with the government. Christian Peacemaker Teams accompanied them at various points through this vigil and in their return home to their communities at the conclusion of negotiations.
Today, the Colombian government has yet to meet the terms of its agreement with the communities. The army continues to target civilian leaders. CPT’s offers both political and physical accompaniment to the Federation and the communities as they request it. While I was in Colombia this winter I accompanied some of the leaders of the federation as they traveled through the region.
Communities like those in the Sur de Bolivar and Ontario are on the cutting edge of work for environmental justice. We as Christians and activists have an opportunity to stand beside them as they resist the encroachment of trans-nationals onto their land.
Two week ago, on April 10th, a paramilitary group issued a new letter specifically threatening the Miner’s federation along with local priests and other human rights and development workers in the region. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:
We wish to warn you that as of this moment you are military targets of our organization and that your names are on the national government’s list of undesirables who must be eliminated… For that reason, for every delinquent act that you organize in these towns [in Southern Bolívar] you will be exterminated one by one… [sic] …tell your relatives that they must start to dig your grave
For me, this threat is directed at people that I have traveled with through broken mountain roads, shared meals with and laughed with. They are not abstract or far away. Please consider taking part in the urgent action on the CPT website.