Colombia: Embera Indigenous Communities Defend Their Life from the Mining Project

Colombia: Embera Indigenous Communities Defend Their Life from the Mining Project

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By Guadalupe Rodríguez

The indigenous peoples of Colombia see their survival seriously threatened. Peasants, indigenous people, and the Afro-descendant population are killed, threatened, tortured, intimidated or displaced when defending their existence and their territories against the looting of natural resources.

Reports of cases of violations of fundamental rights related to mining projects do not cease. An increasingly visible reality, to which we cannot turn our backs. Peasants, indigenous people, and the Afro-descendant population are killed, threatened, tortured, intimidated or displaced when defending their existence and their territories against the looting of natural resources. The Mandé Norte / Murindó mining project of the North American mining company Muriel Mining Corporation constitutes a paradigmatic case because it is located in one of the most conflictive countries in Latin America in terms of human rights, Colombia, within an indigenous territory and in the middle of one of the last rainforests on the planet.

In the early morning hours of January 30, 2010, the Alto Guayabal community in the Uradá Jiguamiandó Reservation was bombed by the Colombian army, injuring several members of the same family and days later a newborn baby who was injured in the events. (1) . Everything indicates that behind these events there is a veiled intention to displace the indigenous people from their territory to make way for mining. The situation of uncertainty caused by the presence of the mining company and the military led to the suicide of eight women. Other women speak of taking their own lives in fear that the sacred, which has already been repeatedly desecrated, will be totally destroyed.

The Embera live in the Chocó

El Chocó, a forested region, which stretches along the Pacific, from southern Panama, throughout Colombia and to Ecuador, is not only home to some 30 indigenous peoples, but also one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. world. The Embera live there, in harmony with nature.

The difficult survival for indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants in Colombia

The indigenous peoples of Colombia see their survival seriously threatened. This was taken up by the Colombian Constitutional Court itself (2), which very recently declared the Embera people in serious danger of displacement and disintegration and in emergency along with 34 other indigenous peoples of Colombia, due to the internal armed conflict. Megaprojects in indigenous territories, in places like their sacred sites, often involve militarization and paramilitarization in order to control the areas. It is no coincidence that this conflict and the recent bombing occur in the midst of a great confusion that aims to cover the complicity of the Colombian state with business interests at all costs, even that of the local population that has suffered its consequences for decades. In the middle, the occasions in which the local inhabitants are accused of being guerrillas are not isolated, with the sole purpose of criminalizing them and eliminating those who defend their rights in the face of megaprojects. What the Colombian government presents as its "development proposal" actually favors the powerful local business community and many multinationals, seriously undermining the autonomy of the population.

In this context, the pressure on indigenous territories increases: they are increasingly invaded, militarized, mobilization is limited, ecosystems are destroyed. At this time, the Embera Katío community of the Uradá-Jiguamiandó reservation is at high risk of displacement.

Cerro Careperro and the mining concession

According to indigenous organizations in Colombia, 65 percent of the mining concessions in force in Colombia are on ancestral lands of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities (3).

The Jaicatuma hill ("Edge of the spirits" in the Embera language) also known as Dog Face or Careperro, is located in the jungles of Medio Atrato. The area was decreed as a Forest Reserve by the Colombian government since 1959. The territory called Río Murindó is one of the largest indigenous reservations in Colombia, and legally belongs to several indigenous and Afro-Colombian local communities.

The area was concessioned to the North American company Muriel Mining Corporation MMC, which began exploration work on January 1, 2009 (4). And he did it in the company of a battalion of the National Army, which had to "guarantee" the work of the multinational. This exploration has begun against the will of the inhabitants and caused multiple impacts on the communities and the environment that culminated in the bombings of January 2010. There is no environmental impact study.

Furthermore, it was reported from the outset that the US company MMC entered the indigenous territories with bad faith, using tricks to buy the indigenous leaders with food, liquor and money.

The Peoples' Consultation

The mining company claims to have consulted with the communities about the project, and exhibits an alleged protocol of such prior consultation. However, the indigenous authorities have repeatedly denied the validity of said consultation, alleging that those who signed did so in a personal capacity and under deception by making them sign documents that are not part of a prior consultation. The people consulted do not even live in the affected territory.

Due to the lack of legal consultation about the project, and the outright opposition of the population towards it, the indigenous communities of the area mobilized themselves taking a popular initiative. Indigenous peoples have the right to Prior Consultation (5) before the implementation of projects in their collective territories as well as to plan their development according to their cultural worldviews. Thus, it was decided to carry out an own consultation that was carried out with great success, the final result being a resounding NO to mining in indigenous territory. This Peoples Consultation was the first of its kind to be held in Colombia.

The intention is to contribute to generating greater political pressure and for the consultation to be legally recognized by the State, as it is a project that takes place within collective territories. In this way, the intention was to open a way for the Colombian State and the mining company Muriel Mining Corporation to know and accept the community decision about the mining project in their territories. And in this sense, work continues, since a legal action for protection that was filed for it was rejected by the Supreme Court of Justice, which surprisingly ruled in favor of the North American mining company.

In turn, the mining company does not recognize the popular consultation organized locally in February 2009 and due to the militarization and attacks in the area, it is believed that it intends to continue with its exploration plans in the area. At the moment, and despite the demands of the communities, there is no dialogue aimed at ending the militarization of the area and mining exploration. After being questioned about it, the company has so far denied joint responsibility in the air strikes on the community. However, the affected indigenous communities and indigenous organizations believe that the company's responsibility does exist.

In response to legal actions taken by the community and support organizations, the mining company has attempted to discredit human rights organizations that intercede for the population, such as the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace and the international organization Peace Brigades International (Brigades Peace Internationals) (6).

What is the potential of the project and who covets it

Ingeominas investigated the mining potential of the area in 1975, within the framework of a project financed by the UN, finding a high content of copper (the largest deposit in the country), molybdenum and locally gold. This investigation was completed in the 1990s. The deposits are found on the eastern flanks of a small group of mountains, north of Murindó and 165 km northwest of Medellín. The Muriel Mining Corporation took over the mining concession in 2001. However, the populations did not know until 2005 about the interest of the companies to exploit the minerals in the Cerro Cara de Perro area.

The headquarters of the Muriel Mining Corporation company is in Denver, Colorado (USA), and it also has a representation in Medellín and Bogotá. The Juilland family that owns the Muriel owns several other mining companies in different countries. Among them, Goldplata Ressources, which controls Goldplata Colombia, which has three mining projects in Colombia: Titiribí, Acandí and Murindó (7). Since 2005, Muriel Mining Corporation has been in a joint venture (30% -70%) with the multinational mining company Rio Tinto (8), one of the largest mining companies in the world.

The name of the project is Mandé Norte. The initial part of the project is in the Chocó department, and the second part will also be in Antioquia.

After the bombing by the Colombian army and La Muriel's denial of his relationship with these events, the names of other mining companies such as Ashanti Gold or Glencore have come to light, but there is still no evidence in this regard for indigenous organizations of the interests of these companies in the area.

Why resistance

The Embera community was already forced to leave the territory in 2000, after being bombed and terrorized in a similar way. At that time, no complaints were made and the circumstances of the displacement remained unclear. Five people from the indigenous community disappeared and have not been heard from again. In August 2008, the indigenous people of Alto Guayabal decided to return to reestablish themselves in the community. Between December 2008 and January 2009, the Colombian army and the mining company Muriel Mining Corporation entered the territory at the same time, establishing camps for workers and a heliport on Cerro Sagrado, for which they razed an important part of the jungle. The destruction of the forest in which they live has serious consequences for any indigenous community in terms of subsistence.

And not only is there this antecedent, but the territory still remembers what happened in Alto Andagueda very few years ago, where the exploitation of a gold mine caused the death of some 400 Emberas and massive displacements that disintegrated the culture and the organization of this community. The Emberas who were forced to leave the Alto Andagueda and neighboring communities, and are currently touring the cities asking for alms (9).

The government's priorities for the development of the country, according to the directions followed by the globalizing policy, do not usually coincide with the development vision of the indigenous people. The mining projects are located at various sacred sites of the Embera. These sites represent their spirituality. It is difficult to understand, but they form a central part of their existence, their life, their culture, their medicine. We have already mentioned above the importance of the Chocó region in biological terms. It is not by chance that many of these sacred sites are in water sources, a mandatory protection to guarantee life in them.

Knowing their rights, more than 600 Emberas occupied the heliport and the camp that the foreign company established in a sacred site for three months (10). “Under no circumstances are we going to allow the looting of our ancestral territory. We hold the National Government, the Multinational Companies and their Governments responsible for the cultural and environmental effects and the loss of human lives of the Embera People in defense of our cultural and territorial rights ”, is the position of the indigenous organizations regarding the project miner.

Impacts that the mining project has already had on the territory and local communities

In addition to the aforementioned bombing that crowns the succession of attacks against the indigenous people, and despite the fact that the mining project is in its initial exploration phase, there are many damages that have in fact already been caused to the population. All of them continue to go unpunished and occur with the complicity of national and local authorities. There have been multiple violations of Human Rights and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and thus domestic and international law. Some of them: ignorance of the territorial rights of indigenous communities, which puts the territory and the survival of the communities as such at high risk. In this sense, the death of five babies took place and individual lives have been repeatedly put at risk. Additionally, the situation of uncertainty has led to the suicide of eight women. Other women have committed suicide attempts or speak of taking their own lives in fear that the sacred, which has already been repeatedly desecrated, will be totally destroyed. Forced displacement would be the logical consequence of a mining project of these characteristics.

The authentic panic that has been generated in the population by military operations cannot be omitted from mentioning here. The area is militarized in support of mining business interests, with illegal raids and the use of hoods to hide the identity of its units. The use of artifacts on the ground has been denounced that prevent mobilization within the territory, and that threaten to generate new irreparable damage to life and personal integrity. The intimidation of the communities with inhumane methods is continuous. Different abuses of authority have also been reported.

Despite the repeated requests from the residents, neither the businessmen nor the national government, responsible for what is happening, have so far been present in the place in order to dialogue.

What the international community can do

The international community can do much in cases such as the threat to the integrity of indigenous peoples. In the particular case of the Embera people, there are different possibilities of action:

A very general line is to reject the official Colombian policy of handing over natural resources in indigenous territories and local communities to multinationals, and the militarization that this implies. This is the task of our governments, which nevertheless prioritize trade agreements (11) over human rights issues. That is why it is the task of civil society to monitor and make demands on our governments regarding relations with Colombia.

In this particular case, the members of the Colombian public forces who are present in the area should be urged to refrain from violating the rights of the indigenous people who are in legitimate resistance and defense of their territories. Both organizations and individuals may direct their communications to the authorities and the Colombian army, speaking openly against the violation of the rights of the Embera indigenous peoples, expressing their rejection of the bombing and demanding a total clarification of the facts, full reparation of damage (12).

In a more particular way, it is possible to directly support and accompany the resistance that the Embera community has been exercising in defense of its territory. For this, it is possible to request that the Colombian State recognize the results of the Peoples' Consultation carried out between February 24 and 28, 2009 by the communities about the mining project. Public entities for the control and defense of human rights (Procuraduría General, Defensoría del Pueblo, Personerías and Human Rights Organizations) can also be urged to guarantee the security and respect for the human rights of the affected communities and to order the immediate cessation of business activity.

The international support campaign is under construction. The community needs and desires the accompaniment of politicians, journalists, groups, organizations, individuals, who are capable and willing to collaborate to disseminate, defend and advise the case on human and environmental rights.

After a verification mission carried out on February 5 and 6 in which the Ombudsman, UNHCR, OIA, ONIC, JYP and Salva la Selva have participated, it was determined that the greatest urgencies at this time are to make effective for the Embera community : a declaration of high risk of displacement and humanitarian crisis, the creation of a permanent joint commission made up of indigenous organizations and support organizations that have an interest in supporting, composition of a comprehensive humanitarian report on the situation, dissemination of the community's situation Embera Katío at the international level with special attention to women and constant monitoring of the community.

The European Union and the extraction of raw materials

The European Union is developing a new Non-energy Raw Materials Strategy. This policy, which at the moment is in the form of "strategic lines", will gradually be converted into legislative proposals and laws. At this time, it is vital to convey to parliamentarians and the general public the consequences that European policies regarding the supply of raw materials and natural resources are having on the world.

In principle, it may appear that the European Union's ties to the mining project are not so direct. But according to the European Commission, the demand for metals for the production of consumer products and for high technology is on the rise. European companies are highly dependent on imports of many raw materials (including metals and minerals). To protect the interests of the industry within its borders, the European Union elaborates this strategy: to guarantee its competitiveness and "ensure access to resources" in all trade agreements and to consider this aspect in the future in development policies (13 ). Publicly, the strategy was presented in Europe as something positive and adorned with terms such as “sustainable mining” and “development aid”, but in practice it is an aggressive commercial strategy in terms of competition with emerging economies such as China. and India (14).

In addition, mining is by definition an unsustainable activity based on the extraction of non-renewable resources, which requires huge amounts of water, and causes highly polluting waste among many other ecological impacts (15). There is talk of cutting-edge technology and new more environmentally friendly mining extraction methods. But with the crisis and the public money destined to the uncontrolled rescue of the bankrupt banks, there is not much left to invest neither in environmental protection nor in the development of countries of the South. Thus, initiatives to present mining as sustainable are widely viewed as "green makeup." Here we only have to ask ourselves, will the European Union be so consuming and greedy that we do not hesitate to turn a "blind eye" to the human rights violations, the extermination of indigenous peoples and the environmental destruction that is systematically committed in the countries of the South to supply the industrialized countries with the raw materials we need daily? In view of the imminent signing of the EU Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, everything seems to point to yes.

Let us continue working to reverse these irrational policies and so that communities like the Embera Katío are not threatened, do not live in terror, and are not displaced.

Guadalupe Rodriguez - Save the Jungle - March 2010 -

Prepared based on information provided by the affected communities, the Interchurch Commission for Justice and Peace, the Indigenous Organization of Antioquia OIA, Salva la Selva and other sources mentioned.

A thank you to Mathias Hohmann, Berlin, for his valuable research collaboration.

All photos are from the Indigenous Organization of Antioquia OIA.

Vertical photo: militarization of the area.

Landscape photo: verification of the bombed area.


(1) They warn that bombings in Chocó seek to displace indigenous people, newspaper Territorio Chocoano, in:…)

(2) Order 004 of January 26, 2009, at:

(3) More than half of the mining concessions in Colombia are on indigenous and black lands, EFE, in:

(4) It is only one of four mining projects in Embera territory. The other three are: Quinchia, Risaralda (from the Kedhada company, a subsidiary of the English-South African company Anglo Gold Ashanti); the Marmato-Caramanta project in the departments of Caldas and Antioquia (of the Canadian company Colombia Goldfields); and the Supia-Riosucio project, of the aforementioned Gold Ashanti.

(5) This is reflected in the 1991 Constitution and ILO Convention 169. It is also ratified by Law 21 of 1991, which has the rank of constitutionality, formulating and approving laws such as Law 685 of 2001 (mining code) and Bill No. 334 of 2008, which allows the exploitation of open pit and underground mines. .


(7) Goldplata, Big Plans, John Chadwick, 2008 in:

(8) Chadwick 2006 and 2008 and in its annual report for 2006 Auplata says on page 99/161 "Le 1er février 2005, à Lima, les gisements en cuivre de MURINDO ont fait l'objet de la signature d'un Joint Venture avec the société minière RIO TINTO ZINC Ltd. " which means that Muriel and Rio Tinto Zinc have concluded a contract on the Murindo copper deposit on February 1, 2005

(9) The gold and the blood, Juan Jose? Hoyos, 1994, Planeta, Bogotá (Germa? N Arciniegas Journalism Award)

(10) El Espectador, January 26, 2009, More than 600 indigenous people settle in the hills to prevent mining, in:

(11) European Union approves negotiating FTA with Colombia and Peru (19-2-2010), at: and Colombia and Europe about to sign the FTA (24-2- 2010), at:

(12) A model letter to send to the Colombian authorities can be found at: The letter can be sent from there automatically.

(13) "European Commission proposes new strategy to address EU critical needs for raw materials" in

(14) ATTAC Spain, The European Union: Go for the poor !, Matteo Guainazzi, in:

(15) Mining Impacts, World Movement for Tropical Forests WRM, 2004

Video: Colombia: Indigenous communities forge the future. Global Ideas (June 2022).