The information contained in this article is supported by the following organizations in Colombia : The Association of Victims and Survivors of North-East Antioquia (ASOVISNA); the National Union of Workers in the Mining, Extractive, Petrochemical, Agrofuels and Energy Industries (Sintraminenenergetica); the Observatory of Multinationals in Latin America (OMAL) of the Peace and Dignity Association; the Institute for Popular Training (IPC); Human Conet and the Segovia and Remedios Mining Round Table.
Canadian company Aris Mining attacks Colombian state, communities, and workers
In 2016, Canadian mining company Gran Colombia Gold (now Aris Mining) launched a US$700 million ICSID lawsuit against Colombia. The company complains that small-scale artisanal miners from the municipalities of Segovia and Marmato have invaded its mines, illegally removing minerals and staging strikes affecting its interests. Aris Mining considers that, given these facts, it was not entitled to fair and equitable treatment. According to the company, the state has not effectively repressed these various actors, so that its protection and security have not been fully guaranteed, which is why it is asking for US $700 million.
This situation is paradoxical because the company is being denounced for having benefited directly from the fraudulent expropriation of the former Frontino Gold company, even though its retirees and workers were the legal and legitimate owners; for having committed many human rights violations; for having been an accomplice and collaborator of extreme right-wing paramilitary groups; and for having violated labour rights and engaged in several acts of corruption.
Criminalization of independent miners
In the municipalities of Segovia (Antioquia) and Marmato (Caldas), independent mining is an ancestral practice that conflicts with national and transnational companies. The latter, armed with capital and political and military power, have developed large-scale mining operations, expropriating communities from their source of income and contaminating their territory.
The miners whom the company calls illegal are either associations of small-scale miners (as at the El Cogote mine in Segovia and the Villonza mine in Marmato) or dozens of small-scale, independent, artisanal miners fighting for their survival. The strikes denounced by the company are aimed at defending these communities' right to exist and their ancestral mining rights. These rights are threatened by the presence of the Aris Mining company, which is currently plundering the ancestral rights of the mining communities through various legal mechanisms. The company's arrival in these regions has coincided with heavy militarization and pressure on communities to accept the company's designs. In the municipality of Segovia, this problem has been reinforced by the presence of paramilitary groups who intimidate small-scale miners.
Frontino Gold Mines stolen from workers and retirees
In 1952, U.S.-based International Mining Corporation (IMC) purchased Frontino Gold Mines (Frontino). The purchase included, in addition to infrastructure, mining title RPP140, which recognized perpetual subsoil property rights over 2,871.45 hectares in the municipalities of Segovia and Remedios.
In 1973, IMC had four companies in Colombia. Under pressure from the Colombian government and entrepreneurs, IMC sold three of its companies in Colombia and declared itself unable to meet its obligations to its workers and pensioners in the fourth company, Frontino Gold Mines. So, after selling its other Colombian subsidiaries, IMC applied for a concordat for Frontino and left the country.
Several official documents signed before competent authorities in New York and Colombia (notably in 1977 and 1979) and internal communications show that IMC has ceded its assets to pensioners and workers in compensation for its legal obligations. This information was concealed from pensioners and workers. Instead, the Frontino administration and the public institution responsible for monitoring the concordat (the Superintendence of Companies) insisted on telling workers and retirees that the company could not afford to pay them and, to avoid losing everything, they should collaborate with the administration and renew the concordat. Misled in this way, the pensioners and workers had to agree to extend the concordat several times over a period of 27 years, despite their misgivings.
In the meantime, three factors have completely changed the face of gold mining in Colombia. Firstly, international metal prices reached record highs; secondly, far-right paramilitary groups consolidated political and military control of resource-rich regions; and thirdly, under the auspices of Canadian interests, and in the context of privatizations and adaptation to the neoliberal model of the economy, all Colombian legislation (labor, environmental, mining, tax) was modified to favor the massive exploitation of resources and international capital, as demonstrated by lawyer Francisco Ramírez .
It was in this context that, in 2002, Colombian entrepreneurs and politicians decided to liquidate the Frontino. In response, workers and retirees took legal action and protested to have their ownership of the company recognized. Then, repression against them intensified: "Between 1998 and 2015, 12 union leaders and 34 workers were assassinated, two union leaders disappeared, nine were forced to move and there was one assassination attempt" (Comision de la verdad, 2022, p. 258).
In addition to repression, the company's legitimate and legal owners faced fraudulent actions by officials at various levels and institutions, as well as by the company's liquidator and administrators. For example, in 2006, a civil judge in Medellín recognized that the workers and retirees were the owners of the company. The decision was challenged by the Frontino and ratified by the Supreme Court of Justice, in the Labour Appeal Chamber. Subsequently, under pressure from the Frontino administration, other courts ruled that it was not up to the judge to decide who owned the company.
One of the people who intervened to invalidate the recognition of workers' property rights on the Frontino was Luis Eduardo Otoya Rojas, who was legal advisor to the liquidation and who had given gold mining contracts to recognized paramilitary leaders. The paramilitaries benefited from the Silencio and Providence mines, among the most productive in the region. These contracts have benefited, among others, paramilitaries such as the Gold Czar, who has been convicted of assassinations and massacres against small independent miners. In 2016, Luis Eduardo Otoya Rojas was convicted of financing paramilitarism, but his actions against workers went unpunished.
Most of the crimes committed by paramilitary groups were aimed at preventing independent miners, workers, and retirees from benefiting from the mine's wealth. These actions created the conditions for the Canadian company to acquire the company.
Gran Colombia Gold benefited from the crimes committed by the Frontino
In 2010, after 6 years in liquidation, the Canadian company Gran Colombia Mines (currently Aris Mining) bought the Frontino through its subsidiaries Medoro Ressource and Zandor Capital, for US$200 million. Aris Mining is not a bona fide third party. It knew about the violence deployed against the workers, benefited from it, and continued it.
In fact, as soon as the Canadian company Gran Colombia Gold took possession of the Frontino, the workers' employment conditions deteriorated drastically. The company carried out and denied an employer substitution that enabled it to circumvent all the workers' acquired rights by subcontracting to companies belonging to the Araújo family, from the Antioquia region. This family of politicians and entrepreneurs is judicially linked to paramilitarism and drug trafficking. María Consuelo Araújo was the first president of Gran Colombia after the purchase.
Last year, the Truth Commission's report on crimes against trade unionism in Colombia stated that: "The legal struggle for the recognition of labor rights generated under the concordat and for the payment of pensions was the reason why several trade unionists and workers from the [...] Frontino belonging to Sintramienergética were murdered or threatened."
These crimes are the responsibility of mafia networks closely linked to Canadian capital, which benefits from the war in Colombia to increase its profit rates. If Canadian capital invested in the extractive industry is most profitable, it's because it's lubricated with the blood of people and workers like those in the municipalities of Segovia and Marmato. The Canadian government knows this. It defends this order of things legally and diplomatically, and channels Canadian capital for the extractivist industry through the tax and stock exchange system.
According to a 2012 Truth Commission Report: "Paramilitarism has used increasingly cruel and massive forms of violence, not only to fight guerrillas, but... many people have benefited, including politicians, businessmen and state agents." Yet, as the same report states, in Colombia: "Although these networks and relationships are unofficially known or have been revealed by successive scandals, they have not been thoroughly investigated or dismantled" (Comision de la verdad, 2012, p. 378).
The communities of Segovia and Marmato are asking us to help them uncover these crimes.