The Paro Minero hits Quibdó  

We mentioned the legacy of slavery in Chocó in our first post on Quibdó.

Slaves were in Chocó to mine gold, and gold mining, much of it illegal and artisanal, is still going on all over the department. One figure claims that there are 250,000 small miners in Colombia, and they have recently been engaged in a series of ‘paros’ (a strike or a shutdown) trying to get the government to take them more seriously. Their more specific aim is to force the government to recognize their right to mine and to stop giving away lands that they consider theirs to large multinations.

As one artisanal miner, Carlos Latorre, put it in Quibdó (quoted here):

I have come asking for my title since 2000, I have asked 12 times and nothing happens. We are miners since 500 years ago, we were brought up to mining, gold mining started many years ago with punts. Please give us the title, despite all the papers delivered, what is the policy of the State to the small mining?

This situation with titles is the norm in rural Colombia.

Meanwhile the large mining multinational AngloGold Ashanti has managed to acquire from the government the title to mine 125,000 hectares of land in the Chocó. Hmmm….

The recent paro was called by Fedemichocó, which represents 8000 miners in the Chocó. It was due to start on the first day of the conference in Quibdó, but nothing much seemed to happen until Friday July 19 when miners flooded into town and received a great deal of solidarity from local people.

They blocked streets and overran the airport, causing the cancellation of all flights. Here is the scene as they rushed onto the runways and surrounded the waiting planes forcing passengers who were about to leave to disembark.

Trapped in the airport terminal were the people from the conference who got eventually extracted by the army and taken by helicopter to Medellín that did at least give this wonderful view of the Cordillera Occidental of the Andes.


There were paros not just in Chocó during this time but also in the departments of Antioquia, Norte de Santander, Valle and elsewhere.

That there should be all this seething discontent in Colombia at a time when the national government is in the midst of what appears likely to be a successful peace negotiation with the FARC guerilla group might strike some as surprising.

But some interpret it as representing civil society flexing its muscles at a time when people are beginning to sense the prospect of real political change in Colombia.

Yet this may take some time, as attested the nature of the political elites in Colombia.

For example, the three leading candidates for next year’s presidential election are likely to be the incumbent, Juan Manuel Santos, Francisco Santos and Clara López. Francisco and Juan Manuel are not just cousins. They are also both scions of one of the great elite Colombian families. Francisco’s great uncle Eduardo Santos was President between 1938 and 1942 (see this nice article on the Santos dynasty which traces its roots far back into the colonial period).

Between 1913 and 2007 the Santos family was the largest shareholders in Colombia’s biggest national newspaper El Tiempo. Pretty handy if you are trying to build a political dynasty….

Clara López is a scion of one of the other great Colombian political dynasties, the López family. They provided not one but two presidents, Alfonso López Pumarejo between 1934 and 1938 and again between 1942 and 1945, and Alfonso López Michelsen who was president between 1974 and 1978.

So on the face of it Colombian politics doesn’t look like it’s changing yet. , All the same, the widespread discontent raises the thought:

What if the FARC finally put down their guns, could new political movements become legitimized and could they find a way to forge a common agenda amongst all the discontented people in Colombia?

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