Black Women's Movement in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories Update on Suspended Negotiations
Towards the end of 2013 and throughout 2014, Black and Indigenous communities in the State of Cauca, attempted to remove hundreds of illegal excavators from their territories. These excavators invaded ancestral territories with the illegal compliance of military checkpoints, without the corresponding checks from fuel distributors, and without any environmental control for the massive quantities of Cyanide and Mercury used to process the stolen gold deposits.
The situation is so grave that the National Ombudsman’s office and the Governor of Cauca have declared a state of environmental emergency. Nonetheless, this declaration has not translated to integral responses to the crisis from the National Government. Instead, it has led to increased threats and displacements for communities leaders, including their daughters, sons, and parents.
Today, there are over 2,000 excavators destroying the Ovejas, Quinamayo, Palo, Timba and Cauca Rivers. The waters of the rivers are dying. We can no longer eat from the river. We can no longer bathe in its waters, wash our clothes, much less cook. We can already see the health effects on the skin of those who continue to bathe in it, and on the reproductive capacity of the women who once used to make their livelihoods from the ancestral gold mining.
In this context, we appealed to the Ombudsman’s office, the Governor, the Department of Justice, and human rights organizations, and there has been no response that would lead to a real change in the conditions in which we are obliged to live.
Our demands were the following:
Repeal of the mining titles awarded without Prior Consultation of the communitie
An end to the illegal mining operations
Enforcement of previous agreements
Popayan-Incoder Accords of 2013
Tragedy at San Antonio Mine accords of 2014
Constitutional Court Order 005 of 2009
Integral Protection Plan for Communities and Community Leaders
On November 17th, we embarked on a March from the community of Yolombó, in La Toma, Suarez and arrived in Bogota until December 11th. We walked with fear, but we were met by other women from Cali, Palmira, Tuluá, Buga, Armenia, and Cajamarca. In Bogota, the government officials offered us the best hotels and conditions, but they do not extend the same will in our territories. We had an audience with the Constitutional Court, and later declared ourselves to be in Permanent Assembly in response to the lack of valid answers from the National Government.
We recognize that this is the face of racism. Why hasn’t the Constitutional Court held the National Government in contempt in light of government refusal to adhere to court rulings? Why hasn’t the Ministry of Interior and other institutions denounced, much less started investigations of, the public officials who should be working to guarantee the agreements and court rulings?
Following four months of government officials showing up to meetings unprepared and without integral responses, the only thing that has changed is the level of danger; the scale of destruction of the possibilities of life in our territories; and the ensuing displacement. The government’s response is to attempt to impose protection measures without listening to our concerns and proposals.
While we occupied the Ministry of Interior, the guarantors reassured us that they would be following the process to ensure that the accords would be implemented. However, the guarantors themselves have not been given notice of meetings, and have had to file freedom of information requests in order to be able to ascertain the government’s action or lack thereof.
As a result, the Black Women’s Movement in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories has suspended negotiations with the National Government. We will seek alliances with national and international organizations to increase political pressure on the government and to assist our struggle to remain and thrive in our territories.
Black Women's Movement Suspends Negotiations with Colombian Government
Black Women’s Movement in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories
Suspended: Negotiations between the Black Women’s Movement and Colombian Government
April 24th, 2015
To the women who defend their territories like they defend their daughters and sons
To those who defend a Dignified, Simple, Unified Life.
We are angry, we feel tired, groped by this Government that does not honor its word. By this National Government that disrespects us and treats us like second-class people, like beggars. We are angry at a National Government that parades the discourse of Peace, and forgets that there is no Peace if it is incapable of defending Life, if it fails to put Life above transnational interests. True Peace would mean that last year’s deaths at the San Antonio mine, and the following ones in Santa Rita, Rosal and Magui Payan, truly matter. But the lives of those of us who live in community don’t matter. It would seem that our lives are a too high a risk, and are highly appraised in stock market; the less we live, the higher the profits for a few here and there. In light of the failures of the National Government to honor its agreements, we, the black women who approached the government with concrete, actionable proposals, have come to realize that the National Government does not want to accomplish our proposals. We know, therefore, that we are only valuable if we are dead.
People from all over the world know that in November of last year Black Women – ancestral miners from Northern Cauca – embarked on a mobilization to share the path leads to the defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories. We mobilized to tell the world that unconstitutional mining and illegal mining is taking our families away, that it is tearing out our roots, stealing the possibilities of continuing to live where our elders planted our placentas.
People from all over the world know that we walked to Bogota, and that we occupied the Ministry of Interior’s Casa de la Giralda. Millions throughout the world know that we were asking why economic interests are above our rights and why there is greater investment and protection of private interests than our lives.
The Government’s failures are systemic, the agreements are simple. Do you remember? First: That the Government cease all illegal and unconstitutional mining in the State of Cauca. To this day, the illegal excavators have not left Cauca. On the contrary, now they have moved on to other river basins, such as the Palo River in Guachené. They have told us that we would have to go to Court if we want to suspend the mining titles awarded without Free, Informed, Prior Consultation. Second: That the government honor past agreements it had failed to resolve such as the Popayan-Incoder Accords of 2013; the Santander de Quilichao Accords of May 7th, 2014; and the agreements of the Black Women’s Mobilization in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories. Key among these accords was the Government’s implementation of the Constitutional Court’s Auto 005 of 2009. Between January 21st and January 23rd, our communities assembled in Santander de Quilichao and created a plan of implementation. However, according to the National Government, there is no State budget for that plan; there are no resources to defend Life, and there is no political will. There is however, a budget and the political will to implement its war against our territories.
The situation with the Integrative Attention Plan is the same. We created proposals by coming together through a lot of hardship. We created proposals that have not been read, and much responded to by the National Government. The Plan includes proposals for the legal study of the sociocultural and socioeconomic damages caused by gold mining. Instead, they send us a clear message that we have to get used to the idea of living with concern of not knowing how to deal with nor how to repair the poisoning of our rivers with cyanide and mercury. The waters we are currently drinking, the waters in which we bathe, cook our meals and wash our clothes. The waters full of mercury and cyanide pumping through our veins.
In regards to the Integral Protection Plan, the response has been the same as before: there is no budget. They have gone so far as to say that we are making up the death threats we have received.
It’s more than 4 months of Government failure to implement the accords; its years and years of delay that the government fails to push forward. We ask ourselves, Why so much resistance to our proposals? Why doesn’t the desire and will that the government talks so much about manifest itself in our territories and in our lives? Our reality is that now we live constantly on edge and in fear for hour daughters and our sons, for our mothers, our fathers, our sisters and our brothers.
We have had 6 meetings with Government officials since signed the last accords. We’ve left our families and other responsibilities behind because we believe in the words that committed of Minister of Interior Fernando Cristo, and the other vice-ministers in the Ministry of Mining, Ministry of the Environment, Defense, and Vice Minister of Interior for Human Rights Carmen Ines Vasquez. Vice-Minister Carmen Ines Vasquez fails to assume her responsibility to uphold our rights as Black Peoples, but is happy to go to the United States to talk in about Colombia’s supposed campaign against racism in the context of the UN’s Decade of Afro-descendants. We ask ourselves “Isn’t the refusal of State institutions to protect us from the systemic violation of our rights as Black Communities racism?
These meetings are usually called and typically delayed from one day to the next. The Government attends without being prepared, without the proper context of the mobilization and its agreement, without integral responses to our proposals. To us, this demonstrates a clear lack of interest, and political will. As such, we have called on the various guarantors to oversee this ongoing process.
The National Government presents its endless foot-dragging as progress, while the situation for our communities gets worse. We declare that progress would be to live the changes that would allow us to regain the life of our territories. That is why we get up, fed up of so many lies. We will only return to the negotiating table when the Minister of Interior, de Vice Ministers of the Environment, Mining, Defense, and Justice – the latter of whom agreed to advance the investigations regarding the violation of our rights, including death threats and forced displacements – give us real answers to the concrete changes in regards to their duties to guarantee our rights, the reason our mobilization.
We are well aware that the government’s disrespectful treatment of our negotiations is also its response to many people throughout the national territory.
It seems that the Country’s plan is a future without Black Communities, without Indigenous Communities, without Peasant Communities, without Grassroots Communities. It seems that the Country’s plan is to use us as a pretext in their business deals, so long as we remain in misery.
That is why it is up to us to create the present that we desire. For that reason we should organize ourselves and mobilize together. Every organization: unions, students, environmental, women, indigenous communities, black communities, peasant communities, teachers, and every person that loves and defends Life. We must construct the possibility of Real Peace. That is only possible by generating the transformations that allow a dignified Life for everyone. Real Peace is possible if we do not allow death to be the price of the rampant, seemingly untouchable mining interests.
TERRITORY IS LIFE AND LIFE IS NOT FOR SALE, LIFE IS TO BE LOVED AND DEFENDED!
Black Women’s Movement in Defense of Life and the Ancestral Territories: email@example.com