PBI-Colombia highlights Embera struggle to defend territory from concessions first secured by Canadian mining company

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: PBI-Colombia accompanies the Justice and Peace Commission in the community of Alto Guayabal from the Uradá-Jiguamiandó Reservation.

On February 9, the Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project published the article: The Embera Defending Their Sacred Territory.

The article begins: “Traveling by horseback through the Bajo Atrato, between the departments of Antioquia and Chocó, is the ‘Careperro’ or Jaika Tuma mountain, revered a sacred site for the Embera Eyabida Indigenous peoples.”

“The Atrato River, which flows through both departments and into the Caribbean Sea, is inhabited by a multitude of Afro-Colombian, mixed-race, and Indigenous communities. Many of these communities are accompanied by the Justice and Peace Commission, an organization accompanied by PBI since 1994.”

“Among these, along the banks of the Jiguamiandó River—a tributary of the Atrato—and close to the Jaika Tuma mountain, are eight communities of Embera people who are organized in the Uradá-Jiguamiandó Indigenous Reservation.”

“Argemiro Bailar [has] received numerous threats and attacks against his life as one of the most emblematic leaders of the Uradá-Jiguamiandó Reservation and a member of the highest governance body of the Indigenous authority—the Major Council.”

Their article then highlights:

“In early 2005, the ‘Mandé Norte’ mining megaproject was established, within which the Governor’s Office of Antioquia granted nine mining exploration and extraction titles to the Canadian multinational Muriel Mining Corporation to mine gold, copper, and molybdenum on 16,000 hectares of land in the departments of Antioquia (municipality of Murindó) and Chocó (municipality of Carmen del Darién). A significant part of the mining concession was on the Embera people’s Indigenous Reservation, including the sacred mountain.”

“The Muriel Mining Corporation’s activities, which began in 2009, generated a fierce opposition from the ancestral communities who organized to defend their sacred territory.”

“[The transnational Minera Copper SAS] —which signed an agreement with Muriel Mining Company in 2015 and was able to transfer the aforementioned titles—is currently trying to coopt some leaders from the region to simulate a prior consultation. There is a risk that this could break down the internal social fabric and lead to a re-initiation of extractive activities on the sacred mountain and surrounding territories.”

The article concludes: “[The communities] protect their land from environmental impacts as they fight for peace, Indigenous sovereignty, and against the ecological crisis.”

The full article can be read at The Embera Defending Their Sacred Territory.

Additional Canadian context

The Embera struggle against the Muriel Mining Corporation in 2005 was preceded by the passage of Colombia’s Mining Code in 2001.

The Inter Press Service (IPS) has reported: “Beginning in 1997, CIDA–the international assistance arm of the Canadian government–partnered with Martinez Cordoba and Associates, a Colombian law firm representing several multinational companies, and CERI, the Canadian Energy Research Institute, an industry think-tank based at the University of Calgary, to rewrite Colombia’s mining code.”

Colombian lawyer Francisco Ramirez Cuellar has commented this constituted a “Canadian manipulation to benefit foreign companies to the detriment of Colombians” and that it “flexibilised environmental regulations, diminished labour guarantees for workers and opened the property of Afro-Colombian and indigenous people to exploitation.”

(In 2013, the Canadian government announced that CIDA would be folded into the Department of Foreign Affairs, later renamed Global Affairs Canada.)

In 2019, according to Natural Resources Canada, 23 Canadian mining companies held assets there totalling $1.38 billion. And the Colombian National Agency of Mining has stated Canadian companies hold 42 mining titles for copper, silver and gold. 

Further reading: Embera reject mining on their lands, say that any investment would be “stained with our blood”.

Still from PBI-Colombia video, May 2012.

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