The Breach reports on Toronto-based GCM and paramilitaries in Northeast Antioquia, Colombia
The Breach has published Toronto gold miners unfazed by paramilitaries’ brutal reign by Joshua Collins, a journalist based in Colombia who covers migration, social movements and the impact of criminality on human rights.
We share excerpts from this article given the Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project accompanies the Humanitarian Action Corporation for Coexistence and Peace in Northeast Antioquia (CAHUCOPANA) and the Small-Scale Farmer Association of the Cimitarra River Valley (ACVC) in this region.
PBI-Colombia also accompanies the Medellin, Antioquia-based Corporation for Judicial Freedom (CJL) that has as a main focus “the support and defence of displaced communities or those at risk of forced displacement, and populations at risk of dispossession due to the implementation of urban development projects and mining and energy projects.”
Earlier this year, PBI-Colombia explained: “The abundance of natural resources in these lands and the arrival of multinational companies, such as the Canadian Gran Colombia Gold, has provided the illegal armed groups who are present in the region with an extremely lucrative funding source in mining.”
Collins focuses on the Toronto-based mining company GCM (aka Gran Colombia Gold) in Segovia, northeastern Antioqua, which he describes as a “town as belonging to the most powerful criminal armed group in Colombia, the Gaitanista Self Defense Forces of Colombia, or AGC by its initials in Spanish.”
He highlights “The Canadians do very little actual mining, and instead rely on subcontractors to access the gold they bring to market—a risky proposition in a region under the thumb of criminal organizations.”
A key portion of his article notes:
“In 2010, the Toronto company indirectly acquired the mine holdings, licenses, and infrastructure that had belonged to Frontino Gold, a US company that was in bankruptcy.
Gran Colombia quickly ran into labour problems, and its activities sparked land disputes with small independent miners in the region. As the company acquired new mining titles near Segovia, it displaced artisanal miners who had worked in the region for generations, and who organized to resist the company’s efforts.
Independent miners from Segovia, whom Gran Colombia denounced as criminal operations infringing on their titles, were presented with a choice: work for the company, or be evicted, by force if necessary.
Workers who stayed claimed the conditions were dangerous and pay amounted to “slave wages.” Those who pushed for better pay and safety standards were violently removed from mines they had worked in for years. Labour groups protested via strikes and meetings with regional government officials in Medellín, where they denounced Gran Colombia’s actions.
In November 2016, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights solicited state protection for informal miners from Segovia amid a dispute with Gran Colombia, which claims that areas used by informal miners in Segovia belonged to it.
A year prior, informal miners that had been working in that mine were invited to Antioquia’s state congress in Medellín to explain the situation in Segovia and the threat posed by paramilitary groups.
Two days later, a mysterious pamphlet declared the miners that opposed Gran Colombia’s interests “a military target.”
Four of them were found dead within a week, allegedly assassinated.
Over this same period, large numbers of artisanal miners were also displaced from the region by armed groups— though no link between AGC and Gran Colombia interests was ever proven.
Faced with labour disputes, criminal armed groups and a local community in rebellion, Gran Colombia changed its strategy. The company hired Colombian sub-contractors to mine their gold, as a way of dealing with escalating security, legal and social issues.
Using subcontractors gave Gran Colombia a key advantage: plausible deniability. The company could put distance between their operations and the problems that come with working in a region effectively controlled by criminal armed groups.
Gran Colombia has in the past claimed that it has no knowledge of any of the subcontractors in their employ making payments to armed groups. The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Breach.
Multiple miners in Segovia, who requested their names not be published due to fear of retaliation from armed groups, told The Breach that no company, large or small, can operate in Segovia without paying the vacuna or vaccine, the slang term for extortion payments, to the AGC.”
Collins also notes that Gran Colombia has now announced the completion of a merger with Aris Gold, another Canadian company that owns the Marmato mine.
To read the full article by Collins in The Breach, click here.
PBI-Colombia has accompanied CAHUCOPANA since 2013, ACVC since 2007 and CJL since 2000.