Gold and Misery in Colombia: The Sad Case of Segovia

Prensa Rural
Translated by FARC-EP

Segovia is a municipality of Colombia, located in the Northeast subregion of Antioquia department. It limits towards the north with the municipalities of Zaragoza and El Bagre, on the east by the department of Bolivar, to the south with the municipality of Remedios, and on the west with the municipalities of Amalfi and Anori.

Segovia was discovered by Captain Francisco Núñez Pedrozo. Before the arrival of settlers, Segovia was populated by Tahamíes and Yamecíes indigenous tribes. In the 1860s, explorers arrived to Segovia and having found gold mines they settled to never leave. From that moment on, many expeditions arrived to Segovia in search of the precious metal. Gold fever would grab the attention of all who came. Until then, Segovia was nothing more than a simple township of the municipality of Remedios. In 1852 Frontino Gold Mines Company settled in Segovia, which brought steam engines, telegraph, mail, Californian mill, and also installed rails in the mines, thus bringing better management of mining.

The case of Segovia reflects a situation that can be extended to all people living in municipalities that concentrate mining activities. With the immense wealth of these territories, people should be very prosperous, with land, housing, work and all public services with good quality for the community to live in dignity. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Poverty, hunger, disease, pollution of water, air and the environmental damage are the only things that thrive in these places.

The Frontino Gold Mines Company dedicated itself to gold extraction without carrying about the community to which their company´s managers looked down upon. The company was declared insolvent in 1976 and began a concordat which lasted until 2011, when it was sold to Zandor Capital S.A. subsidiary of Gran Colombia Gold. From that time until the present, millions of ounces of gold are extracted in joint with other minerals of lesser value totaling millions of dollars on the international market.

In Segovia 4.6 million grams have been extracted, worth 159.748 million dollars. This town was the second most productive municipality, preceded only by El Bagre with about 6 million grams.

In practice, the amount of extracted gold is much more than declared; according to the Comptroller General’s Office, between 2003 and 2011 gold multinationals evaded taxes on 53 million exported grams.

With this tax system that rewards multinationals and facilitates theft, almost nothing reaches the mining municipalities and Segovia is no exception, that’s why public budgets are so low that they´re not enough to meet the needs of the population and much less to make social investments that could favor citizens.

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Contamination

The mercury used in gold extraction, has polluted rivers and nearly all fish and crops in the area. The air in the municipality has extremely high levels of pollution: in 2010 it was 13.6 micrograms of mercury per cubic meter, causing diseases that usually lead to death, especially those of children.

For health care purposes, there is a hospital, but it is closed because the tunnels of the mine led to the breakdown of the structures of the building, residents have to travel to other towns because currently there is no working hospital in the area.

Education

The public school system is very bad: primary education only covers mostly the citizens of the urbanized area; in the villages the situation is different, most children start working at an early age and they are unable to attend school. High school education is accessible only to a small group of children who completed primary school, and those who reach graduation are even less, the amount of people that can go to college are no more than what can be counted with the fingers of a hand.

Public services

The sewage system is under construction, latrines that have always existed pollute the groundwater generating health and hygiene issues. The water reaches the center of the town but towards the neighborhoods its very seldom and there is also the lack of a treatment system to the water. The streets are in disrepair, the only paved road is the main road that leads to the city of Medellin.

In terms of Human Rights,
for several years the people of Segovia have suffered serious violations,
and in most cases,
State complicity has been evident.

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In 1988, landowners and drug traffickers, along with managers of mining companies of Antioquia, decided to annihilate with blood and fire the rising movement of the Patriotic Union, which had won the elections in Segovia and several regions. As a result of this macabre alliance on the 11th of November of that same year, a paramilitary group led by Fidel Castaño massacred 43 people in this municipality. The assassins had passed through military and police checkpoints, but no one prevented them from committing this genocide. On December 2015, 27 years later, the Presidential Adviser for Human Rights, Guillermo Rivera acknowledged the responsibility on behalf of the Colombian State in the mass murder and apologized to the victims.

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Unfortunately, the situation has not improved. There is still a real situation of constant violations of Human Rights of the inhabitants. The authorities remain complicit in the abuses and violations. The level of impunity is so high that the paramilitaries are legalized as monitoring bodies for the local mining companies. There are about 200 people equipped with motorcycles, guns and weapons, which are 24 hours located at the center park identifying and arresting any stranger passing by.

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Labor conditions in mines have always been very tough, and there is always the constant exposure to harmful products to the human health used in gold mining process. Many of the mineworkers who founded Labor Unions to demand better working conditions were dismissed from work, other imprisoned and others killed. There have been innumerable worker struggles to demand better working conditions. Today this fighting spirit is still alive, and in November 2015 the workers began a workers’ strike that lasted several days.

It seems very clear that these mining projects, as in the case of Segovia, have not been profitable for the nation, it has not generated or contributed to any development. Rather, it has been part of injustices, Human Rights violations, and the pollution of soil and air.

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