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Former guerrilla elected Bogotá mayor says reconciliation and peace are possible
Colombians elected one-time guerrilla Gustavo Petro as Bogotá mayor, the country’s second most powerful post after the presidency, in a poll on Sunday devoid of the bloodshed that marked campaigning.
Petro, who sought the presidency against Juan Manuel Santos, last year, will take office in January. He said his win showed that reconciliation was possible in violence-plagued Colombia.
“Bogotá has chosen as its mayor a son of the peace process of 1989,” Petro said in his acceptance speech. “Bogotá is saying yes to reconciliation, yes to peace.”
Petro’s election was a setback for Uribe, who left office with a 75% approval rating 14 months ago and since then has been wielding political influence from behind the scenes.
The peaceful voting for local offices nationwide came as a relief after a violent campaign in which 41 of the more than 100,000 candidates were killed. Leftist guerrillas and drug-funded crime gangs have been suspected of the violence, trying to ensure the election of their favourites and control over millions of dollars in oil royalties directed to cities.
The mayor-elect is often cited as an example that Colombia’s half century insurgency could end peacefully. The former guerrilla was given amnesty after serving two years in jail for his involvement in the M-19 group.
“Petro downed his weapons and now he is mayor of the most powerful city. It’s a very powerful message for the armed left in Colombia. They can be part of the opposition,” said Elisabeth Ungar, director of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International in Bogotá.
Petro, an economist, takes over a city in crisis. The last elected mayor, Samuel Moreno, was removed from office and jailed in September on accusations of graft.
more … from Christian Peacmaking Teams Colombia:
The Deadly Cost of Gold by Pierre Shantz
Gold is the new way for illegal armed groups in Colombia to finance themselves, according to a new report by Bloomberg Weekly. But both paramilitary and rebel guerrilla groups have profited from gold mining in Colombia for years, so why has it become an issue now? Colombia’s gold reserves are some of the largest in the world and large mining companies are eager to exploit them but some of their biggest obstacles are small scale artisan miners.
One example of this resistance is the Southern Bolivar Agricultural-Mining Federation (FEDEAGROMISBOL), who Christian Peacemaker Teams has accompanied since 2006. They are a network of primarily subsistence small-scale miners and peasant farmers throughout the San Lucas mountain range in the Southern Bolívar region. Our partners in FEDEAGROMISBOL say that the government is trying to say that the illegal armed actors financing is through these small scale miners as a way to shut them down and give all mining rights to large corporations. If we dig a little, we might see something different.
Five of the world’s ten largest gold mining companies are based in Canada and as the 2006 MacLean’s magazine article, New CIDA Code Provokes Controversy, shows the Canadian government is giving them as much help as possible to do business in Colombia. The article uncovered how the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded a process to change the Colombian mining code making it far more favorable to corporate mining interests. The new code squeezes artisan miners out of the equation by making it nearly impossible for them to meet standards set which can only be completed by large-scale and well-financed projects. And in October 2010 the Canadian government voted down Bill C-300, a law that would have held Canadian mining companies to higher environmental and human rights standards around the world.
There are more than 200 illegal backhoes mining in southern Bolívar.
So as the Colombian government tries to make the small scale miners to be the bad guys financing illegal armed groups, we only have to look in the past at how large corporations paid paramilitary death squads to protect their business interests. A well known example is the case of
Chiquita Banana which paid paramilitary death squads linked to massacres and the killing of union leaders.
On August 17th 2011, dozens of heavily armed men in uniform identifying themselves as the Black Eagles paramilitary group entered the town of Casa Zinc in southern Bolivar where they detained, tortured and killed three people and left a fourth person wounded. Just two weeks later, on August 29th, 2011, Canadian owned Midasco Capital announced in Digital Journal that they received mining licenses in the southern Bolivar region, including Casa Zinc. On September 1st, 2011, unknown assailants assassinated Father Jose Reinel Restrepo Idairraga. Father Restrepo was parish priest in the community of Marmato and a strong opponent of Canadian owned Medoro Resources open pit mining project. These are just two recent events showing how large corporate projects benefit from armed groups use of terror to quiet opposition.
Unfortunately this is not a new story. In 2006, Asad Ismi wrote an article titledProfiting From Repression: Canadian Firms in Colombia Protected by Military Death Squads showing the links between Canadian gold companies and illegal armed groups. During 1998, massacres committed by death squads drove 10,000 people from southern Bolivar. The expelled miners accuse multinational mining companies of funding the paramilitaries that removed them. So who’s most likely to finance these groups: the small sustainable miners who mine in ways that their grandchildren will be able to support their children or corporations who wish to extract all the gold, in the shortest possible time with no obstacles?