The National Catholic Reporter recently reported on the killing of Fr. José Reinel Restrepo in Marmato, Colombia. “The basic details surrounding the assassination of Restrepo are by now well-known in Colombia. On the afternoon of Sept. 2, Restrepo shuttered the church, mounted his small motorcycle and puttered down the unpaved, tortuously steep mountain road past the numerous small gold mines that employ most of the villagers. His plan was to visit family members in a nearby city — something he was known to do with predictable frequency every week or so. But about an hour into the journey, he was ambushed and shot to death on a lonely stretch of road. His motorcycle was not stolen, nor was the cash in his wallet. …Six months after the murder, no witnesses have spoken publicly, nor have the local police publicly revealed the results of their investigation.”

Toronto-based Gran Colombia Gold Corp
“In the village, people remain studiously neutral when discussing the murder. But they all agree that Restrepo’s death possibly resulted from his very vocal stance against a bitterly divisive proposal to modernize gold extraction in the village. According to this proposal — now in preparation for government review by a company based in Canada called Gran Colombia Gold Corp. — Marmato would be obliterated in order to make way for a vast open-pit mine that would allow the company maximum access to what it calls ‘a world-class ore body’ that would be completely mined within a few decades.”

“When retired US bishop Thomas Gumbleton visited the company’s offices in Bogotá, he urged its executives to save the town. Instead of relocating the villagers and bulldozing their homes, Gumbleton suggested the company partner with the government and Marmato’s artisanal miners in modernizing their practices in ways that will sustain their village culture for centuries to come while generating opportunities for Gran Colombia.”

“Officials at Gran Colombia describe Restrepo’s murder as a tragedy and they bluntly deny any association with armed forces of any sort. Indeed, in a 2010 statement published in a Colombian newspaper, José Oro, a Gran Colombia vice president, suggested that its critics may themselves be linked to armed groups, including FARC guerrillas: ‘With the greatest respect,’ Oro wrote, ‘I defy any unionist, half mafioso, half FARC, or half paramilitary, to come and tell me if he knows better than I do what is best for the Colombian people. Our work in the social area will be to improve health, clean up the environment — which has been severely damaged.’”

The Canadian Pension Plan has $6 million worth of investments in this company.

The Harper government
“Under new mining laws crafted with heavy involvement by the government of Canada, the Colombian government is licensing vast swaths of the country to foreign and domestic mining companies. Between 2002 and 2010 areas with mining titles boomed from 2.8 million acres to 21 million acres, and about 40 percent of the country is under consideration for mining projects. …But even though the Colombian government has identified mining development as a primary ‘economic locomotive’, it has largely failed to acknowledge that thousands of small-scale mines employing hundreds of thousands of workers have long been mining the very same deposits that foreign corporations are being promised.”

“Because Gran Colombia is registered as a Canadian corporation and relies on a listing on the Toronto stock exchange in order to raise money for its projects, on the last day of his mission to investigate the circumstances of Restrepo’s murder, Gumbleton paid a visit to the Canadian embassy in Bogotá. After Restrepo was murdered, MiningWatch, a Canadian organization that tracks the behavior of mining companies, expressed concern to the embassy that Canadian mining companies ‘may well be benefiting from violence’. In a lengthy session with the embassy’s chargé d’affaires, Gumbleton was told that Canadian officials strongly support Gran Colombia’s project and have visited Marmato and observed the use of child labor in its artisanal mines, as well as environmentally dangerous practices. Regarding the murder of Restrepo, Gumbleton was told that both the Canadian government and Gran Colombia have urged Colombian officials to closely investigate the matter.”

The Council of Canadians
In mid-September we signed a joint letter - along with MiningWatch Canada, The Steelworkers Humanity Fund, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and other groups - urging the Canadian Embassy in Colombia to support investigations surrounding the death of Father Restrepo. As the letter states, “We urge the Canadian Embassy to cooperate with all investigations into this matter in order to ensure that the facts surrounding Restrepo’s murder are brought to light. The Embassy should also encourage the company to cooperate fully.” To read the letter, please go to http://canadians.org/water/documents/mining/letter-Colombian-Embassy-0911.pdf.

Shout Out
The Council of Canadians is organizing a ‘Shout Out against Mining Injustice’ that will take place June 1-3 in Vancouver. It will focus on the harmful role of Canadian-based mining companies in Latin America, the impact their mines have on the UN-recognized human right to water, and strategies for popular opposition to change this current reality.

For more on the issue of water and mining in Latin America, please go to our campaign web-page at http://www.canadians.org/mining. For Council of Canadians blogs on the murder of Father Restrepo, please see http://canadians.org/blog/?s=marmato.

The full National Catholic Reporter article can be read at http://ncronline.org/news/global/colombian-gold-mining-village-fights-stay-put.

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