Response from Marmato, Colombia to the murder of Father José Reinel Restrepo

Jen Moore Latin America Program Coordinator Jennifer Moore works to support communities, organizations, and networks in the region struggling with mining conflicts.

The Regional Indigenous Council of the department of Caldas and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective condemn the murder of José Reinel Restrepo, the parish priest of the municipality of Marmato and a defender of the rights of people to survive and remain on their territory.

On Friday September 2nd 2011, the priest's body was found without any identification alongside his motorcycle in which he had been traveling between Mistrató and Belén de Umbría in Colombian coffee country. The media have associated his death with a supposed mugging, which is doubtful and could be hiding the possibility that this assassination is related with his work in defence of the mining municipality's population.

The week before his death, between the 23rd and 26th of August, Father Restrepo had visited the city of Bogotá together with municipal leaders in order to denounce the general unease in his community as a result of the proposed large-scale open-pit gold project, which would uproot the community and violate the rights of the afro, indigenous and mestizo population of Marmato, in the department of Caldas.

Father Restrepo denounced that the Canadian company, Medoro Resources (now merged with Gran Colombia Gold), had circulated information about the supposed sale of the parish church, leading to confusion within the community about its potential relocation. To verify this information, the priest communicated with the dioceses of Caldas and with the regional episcopate to find out if the sale had in fact been made, and which the ecclesiastic authority then denied.

In the eyes of Father Reinel and of other social leaders working in defence of Marmato, these events are occurring as part of an effort to displace the people from the urban area in order to develop an open-pit mine at all costs. Father Reinel had made public declarations saying, “They will only get me to leave the parish and the municipality by force.”

We express our solidarity with Father Reinel's family and with his religious community who have lost a member who was committed to the defence of human rights.

Background

In the municipality of Marmato, department of Caldas, Colombia, the indigenous, afro and mestizo population have historically co-existed. The municipality's economy has been sustained by small-scale underground mining. About four years ago, Canadian business people arrived in the region, buying up mining titles and lands from local residents. At the same time, intentions were announced to leave hundreds of people without employment, without a job in small scale mining, as well as to relocate the urban centre and local institutions, including the hospital, school, college and church. At the same time, the presence of public armed forces increased, which the local population perceived as a form of intimidation and contrary to the free exercise of their rights and peaceful expression of their dissent.

The development of this mega-project would also implicate the violation of the fundamental rights of indigenous and afro communities, whose ancestral territories are affected. In this regard, the Colombian state has indicated that it will not carry out a process of prior consultation. The former Minister of Mines Hernán Martínez Torres indicated as much on July 29, 2009 when he said, “It's clear that a process of prior consultation will not take place.” This attitude has continued within the current government such that the Colombian state is negating its human rights obligations, in particular with regard to ILO Convention 169 that Colombia ratified in Law 21 of 1991 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

An affiliate of the company Medoro Resources (now merged with Gran Colombia Gold) presented more than 100 administrative injunctions to the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mines (Ingeominas) so that its property would be recognized in place of mining titles in Marmato of mines belonging to small-scale miners, also known as guacheros. It is evident that the multinational company intends to takeover the mines in order to begin development of the open-pit operation.

The intention to relocate the urban centre and adjacent communities has been made on the basis of claims of geomorphological risks that could be mitigated where they exist.

Requests

Of the Colombian state

  • Carry out an exhaustive investigation, serious and immediate, into these events and take measures in order to ensure that these investigations clarify the crime.
  • Guarantee that the rights of communities and their organizations, including those of expression and participation in the face of the development of mega-projects are respected.
  • Guarantee the right of the population to remain in the urban area in which they have ancestrally lived.
  • Guarantee that the church, a place of worship for the Catholic population, remains where it is.

Of the Canadian state

  • Take necessary measures to ensure that Canadian companies, or whose assets are Canadian, do not cause or benefit from human rights violations.
  • Guarantee as required that exhaustive, serious and immediate investigations are carried out within Canada's jurisdiction that would help to clarify the facts.

Of the Catholic Church in Colombia

  • Make a greater commitment and provide support for local parishes in their work of community accompaniment in defence of their territories.
  • Firmly demand that the Colombian state take effective action to quickly clarify the facts surrounding this crime.