Thursday, April 25, 2013

Quesito and arepa de choclo

In the community of Guaduas, El Chocó, Colombia


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Expanding my work about gold mining in El Chocó / Ampliando el trabajo sobre la minería del oro en El Chocó

My work about gold mining is expanding considerably, as I am developing a project with Mary Kelsey, a close friend and an artist I admire a great deal. We are planning to go to El Chocó together this July through September to develop work in photography, drawing, interviews and more. Please watch here for developments, but in the meantime, please check our our website for the project: www.elchocomining.net

Our Kickstarter project is now on line. Please visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1598956774/gold-mining-in-el-choco-colombia to support the effort, and please spread the word!

El trabajo mío sobre la minería del oro se está ampliando mucho, ya que estoy desarrollando un proyecto junto con Mary Kesley, una amiga cercana y una artista cuya obra admiro mucho. Estamos planeando un viaje junt@s de este julio hasta septiembre para elaborar el trabajo en fotografía, dibujo, sacar entevistas, entre otras cosas. Por favor, miren acá para ver los pasos adelante, pero mientras tanto, por favor visiten a nuestra página sobre el proyecto: www.elchocomining.net

El proyecto de Kickstarter ya está en línea. Por favor, visiten a http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1598956774/gold-mining-in-el-choco-colombia para respaldar al nuestro esfuerzo, y por favor, hacer correr la palabra!

Para los/as que no pueden leer el inglés, hay una explicación y traducción de la página de Kickstarter a: http://elchocomining.net/Kickstarter-esp.pdf 

Friday, September 14, 2012

A photograph of mine gets another life/Una foto mía recibe otra vida

 
My first visit to El Chocó was in April and May of 2003, for the first anniversary of the massacre of Bojayá. This young woman could not get into the chapel in Bellavista, Bojayá, the site of the massacre, to attend the memorial Mass; the chapel was too full of people.

Freddy Sánchez Caballero is a painter whose work I admire, and whom I feel privileged to count as a friend. He grew up in El Chocó, and worked in the area for years. Many of his paintings and murals are to be seen there.

Some years after the event, Freddy painted this piece, inspired by my photograph. I feel honored. The painting is now in the house of respected and beloved friends and compañer@s in Quibdó.

(If you click on the image, you'll get a larger view)

Mi primera visita al Chocó fue en abril y mayo del 2003, para el primer aniversario del masacre de Bojayá. Esta mujer joven no pude entrar en la capilla de Bellavista, Bojayá, el lugar del masacre, para asistir a la Misa de memoria; la capilla estaba demasiado llena de gente.

Freddy Sánchez Caballero es un pintor cuyo obra admiro, y a quién siento que es privilegio poder contar con él como amigo. Se crió en El Chocó, y trabajó en la zona por años. Muchos de sus murales y cuadras se ven allá.

Algunos años después del evento, Freddy pinto esta cuadra, inspirado por la fotografía mía. Me siento honrado. La cuadra actualmente se encuentra en la casa de estimad@s y querid@s amig@s y compañer@s en Quibdó.

(Si hace clic sobre la imagen, obtendrá una versión más grande.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Marcha minera masiva en Quibdó, 10 de agosto del 2012


(Por fin, tengo una traducción al español de una de mis entradas sobre el "paro minero" en Quibdó el 1 de agosto. Agradezco mucho a mi querido hermano Ricardo Ávila, que hizo la traducción desde Santiago de Chile. Cambié unos palabras a sus equivalentes acá. Y hice la traducción de la actualización, así que me responsabilizo por los errores en ella. En la entrada, la versión en inglés, se encuentran unas fotos de la marcha.)



Quibdó, 01 de agosto 2012

Una masiva marcha de mineros y sus partidarios había sido llamada a las 8 de la mañana de hoy, 1 de agosto, partiendo de la catedral en el centro de la ciudad. Yo sabía muy bien que nada empezaría a las 8 AM, pero, a pesar de mucho intentarlo, no pude superar mi impulso gringo de llegar a tiempo, así que salí de la casa alrededor de las 07:20, antes de lo necesario para llegar allí a las 8.

Desde la casa donde me estoy quedando, uno camina por una calle sin pavimentar, siempre muy calmada y tranquila, para llegar a la calle principal. Por lo general, a esta hora la calle principal está muy ocupada: busetas, taxis, coches privados, y muchos "rapimotos", motocicletas que sirven como taxis, haciendo un ruido enorme, y mucha gente en las calles y en las tiendas.

Pero esta mañana, la calle estaba tranquila, había unos pocos vehículos, pero no muchos. Las tiendas estaban cerradas, y unas cuantas personas estaban tratando de llegar al centro. No tenía sentido esperar la buseta, como sería lo normal, ¿quién sabe cuándo podría pasar? Así es que me subí a un rapi. Hoy, estaban cobrando 2.000 pesos en lugar del normal 1000, aprovechándose de la situación. (Cerca de $ 1,10 USD en lugar de alrededor de 0,55 dólares). Es increíble cómo se adapta uno a la situación y comienza a resentir los mil pesos adicionales.

Un paro tiene sus ventajas, tengo que admitir que disfruté de la relativa tranquilidad y calma en las calles, durante los 15 a 20 minutos de trayecto hasta el centro.

Cuando llegamos al centro, las calles estaban igualmente tranquilas y las tiendas cerradas. Incluso donde la gente se agolpa, en una de las calles principales, por las ventas de verduras, frutas, queso, pollos, pescados desde carretas y mesas, sólo se veía unas pocas personas. Algunas de las cafeterías y restaurantes estaban abiertos, esperando (me imagino) un buen negocio. Era un poco extraño, preocupante, en realidad. La única vez que, en mi vida, había visto Quibdó así, fue el primero de enero.

Con una diferencia: en la costanera del río, y el Malecón, la gente estaba empezando a juntarse, por cientos. El estado de ánimo de la gente era alegre: comprando bocadillos de los vendedores, poniéndose camisetas que identifican de dónde eran, y conversando. Después de dar una vuelta, tomar algunas fotos y mirar alrededor, me encontré con un amigo. Humberto ha sido un activista de base durante muchos años. Él viene de una familia minera y en el pasado me ha contado mucho acerca de las prácticas tradicionales.

- Humberto, ¿de dónde saldrá la marcha?

- De aquí, de la catedral. No es lo usual.

- Y, ¿a qué hora?

- A las ocho ...

- Pero no hay mucha gente por aquí ...

- No, pero están llegando, ya verás.

Después de que nos separamos, miré la hora – eran casi las 8:15, así es que estaba claro que no se iba a cumplir con la salida a las 8 de la mañana.

Cerca de las 9, llegó un camión con el desayuno para las comunidades. Empezó a descargar, y la gente comenzó a formarse para conseguir su comida. Me di cuenta de que teníamos bastante tiempo, así es que me fui a visitar a unos amigos.

No comprobé la hora, pero en algún momento entre las 10 y las 10:30, comenzó la marcha. Y Humberto estaba en lo cierto - ¡era enorme! Había miles de personas. No tengo ni idea de cuántos, pero se extendía por cuadras, de verdad llenas de gente.

Los manifestantes se organizaban principalmente por sus comunidades. Muchos habían venido de todas partes de El Chocó – de las zonas mineras tradicionales de la parte sur del departamento, pero la mayoría eran de las comunidades del Río Atrato, e incluso algunos de los barrios de Quibdó. Y la mayoría de la gente, la gran mayoría, eran barequeros, gente que trabaja en la minería artesanal ya sea en los pozos abiertos por las retros, o en los ríos y quebradas.

Esto, inevitablemente, vuelve a plantear la cuestión de la relación entre los barequeros y los dueños de las retros. Es evidente que mucha gente se identifica con esos señores. Hasta donde alcanzo a entender, la cuenta va así: cuando buscamos en los ríos, encontramos muy poco, con un gran esfuerzo físico (muchas veces parados con el agua hasta el muslo o la cintura por horas). Cuando estas máquinas abren un nuevo hueco, si nos dejan entrar, mientras las máquinas están funcionando – podemos encontrar más oro con un poco menos de esfuerzo. Y una vez que las máquinas se van, podemos rebuscar en los huecos todo lo que queramos.

Los dueños de las máquinas son astutos - algunos permiten a la gente trabajar en los huecos, incluso cuando aún están allí, y todos, al irse, "invitan" a la gente a buscar en los huecos. Mucha gente ve esto como una oferta de un buen trabajo. Pero tiene algunos problemas - incluyendo las distorsiones sociales de convertir a la gente en mineros a tiempo completo, dejando atrás muchas otras actividades más productivas.

Antes de que comenzara la marcha, entré en conversación con un par de hombres que no conocía. Me preguntaron si yo era periodista, y les expliqué mi forma de trabajar. También dejé salir todos mis sentimientos negativos acerca de las empresas mineras multinacionales, lo cual no perjudicaba la relación. Entonces les pregunté por su trabajo. El único hombre que estaba realmente hablando conmigo me explicó que es un operador de retro (trabajador, no dueño), y estaba muy orgulloso de los beneficios económicos de los huecos para las comunidades:

- En primer lugar, le damos empleo directo a algunas personas.

- ¿Cuántas personas trabajan en un hueco típico, digamos, con dos retros?

- Entre 17 y 20, incluyendo los operadores, manguereros, trabajadores de mantenimiento, personal de apoyo y los cocineros. Son tantos, ya que trabajan por turnos. Y luego está el empleo indirecto. Hasta unas 500 personas pueden trabajar como barequeros en una mina. Tienen que ver la manera de arreglárselas, quién se pone a trabajar en cada lugar, pero ese es su problema.

Así que para este hombre, las máquinas crean muchos puestos de trabajo indirectos. Creo que su 500 es una exageración. En las minas que he visto, había más bien unas 100 a 200 personas trabajando, pero la idea es que son una fuente de empleo para mucha gente. No creo que la interpretación sea ridícula o loca. Pero yo creo que está equivocada, por un par de razones:

En primer lugar, sugiere que las personas que trabajan de esta manera en los huecos de otro modo no tendrían ocupación productiva. Eso es un error para muchas de las personas, que-como señalé ayer, a menudo abandonan vidas que son al menos tan ricas, para dedicarse al bareque en los huecos. De hecho, ha habido ejemplos de pueblos enteros que se trasladan a los huecos, dejando atrás los cultivos, la escuela (ya que se llevan a los niños), la estación de la salud y la capilla si es que existen, y más; a veces para esperar los días en que los dueños digan que pueden entrar a los pozos a trabajar. Viven en aldeas transitorias al borde de los huecos, a menudo sin hacer nada.

Le pregunté a la gente en un pueblo cómo comen cuando no pueden entrar a la mina. "¡Oh, los dueños de las máquinas tienen una tienda aquí y nos venden comida a crédito." A veces, las personas sólo logran encontrar el oro suficiente para pagar sus deudas.

En segundo lugar, a pesar de sus esperanzas, la gente no encuentran mucho oro, especialmente en los huecos abandonados (después de todo, las máquinas se van por alguna razón). Hace unos años, me hice amigo de una pareja de cuñados que compraban oro de los barequeros en una ciudad junto al río Andágueda. Eran considerados, por los mineros,  como más honestos que los otros compradores en el pueblo, y más generosos al pagar. (Esto fue durante el comienzo de la subida de los precios del oro, y empecé a comprender parte de su actitud amistosa se debía a que querían que yo fuera su agente en los EE.UU. ...). Un día le pregunté a uno de ellos, si las personas que trabajan en los huecos podrían salir de la pobreza buscando oro. "Jamás en sus vidas", dijo. "Nosotros estamos ganando mucho, pero ellos no pueden encontrar suficiente oro para eso."

Sin embargo, muchas personas se identifican con los "pequeños mineros", o sienten que su futuro está con ellos. Y como un amigo activista me señaló – “no importa que se les haya pagado a la gente para venir a la marcha desde las comunidades, o que hayan sido amenazados, o que sólo les haya parecido algo así. Lo más relevante es que los mineros fueron capaces de movilizar a tanta gente."

Bueno, de vuelta a la marcha. Aunque ha habido una cierta ansiedad sobre lo que podría suceder, la marcha, aunque muy grande, fue bien ordenada, totalmente pacífica. Como a las 13:00, todo el mundo había regresado a la catedral, y la marcha se había dispersado, aunque muchas personas simplemente se quedaron por ahí por el resto del día.

La marcha estuvo muy bien organizada. Las federaciones de mineros proporcionaron alimentos, organizaron las delegaciones, incluso pusieron grandes mantas que cruzaban el camino, diciendo de donde era cada grupo. Hubo algunos aspectos divertidos en esto, por ejemplo, algunas banderas decían "la Salud (implicando las instituciones de salud o trabajadores) apoyan el paro", y "La educación (es decir, las escuelas y maestros) apoyan el paro". Pero era evidente que quienes llevaban estas pancartas no eran trabajadores de la salud o los maestros, sino los trabajadores de las minas o barequeros. La verdad es que la mayoría de las personas que no están directamente relacionados con el tema se mantuvieron a distancia, y en general a puertas cerradas, por lo que resultó ser temores exagerados.


Después de que la marcha terminó, volví a casa para transferir imágenes y comer algo de almuerzo. Cuando nos acercamos a la casa, el rapimotero me preguntó cómo iba el paro. Nos metimos en una conversación acerca de la minería, la que continuó al llegar a casa:

- Yo vengo de gente minera, en Condoto (una zona minera importante en el sur de Chocó). Mi padre era minero. Trabajó y planificó, compró una propiedad, tenía todo preparado, todo se veía muy bien. Entonces, vinieron esos tipos y le tomaron su tierra.

- Sin embargo, "esos tipos" no eran transnacionales, ¿no están haciendo eso todavía?

- No, los hombres con las máquinas. Esos tipos... se van a ver afectados por las transnacionales, pero eso no es excusa para su forma de actuar.

Lo cual muestra, por supuesto, la contradicción en el corazón de la actual solidaridad con estos "pequeños mineros": hay que oponerse a la llegada de las transnacionales, pero es difícil defender a estos tipos, después de todo lo que han hecho.

Más tarde - 2 de agosto:

Por la mañana del jueves, había vuelto la normalidad, hubo un anuncio en la radio, ayer por la tarde, que las federaciones de mineros estarán negociando con el gobierno y el paro se había levantado. Eso es bueno para todos, creo.

Pero sigue habiendo un problema grave, incluso antes de hacer frente a las transnacionales. Está bien que el gobierno y los mineros estén negociando - pero si las comunidades, las federaciones, las organizaciones no están invitadas a la mesa, no hay manera de tratar los temas, como el daño al medio ambiente, la violación de los derechos especiales de las comunidades afro e indígenas en la legislación colombiana, y otros - que genera el sistema actual.

Y al final, me preocupa, aunque todos los mineros, las comunidades, los activistas se puedan unir y formar un frente común, ¿podrán levantar una resistencia eficaz ante el enorme poder y los recursos del Estado colombiano y las empresas transnacionales, y en la era de los Tratados de Libre Comercio?.

Tanto a corto plazo, como hacia el futuro, queda todavía mucho que ver.

ACTUALIZACION:

Después de escribir esta entrada, aprendí unos detalles adicionales sobre el acuerdo entre el gobierno nacional y los mineros que permitió que estos tuviera la confianza que podían levantar el paro. Entre los puntos del acuerdo figuran:

  1. Dentro de quince días se conformará un grupo de trabajo permanente sobre la minería, liderado por la directora de la Agencia Nacional Minera, el cual desarrollará los requisitos y procedimientos para adelantar el proceso de otorgar estatus formal a los mineros pequeños del Chocó. Esto responde a una demanda clave de los mineros, que no les consideren ilegales. Y tratarlos de ilegales ha sido una parte de la estrategia del gobierno para remplazarlos con las transnacionales, así que parece una conexión importante de parte del gobierno.

Lo bueno es que aparentemente unas federaciones de comunidades afectadas tendrán lugar en esta mesa.

La primera reunión de la mesa fue programada por el 15 de agosto, pero el 14 nos dimos cuenta que se había aplazado por ocho días más.

  1. La Agencia Minera creerá una oficinal regional acá para atender las solicitudes de títulos mineros, y por ajustes en el código minero, el gobierno tendrá un canon distinto para zonas mineras en las comunidades indígenas y afros. Es posible que esto sea una respuesta a las muchas denuncias de proyectos mineros que empiecen sin una consulta previa seria con las comunidades, y a veces incluso con documentos falsificados.

  1. Se desarrollará un plan piloto para formalizar las actividades mineras en El Chocó, y el gobierno revisará la legalidad de los títulos mineros que han sido otorgados.

  1. El gobierno agregará un artículo en el Código de Minas que facilitará las actividades de los mineros “pequeños” que se encuentran dentro del proceso de formalización, incluyendo mecanismos de seguridad y protección para garantizar su desarrollo.

Estos acuerdos parecen ser una victoria real para los mineros “pequeños”. Desde luego, los gobiernos colombianos, y particularmente los de los últimos dos presidentes, Uribe y Santos, no se han caracterizado por su preocupación por las necesidades de gente como los mineros pequeños, los negociantes pequeños en general, y la gente de la base. Será importante ver como en realidad implementan sus acuerdos.

Desafortunadamente, sus obligaciones bajo TLC/FTA hará demasiado fácil que estos acuerdos terminen siendo débil in su implementación.
Y será importante ver que tan inclusive sea la conformación del grupo permanente de trabajo, y quién será incluido en la mesa de negociaciones.

Lo que siempre me parece cierto es que el poder de las transnacionales y sus aliados en el gobierno nacional es muy grande. Y que para el Pacífico colombiano, así como para países como Colombia, Perú, Bolivia, Chile, Brasil, El Salvador, Guatemala, y muchos más, y aún más en el África y el Asia, y desde luego incluso en EEUU, nuestros futuros están en “veremos” mientras las industrias extractivas (minera, petrolera, maderera), parecen cada vez ser una amenaza más grande a nuestras culturas, a nuestros arreglos sociales, y a nuestro planeta.



Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mass March of Miners- Quibdó, August 1, 2012


Quibdó, August 5

Photographs of the Miners' March. 

I've finally managed to get some photographs posted--as well as making some changes/addition to the texts. I hope you enjoy them...















Quibdó, August 1, 2012

[No photographs yet—I hope to post some soon. And the Spanish translation will have to wait a while.]

A mass march of miners and supporters had been called for 8 AM today, August 1, starting at the cathedral in the center of the city. I knew very well that nothing would start anywhere close to 8 AM, but try as I might I could not overcome my gringo impulse to be on time, so I left the house at about 7:20—earlier than necessary to get there at 8.

From the house where I’m staying you walk down an unpaved street, which is always quite calm and tranquil, to get to the main street. Usually at this hour the main street is very busy—buses, taxis, a few private cars, and many rapimotos—motorcycles serving as taxis—making a huge racket, and many people on the streets and in the shops.

But this morning, the street was quiet—there were a few vehicles, but not many. The shops were closed and shuttered a few people were trying to get to the center. No sense waiting for the bus, which I usually take; who knows when it might come? So I climbed onto a rapi. Today, they were charging 2,000 pesos instead of the usual 1,000, taking advantage of the situation. About $1.10 USD instead of about $.55. It’s amazing how you adapt to your situation and start resenting those extra thousand pesos.

A paro has its advantages; I have to admit enjoying the calm and relative quiet in the streets as we made the 15- or 20-minute ride to the center.

When we got downtown, the streets were similarly quiet and the shops shuttered. Even among the people who crowd one of the main drags, selling vegetables, fruits, cheese, chickens, fish from carts and tables, only a few were to be seen. Some of the cafeterias and restaurants were open, expecting (I imagine) a lot of business. It was a little creepy, actually. The only time I had ever seen Quibdó like this was on January 1.

With this difference: on the street that runs along the river, and the malecón, people were beginning to gather, by the hundreds. The mood was light—people were buying snacks from vendors, putting on t-shirts that identified where they were from, and chatting. After wandering around for a while, taking some pictures and just looking around, I ran into a friend. Humberto has been a grass-roots activist for many years. He comes from a mining family and in the past has taught me a great deal about traditional practices.

—Humberto, where is the march going to leave from?

—Here, the cathedral. It’s unusual.

—And when will it leave?

—At eight…

—But there aren’t that many people here…

–No, but they’re arriving, you’ll see.

After we separated, I checked the time—it was nearly 8:15, so we were clearly not going to make the 8 AM step-off time.

At about 9, a truck arrived with breakfast for the communities. It was unloaded, and the communities started lining up to get their food. I realized that we had a lot of time to go, and went to visit some friends.

I didn’t check the time, but sometime between 10 and 10:30, the march started off. And Humberto was right—it was huge! There were many thousands of people. I have no idea how many, but it went on for blocks, which were truly filled with people.

The marchers were organized primarily by their communities. many had come from all over El Chocó—from the traditional mining areas of the southern part of the department—but the majority were from the communities of the Río Atrato, and even some of the neighborhoods of Quibdó. And the majority of the people, the vast majority, were barequeros, people who work in artisanal mining either in the pits opened by the retros, or in the rivers and quebradas.

This inevitably raises again the issue of the relationship between the barequeros and the owners of the retros. It’s clear that many people identify with those señores. From what I can make it, it all goes something like this: when we mined in the rivers, we would find very little, and it would require great physical effort (often standing in thigh- or waist-high water for hours). When these machines open a new pit—if they let us in while the machinery is still operating—we are able to find more gold with somewhat less effort. And once the machines leave, we can mine in the pits as much as we want.

The owner of the machines are smart—some of them allow people to work in the pits even while they are still there, and all of them “invite” people to mine in the pits when they leave. Many people see this as offering an opportunity for good work. But it has some problems—including the social distortions of turning people into full-time miners, leaving behind many more productive activities.

Before the march started, I got into a conversation with a couple of men I didn’t know. They asked if I was a reporter, and I explained how I work. I also let out all my negative feelings about multi-national mining companies, which didn’t hurt the relationship. Then I asked them about their work. The one man who was really talking to me explained that he is a retro operator (worker, not owner). He was very proud of the economic benefits of the pits for the communities:

—First, we give direct employment to some people.

—How many people work—say in a typical pit that has two retros?

—Between 17 and 20—including operators, hosemen, maintenance workers, support people and cooks. It’s that many because they work in shifts. But then there is the indirect employment. As many as 500 people may work as barequeros in a mine. They have to figure out how to do, who gets to work in each spot, but that’s their problem.

So for this man, the machines create lots of indirect jobs. I think his 500 is an exaggeration—the mines I’ve seen had more like 100 to 200 people working, but the idea is that they are a source of employment for a lot of people. I don’t think that interpretation is ridiculous or loony. But I do think it’s mistaken, for a couple of reasons:

First, it suggests that the people who work in this way in the pits would otherwise have no productive occupation. That’s wrong for many of the people, who—as I pointed out yesterday—often abandon lives that are at least as rich to devote themselves to the bareque in the pits. Indeed, there have been examples of whole villages who relocate to the pits, leaving behind crops, school (they take the kids), chapel and health station if they exist, and more, often to wait for the days the owners say they can enter the pits to work. They leave in transitory villages at the edge of the pits, often doing nothing.

I asked people in one such village how they eat when they cannot go into the mine. “Oh, the men who own the machines have a store here and they sell us food on credit.” Often, people manage to find only enough gold to pay their debts.

Second, despite the hopes of the people, they don’t necessarily find that much gold, especially in the abandoned pits (after all, the machines leave for a reason). A few years back, I became friendly with a couple of brothers-in-law who bought gold from the barequeros in a town on the Río Andágueda. They were considered by the miners to be more honest than the other buyers in town, and more generous in what they paid. (This was during the run-up of gold prices; I began to understand that part of their friendliness was that they wanted me to serve as their agent in the US…). One day I asked one of them if the people working in the pit were going to be able to get themselves out of poverty by mining. “Never in their lives,” he said. “We are making some good money, but they can’t find enough gold for that.”

Still, many people identify with the "small miners," or feel their future lies with them. And as one activist friend pointed out--it doesn't matter that people were paid to come to the march from the communities, or even if they felt intimidated. What is most relevant is that the miners were able to mobilize so many people."

Well, back to the march. Though there had been some anxiety about what might happen, the march, though very large, was quite disciplined, totally peaceful. By about 1 PM, everyone had arrived back at the cathedral, and the march dispersed—though many people just hung out for the rest of the day.

The march was very well organized. The  miners' federations provided food, organied the delegations, even even had big banners that crossed the road, saying where everyone was from. There were some funny aspects to this: for example, there were a few banners that said "Health (that health institutions or workers) support the paro," and "Education (that is schools and teachers) support the paro." But it was evident that the people holding them weren't health workers or teachers, but mine workers or barequeros. The truth is, most people not directly associated with the issue kept their distance, and in general behind closed doors, because of what turned out to be exaggerated fears.


After the march ended, I went back to the house to transfer images and have some lunch. As we approached the house, the rapimotero asked me how the paro was going. We got into a conversation about mining, which continued once we reached the house:

—I come from mining people, in Condoto (an important mining area in southern El Chocó). My father was a miner. He worked and planned, got some property, got everything prepared, it all looked very good. Then those guys came and took the land from him.

—But “those guys” weren’t transnationals; they’re not doing that yet?

—No, the men with the machines. These guys. They are going to be hurt by the transnationals, but that doesn’t excuse they way they act.

Which of course expressed the contradiction at the heart of the current solidarity with these “small” miners: we have to oppose the coming of the transnationals, but it’s hard to defend these guys after all they’ve done.

Later addition--August 2:

By Thursday morning,  normalcy had returned; there was an announcement on the radio yesterday evening that the miners’ federations will be negotiating with the government and the paro had been lifted. That's good for everyone, I think.

But there remains a serious issue, even before they deal with the transnationals. It's fine that the government and the miners will be negotiating--but if the communities, the federations, the organizations are not invited to the table, there's no way to deal with the issues—environmental damage, violation of the special rights of Afro and Indigenous communities in Colombian law, and more—generated  by the current arrangement, can be addressed.

And in the end, I worry, even if the miners, the communities, the activists can all come together and form a common front, in the face of the enormous power and resources of the Colombian state and the transnational corporations, and in the era of Free Trade Agreements, whether they can put up an effective resistance.

Both in the short run and for the future, there's still a lot to unfold.


UPDATE:

Since writing this post, I have learned some more details about the agreement between the national government and the miners that allowed them to feel confident they could lift the paro. The points included:

1.     Within two weeks, a permanent mining working group will be formed, led by the director of the national Mining Agency, which will develop the requisites and procedures to give formal status to the small miners in El Chocó. This responds to a key demand of the miners, that they not be considered illegal. And treating them as illegal has been a piece of the government’s strategy to replace them with transnationals, so it seems this is an important concession by the government.

One good thing is that some of the federations of the affected communities here seem to have places at this table.

The first meeting of this group was scheduled for August 15, but on August 14 we learned that it had been postponed for a week.

2.     The Mining Agency will create a regional office here to respond to requests for mining titles, and will have a different set of rules for mining areas in indigenous and Afro communities. This may be a response to the numerous denunciations of mining starting without serious previous consultation with the communities, and even with falsified papers.

3.     There will be a pilot plan developed for formalizing the mining activities in El Chocó, and the mining titles that have been granted will be examined for their legality.

4.     The national government will add an article to the Mining Code that will facilitate the activities of the small miners who are within the formalization process, including steps to provide security and protection to guarantee their development.

These agreements feel like a real victory for the “small” miners. Of course, the Colombian governments, and particularly the administrations of the last two presidents, Uribe and Santos, have not been characterized by their concern for the needs of people like the small miners, smaller business in general, and grassroots people. It will be important to see how they actually implement their agreements.

Unfortunately, the obligations under FTA/TLC will make it only too easy for these agreements to end up being a little thin in their implementation.

And it will be important to see how inclusive the membership of the permanent working group is, and who will be included at the negotiating table.

What still feels certain to me is that the power of the transnationals and their allies in the national government is very great. And also that for the Colombian Pacific, as well as for countries like Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, and many more, and even more in Africa and Asia, and of course, even at home in the US, our futures hang in the balance as extractive industries (mining, oil drilling, lumbering) seem every day to be a greater threat to our cultures, to our social arrangements, and to our planet.

                                                                                                                     

Waiting for the "Paro Minero"


Quibdó, El Chocó, Colombia
July 31, 2012

Waiting for the "Paro Minero"

(What follows is an informal note—some things thrown together from notes I have sent to friends, from scribblings in the first stages of an article I am going to write about gold mining in El Chocó, and various thoughts. It seems too long for the blog, though maybe…and for now, it’s in English, so only going to people who can read English (or who I think can read English).

[No photographs yet—I hope to post some soon. And the Spanish translation will have to wait a while.]

Tomorrow, August 1, is a Hemispheric Day of Action against Transnational Mining (though hemispheric sounds a little grand; there will be activities in at least four countries, maybe more). In Canada, it’s directed against the unfortunately very dirty role that Canada has played in this area. ]

Here in Colombia, the issue is the push to bring transnational the mining companies into various area, some of which have been protected from this type of exploitation in the past. For a number of reasons, the issue has been posed as “small-scale” Colombian miners versus transnationals. While there is some truth to this description, and it’s certainly true that the “small-scale” miners will be wiped out if this push succeeds, it’s also true that at least here in Chocó, they have also been responsible for a lot of damage, both environmental and social.

Tomorrow was going to be a one-day work stoppage, with marches and demonstrations in a number of cities—except in El Chocó, where the strike (“paro minero”) was declared for an undefined period of time…and we heard that communities near Quibdó were advised to do food shopping in advance.  This afternoon I heard that there has been some sort of agreement between miners and the national government. They will no longer be referred to or treated as “illegal,” but rather “informal.” Threating them as illegal was a government ploy, part of their program of supporting the arrival of multi-nationals. But, in fact, in El Chocó, much of their behavior has been illegal…But this doesn’t justify bringing in the big mining forms, and all the damage they are going to do.

So just today, the marches and demonstrations planned for tomorrow were suspended—expect in El Chocó, where the miners’ federation has not agreed to the new arrangement.

There are lots of rumors flying around, and a lot of fear. Will this be a huge demonstration? Will there be violence? From what I can see, it doesn’t seem likely, and people I have confidence in think an effort is being made to calm things down among the miners. But since Monday, downtown has been filling up with miners—easy to recognize, actually, they’re mostly Paisas with boots on. We’re expecting a lot of barequeros to come to the march—some because they identify with the miners, some because they’re being paid to come, some perhaps because they are being intimidated—perhaps with not being let back into the mines, or perhaps with violence.

So what’s behind all this?

The big issue here is not so much the TLC or FTA, but extractive industries, especially mining. The big transnational mining companies have their eyes on the Pacific, as well as other places in Colombia, and they are getting government concessions. The communities are divided on this issue, very deeply and painfully. Some people see this as the economic hope they were looking for, but most people see it as a terrible danger to them and the forest. Some of the leaders, including leaders of COCOMACIA, were clearly bought by the companies...

Colombia is a country rich in minerals—gold, platinum, copper, coal, and more, without mentioning the emeralds, which have the colorful distinction of being traded on the street in one important downtown Bogotá corner—like diamonds in New York City. But it’s gold that has the richest history. El Chocó has always been an area of “bareque” (artisanal mining), which here, as it’s panning, is called “washing the mine “lavar mina”). And since the conquest, gold has played an important economic role. Indigenous cultures mined for millennia, but this is another history, also very interesting—and it is the history recounted in the Museo del Oro, where the modern struggles of miners and laborers and communities are not presented. Today, the indigenous communities that are close to productive rivers mine in very much the same way as the Sfro communities, and are in the same mining economy.

For generations, families in the Afro-Colombian communities have “mined” for gold—really, panned for gold in the rivers and quebradas. But this was always oart of a range of activities that made up the family economy. Gold was the main source of money (along with some crops produced for sale, or excess fish) for things that had to be purchased—cloth, tools, rifles, salt, household goods—but the rest was an economy outside the area of exchange of money—planting on the land, fishing, hunting. They lived poor in money, but in many ways they lived well (One friend has pointed out that the terrible problem of unemployment is a new one—as recently as thrity years ago, there were no jobs, but there was little unemployment, because people lived off their land).

Fifteen or twenty years ago the “retors”—big backhoes that were already operating in other areas, including the southern rivers of El Chocó, but not in the Río Atrato basin, began to operate here. They are called “small-scale miners,” though really, “small-scale” is a relative term—compared with what existed before, they’re huge.

In these fifteen years or more, the so-called “small-scale” miners have done a lot of damage with their backhoes—both to the forest and to the social structures and what was once a varied family economy. I’m trying to write about this. But one problem is that the artisanal miners—the barequeros—see them as their partners, despite the damage they have caused. I think I understand this; working in the pits created by the “retros” promises a lot more gold, but in reality the people abandon much of their traditional economic activity and devote themselves to a practice that sinks them deeper into the cash economy without providing very much money for most of them.

But now these “small” operators are threatened by the coming of the transnationals. They see themselves as victims, and they will be. But as one source says, probably the big difference is that the big companies will just destroy the forest faster...In any event, right now people who have been very critical of the miners are now making common cause with them against the big transnationals. This is President Santos’ big plan—extractive industries will be “locomotive” of Colombian economic development. But last year, I heard a knowledgeable activist say in a big meeting that it won’t be a locomotive for El Chocó, but a steamroller...

One of the sources of the militancy here in El Chocó is that in addition to the “small miners” themselves, there are some underground interests that are very important. The two things I’m going to mention are never discussed in any of the meetings, interviews, etc., but are widely discussed by very knowledgeable people here. First, there is a suspicion on the part of some people that gold mining is used to launder coca money. Could be...

The other point is clearly true. In this area, at the very least the FARC guerrillas get paid off—they “tax” or “extort” the miners, depending on your perspective. Some of the people in whom I have a lot of confidence—and whom I’m not going to name, for obvious reasons—tell me that some of the mines are actually owned by the FARC. In any event, it’s clear that they have a lot to lose in the unequal struggle between the transnationals and the “small miners.” Everyone feels it’s obvious that the guerrillas are behind the resistance of the Chocó miners to compromises reached by others.

There will certainly be barequeros in tomorrow’s march. But why are they here? Some undoubtedly because they identify with the “small miners.” Some because they are being paid to come. Sand some because they are afraid that if they don’t come, they will lose the ability to enter the pits in the future. Whether there is real intimidation it’s impossible to say…

Well, we’ll see what happens tomorrow…

Meanwhile, a new flyer has been circulating threatening a new wave of “social cleansing,” which means killing thieves, drug-dealers, and “deviants.” In the leaflet, the anonymous issuers of the threat apologize in advance for the innocents who will be wrongly killed! While nobody likes the level of crime and drugs around here, this is not about freeing the population from crime, but about terrorizing them…

If you want some images of some of the damage done by the “retros,” and “baregueando” in the pts, hyou can check out the four “galleries” at: http://www.pbase.com/stevecagan/goldmines

an afterthought:

I almost forgot something about "paros"-- —they aren’t quite like strokes as we know them. When I got to Quibdó a few weeks ago, indigenous communities were in a paro along the road that leads from Quibdó towards the neighboring department of Antioquia, and there eventually to Medellín.

But a paro on the way didn’t mean that they were boycotting the highway, but that they were stopping traffic on the way—no one could use it. It lasted over a week—not quite long enough to cause shortages in Quibdó, but long enough to piss people off…

Similarly, a serious paro here could mean not just that the miners had stopped working, but that they expect everyone else to stop working as well. It’s likely that they will just have a peaceful march tomorrow and then things will return to normal on Thursday or Friday. Meanwhile commerce will stop in the city center.

but it’s also possible that this could go on for a while, and really disrupt life here—not likely, but possible. Against that possibility, people started buying groceries this afternoon. As I left the center, about 6, the place was just one big traffic jam, as people bought in the many stores in the center. I was carrying a lot, nd anyway the camera I was carrying decided to die on me suddenly, so all I got was a few silent iPhone videos, but it was impressive.

When I got to the neighborhood where I’m staying (Jardín, for those who know Quibdó), I stopped at the local little supermarket, usually quite slow and lazy, now filled with people, though they weren’t exactly emptying the shelves—I bought a little extra bread and beans and eggs and oranges, just in case.

Even at that intersection, there was a terrific traffic jam that required traffic cops to unsnarl. I asked the owner if they are going to open tomorrow, and he said, “We don’t know yet—it depends on the situation tomorrow.”

Hmm..well, we’ll see

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The New Highway / la Nueva Carretera

































In the past, some of you have heard me talk about the terrible state of the road that connects Quibdó, the capital of El Chocó with the rest of the country. Okay, there are two—the other goes more southerly, towards Pereira, with a turnoff to southern El Chocó. The road to Pereira has always—in the short time I’ve been visiting—been in much better condition.

But the road to Medellín is really more important. Medellín is the major city that the people of El Chocó, and certainly of Quibdó, relate to. Although correctly referred to as “the highway,” the people here call it, more accurately, “la trocha”—a path cut through the forest.

There is a lot of local lore about the road. It was constructed in the 1930s, and several communities and landmarks along the road are known by the construction camps that were erected where the communities are today. This I have visited “El 7,” “El 12,” “El 16,” “El 18,” “El 20,” and “El 21”—the last three being active Embera-Katio communities that hug the road. These places have real names, but hardly anyone could tell you what they are. And of course, there are other communities in the “zona de la carretera,”—indigenous communities like Toldas, Consuelo, Sabaleta, and deep into the forest quite a few more. As you approach El Carmen de Atrato, further ea and in the foothills of the Andes, the communities are more “paisa”—people of mixed ancestry (the term relates to the special mestizo culture of the “eje cafetero,” the coffee-growing area of the lower mountains). And as you approach Quibdó, especially once you get to the town of Tutunendo, the communities are much more Afro-Colombian (and wetter—the single rainiest village on the planet is near Tutunendo.

The fact that the main artery connecting Quibdó to the rest of the country has been in such terrible shape is the result of several factors. For one, it has never been paved (although here lies an important story—below). Also, the rains here are so constant, and often so heavy, that landslides onto the road, or cutting away bits of the road, are common.




Further, the main traffic is heavy trucks, that bring in almost everything that is sold in Quibdó (with the exception of local bananas and plátanos, some small-scale agricultural products, and fish, which all come in from the river. And the trucks leave carrying away loads of tropical hardwoods—the rain forest is being stripped away, and not that slowly.












Last year, some equipment was sent by the government to level the road, and it made a huge difference. Before, the trip from Quibdó to El Carmen—some 105 or 110 kilometers (about 65 or 68 miles)—would take, in a good car, eight or nine hours if there were no delays! Last year that was cut in half or more—but this year, the rains and the heavy trucks had done their work, and things are getting pretty bad again (I haven’t gotten as high as El Carmen yet on this trip, so I don’t know how long it will take now).

At times, things get bad enough on the trocha that Quibdó is essentially cut off from ground traffic—I was here once when there were six separate landslides, and for a week or more, no freight vehicles got through.

The truth is, the condition of the main road—no, the road—linking Quibdó, a departmental capital, with Medellín and from there most of the country is shameful, as well as being a symptom of much of the social and political problems of this country and this region. When I started coming here, seven years ago, there was a big billboard erected in the middle of this route, showing a big picture of the modern high-speed highway that was being built there (I have always regretted that I didn’t get a picture of that billboard). But that was it—no actual work, no paving, no nothin’.




My friends who are locals here explain that on paper that road has been paved several times—each time, the project is approved, the budget is approved and allocated, money is sent for materials and construction, and the money is spent. The only thing missing is the actual paving, which somehow never happens.

But on a recent trip up the trocha, I saw a clear indication that this time seems to be different; there is real work being done between Quibdó and Tutunendo. This is a happy change. Though people expect the project to take a few years, they are hopeful that it will really happen and make a difference in their lives.




But those who fear that in this way something of the culture of El Chocó will be lost needn't worry--except for the main streets, in Quibdó nothing has changed: in the barrios the streets are hardly straightened out, and much less paved.







En el pasado, algun@s de Uds. me han escuchado hablar del estado terrible del camino que une Quibdó, la capital de El Chocó, con el resto del país. Bien, hay dos—el otro va más bien al sur, hacía Pereira, con un desvío para la parte sureña del Chocó. La vía hacía Pereira siempre ha sido—en el tiempo corto que he estado visitando—en condición mucho mejor.

Pero la vía hacía Medellín en realidad es más importante. Medellín es la ciudad importante que más incidencia tiene en las vidas de la gente de El Chocó, y por cierto de Quibdó. Aunque se llama correctamente “la carretera,” la gente de acá la llama, muy acertado, “la trocha.” [¿necesita explicación?]

Hay muchos cuentos locales sobre este camino. Fue construido en los años 30, y varios comunidades e hitos por el largo de la vía son conocidos por los campamentos de construcción que fueron establecidos donde hoy en día se encuentran estas comunidades. Así, he visitado “El 7,” “El 12,” “El 16,” “El 18,” “El 20,” and “El 21”—las últimas tres siendo comunidades activas embera-katio en las orillas o muy cercas a la vía. Estos lugares tienen nombres reales, pero no hay casi nadie en las comunidades que te podrían decir que son. Y por supuesto, hay otras comunidades en “la zona de la carretera” (o simplemente “en la carretera”)—comunidades indígenas como Toldas, Consuelo, Sabaleta, y selva adentro hay muchas más. Al acercarte a El Carmen de Atrato, más al este y en las faldas de los Andes, las comunidades son meas “paisa,”—gente de herencia mixta (el término hace referencia a la cultura mestiza especial del “eje cafetero,” la zona de cultivo de café de las montañas más bajas). Y al acercarte a Quibdó, sobre todo una vez que llegas al pueblo de Tutunendo, las comunidades son más afro-colombianas (y más mojadas—el pueblo que meas lluvia recibe de cualquier pueblo del planeta queda cerca de Tutunendo).

El hecho que la artería principal que une Quibdó al resto del país ha sido en semejante condición terrible es resultado de varios factores. Uno es que jamás ha sido pavimentado (aunque acá yace una historia importante—abajo). Otro son las lluvias, que son tan constantes, y muchas veces tan fuertes, que derrumbes que caen sobre el camino o que se llevan pedazos del camino, son comunes.

Además, el tráfico principal es carros de carga pesados, que traen casi todo que se vende en Quibdó (menos bananos y plátanos locales, unos productos agrícolas en pequeña escala, y pescado, todos de ellos llegan a través del río. Y los carros salen llevando cargas de madera dura tropical—la selva húmeda se está arrasando, y no a paso tan lento.

El año pasado, unas maquinas fueron mandadas por el gobierno a nivelar el camino, y la diferencia fue grande. Antes, el viaje de Quibdó a El Carmen—unos 105 o 110 kilómetros—demoraría, en un carro bueno, entre ¡ocho y nueve horas si no había trabas! El año pasado eso fue reducido por la mitad—pero este año, la lluvias y los carros pesados habían hecho sus labores, y la cosa está volviendo mala otra vez (no he llegado tan alto que El Carmen, pues no sé cuanto de demoraría ahora).

A veces, la situación llega a ser tan mala en la trocha que Quibdó queda esencialmente aislada de tráfico terrestre—una vez estuve acá cuando había seis derrumbes distintos, o por una semana o más, ningún carro de cargo llegó.

La verdad es que el estado de el camino principal—no, el camino—que une Quibdó, una capital departamental, con Medellín, y desde allá la mayor parte del país, es una vergüenza, además de ser síntoma de muchos de los problemas sociales y políticos de este país y esta región. Cuando empecé a venir acá, hace siete años, había una valla grande en medio de este trecho que exponía una imagen grande de la autopista moderna que se construía allá (siempre he lamentado no haber sacado una foto de esa valla). Pero esa era todo—ninguna obra real, ningún pavimento, nada!.

Mis amig@s que son locales acá explican que en los documentos ese camino ha sido pavimentado varias veces—cada vez el proyecto ha sido aprobado, el presupuesto aprobado y sacado, el dinero ha sido despachado para materiales y construcción, y ese dinero ha sido gastado. El único que ha faltado ha sido el pavimentar, que de alguna manera jamás se realiza.

Pero durante un viaje reciente por la trocha, vi una indicación que esta vez parece ser distinta; hay obra real entre Quibdo y Tutunendo. Este es un cambio bueno. Aunque la gente cree que el proyecto va a demorar por unos años, está esperanzada por la posibilidad de que suceda de hecho y produzca mejoras en sus vidas.

Pero los que teman que por eso se va a perder algo de la cultura chocoana no deben preocuparse--salvo por las calles principales, en Quibdó no hay cambio: en los barrios, las calles ni se arreglan, y mucho menos se pavimentan.