Stones and Precious Metals

Stones and Precious Metals
On Sunday, August 18th, young men and women from the rural communities of the Segovia and Remedios municipalities of in the department of Antioquia took to the streets armed with frustration, courage, adrenaline, and, yes, sticks and stones. They went out to the streets of Segovia to express their frustration at a system that has abandoned them to live in conditions that no human should be asked to endure.

This action is part of a larger national protest. All over Colombia small farmers, miners, the indigenous, truckers, teachers, healthcare workers, coffee and cacao growers and other agricultural sectors have joined together to cry out that they are tired of the conditions they have been asked – by the Colombian government – to endure in order to join the wider world economy. For Colombia to honor trade agreements with other nations such as the United States, Canada or the European Union, it is asking its own citizens to accept that life (in many places already harder than humanly possible) will get harder. Obviously, the Colombian government doesn’t say it like this. In fact, they say that things will improve, and that Colombia will develop. If you take a close look at what is happening and has already happened for a long time, these improvements are meant only for a certain few and seriously threaten the lives of many.

Since the arrival of the Spanish to the American continent, gold has been a source of conflict. Lusting after the shiny metal, greed pushed human decency to extreme levels of brutality, forcing people into slavery to extract this precious metal for the luxury of a few Kings and Queens in the old country. Gold mining in the region of Segovia and Remedios dates back to the early Spanish colonization in the 1500’s. The department of Antioquia was considered to be the most important gold reserve in Colombia. Thousands of tons of gold have been taken from the mountains and rivers of Antioquia.

Even though Segovia has been mined for centuries, earlier this year Canadian mining company, Gran Colombia Gold reported extracting 2.2 tons in 2012 with a projected increased annual production of 14% for 2013. Locals report a dozen dump trucks leaving the city every night, loaded with unprocessed gold ore escorted by armed guards. As in the past people watch as the wealth is shipped away and they are left with nothing. In a region with so much wealth, people still live in abject poverty. The city hospital is but a large health clinic capable of only handling basic care. Late Sunday night, one demonstrator with a gunshot wound to the leg could not be treated but had to be evacuated to Medellin, five hours away. The city’s streets are potholed, tap water is not potable and its schools are run down.

Roads  into the rural communities only reach a certain point, from where most inhabitants then have to walk two or three days to reach their homes in difficult mountainous terrain. In dry conditions these roads are not so bad, but after a few days of rain a 3 hour trip often turns into 15 or 20 hours that can only be made by vehicles that look like they can compete in the Dakar Rally. Imagine what it might be like if you were to become sick and had to evacuate. If you are lucky to live in the community where the road ends, you might be able to catch the truck early next morning to Segovia or Remedios. But if you live in one of the communities beyond the end of the road then you can only hope that neighbors will help you get to the truck and hopefully the road isn’t in too bad a condition so that the constant bumping won’t increase the pain you already feel. And cross your fingers that it will only take 3 hours. In these remote communities there are no public utilities, health centers, schools, or even ways to communicate to the outside.