International Capital Eyes Indigenous Lands
Edition 46 Nov. 2009
By Olimpo Cardenas Delgado
( Translated by Rich Henighan, a CSN volunteer translator)
Periferia interviewed Pancha, a lawyer and indigenous woman who defends the interests of the Canamono and Lomaprieta Reserves, to learn about the situation. She tells us that the government has wanted to bypass “preliminary consultation”, but the indigenous peoples hold to a clear position: in their territory no project can move ahead without the agreement of the community.
Periferia: What do “Preliminary Consultations” with indigenous communities involve?
Pancha: It is more complicated than the government’s version under decree #1320. They call together the community to advise them about the projects which businesses or the State plan to carry out on indigenous lands, and with that they believe they have completed the “preliminary consultation”. But if we are talking about Caldas, then there doesn’t even exist a protocol of how to carry out the “preliminary consultation”. Because of this, we have had to investigate the subject and it is our position that the consultation must be a social process, with debate and consent from the communities, above all, pertaining to our own plan for our territories. There must be discussion and understanding of the project, with analysis of the various factors that might arise, the possibilities that could be realized. In this case, we are participating in the meetings organized by Hector Jaime, our governor, who is indigenous, with the gentlemen who want to construct a hydroelectric project. These conversations have been going on for two years, exploring possibilities and looking for the greatest guarantee for the indigenous communities affected by the construction of that hydro project.
Periferia: What business are we speaking of?
Pancha: That’s where things get complicated. At first, the person seeking permission to construct the hydro project over the Supia River was a Mr. Ever de Jesus Zuluaga, who lives in a little locale called El Danubio, here on The Reserve. He lives in the Brasil community, but he has always worked with Empressas Publicas of Medellin (EPM); I believe he has since retired. It was he who requested the concession from the Caldas Council and spoke with our governor expressing his interest. In April, 2009 the Governor called us to join him on a verification visit to the area where the work on the hydro-project would begin. But on April 21 we find out that on April 15 the work had already begun, they had opened a ditch for about a kilometer and a half.
What the Governor did was to order that the 12 workers, who unfortunately were from the same community, withdraw. That was August 3. Then we realized there was a business interest behind it all, which was having meetings with the people and had obtained acquisition papers for some property, and easement rights in notarized forms, and this involved property that was under the municipal council. These easements were bought at prices the community thought very good, very advantageous, because they were located in steep areas where the community planted nothing. This was all done without consulting us and took advantage of the poverty of the community because, among other things, this area of Brasil is an area of 100% wood panel production. Thanks to ex-minister “Uribito” the people now are unable to produce wood panels because the rules of decree #0779 require very large investments for wood panel production.
Periferia: But aren’t there restrictions on how a community disposes of a piece of property which is part of the commons?
Pancha: That is a general issue for indigenous communities in the entire country. Canamomo is a reserve of colonial origin and as such there is a royal grant from the Spanish Crown which spoke of the borders of our ancestral territory. Legislation now overrides these titles, but at the same time our struggles and resistance to obtain legal recognition of our territory carries on. Through this struggle the four Riosucio reserves there were recognized, more or less in 2002. However, from the colonial epoch until our days, many things have taken place regarding our lands; for example, the Office of Public Documents has registered deeds within the reserves. Some lawyers who defend the interests of the indigenous received land in payment for their work, getting deeds which give property rights. These generate false individual deeds for collectively owned titles.
Periferia: Is the planter Ever de Jesus speaking for himself or representing a business?
Pancha: He requests permission as an individual to construct a Hydro project taking advantage of a Resolution of the Caldas Council which, as environmental authority, grants permits regarding the use of water for community water systems and fish hatcheries. Mr. Ever de Jesus obtained a permit which allows him to build a hydro project along a watercourse, without a dam, what is called clean production. But after our August 3 actions, making the workers leave the work zone, a lawyer, Hugo Zuluaga, visited us and presented himself as the legal representative of Generamos Energia, S.A., (“We Generate Energy”) the business that is really behind this project. The lawyer advised us that the project was being carried out by a business, set up for this purpose, called Hidro Supia, S.A., which belongs to the officials of Generamos Energia and to Jesus Zuluaga ( the planter) and his wife, who will be shareholders of Hidro Supia.
In this way Ever de Jesus delivers the concession as a partner of Hidro Supia to Generamus Energia S.A. ESP, which is from Rionegro, Antioquia, undertaking in Eastern Antioquia the production of energy. They excused themselves for what had happened and promised to send us the Environmental Management Plan and to finish the process of the Preliminary Consultation. Later, on August 6, another partner of Generamos Energia, Mr. Leon Dario Orozco, visited us. Mr. Orozco, who also claimed to be a City Councilor of Rionegro was accompanied by an official, Oscar Alvarez, the coordinator for Cornare (“Regional Autonomous Corporation of the Valleys of the Rionegro and the Nare”). We do not know what Cornare is doing here, if Cornare is for Antioquia. They were coming from Manizales to talk with the Caldas Council and they said that they also wanted to excuse themselves for their ignorance of indigenous matters. They brought us some business documents and we realized that Generamos Energia was made up of other firms like Taborda Velez’s Company, and the one of Taborda Maya, and Prosil, which is a firm of engineers, and another transport business. Those documents revealed the strategy that these businesses were using to insure the acquisition of the concessions.
Periferia: What did you do when you discovered this complicated plot?
Pancha: We looked for what led up to this whole affair. In the month of November 2008 there arrived at our defense office a decree summoning us to a Preliminary Consultation scheduled for December 15 in Supia. I attended as a delegate and no one else came. The Governor, for his part, had decided that they would not present themselves. On the basis of this decree of the Caldas Council we began to investigate the whole matter. What did we find out? That in the year 2006, Generadora Columbiana de Electricidad-- notice this is not Generamos—had been the first to request a concession in San Pablo Community to build a Hydro Project. The Caldas Officials granted the permission, but from 2006 to 2008 no work started, and the Officials withdrew the concession.
But when they gave us the invitation to the Preliminary Consultation of December 15, 2008 it involved Generadora Columbiana de Energia and Ever Zuluaga only. The Calcas Council, acting out of order, cited in the same decree four communities. Recall that Ever Zuluanga only had sought permission for one, namely Brasil. We continued to investigate and on the web site of Caldas Council we found a certain Ruben Levi who had asked permission to construct Hydro Projects over the Rivers Supia and Riosucio in the Community of Dos Quebradas. That’s why the Caldas Council, in an irregular and underhanded way, invited four Communities to a single Preliminary Consultation to outline the matter once only. There are two irregularities: to grant the concession to Ever Zuluaga when Generadora Columbiana still had the concession, and the resolution gave no mention at all of the Indigenous Communities. Moreover, we realized that the businesses that made up Generamos Energia, which appear with Ever Zuluaga, not only undertake energy production, but Taborda Maya and Taborda Velez even can acquire lands for the production of crops like African Palm, rubber trees and ultimately, large areas of monoculture.
Periferia: What then are the true intentions of these businesses?
Pancha: In the dialogues with Mr. Leon Dario and the lawyer for Generamos Energia they told us that it is a business which scarcely is surviving, that its capital is small, that they are looking for loans, that their undertaking is altruistic, that they help children, subsidizing open heart surgeries and repair of cleft lips, etc. Nevertheless when our Governor proposes low taxes on them for our community they say that it is impossible. But of course, as a favor, they offer our communities work of the lowest sort, maintenance and security guards, without dignity, or stability.
We continued investigating and we realized that they are participating with their project of clean energy generation with the United Nations, which consists in taking advantage of a Kyoto protocol in order to charge for the absorption of CO2 (Carbon Gas) , since one of their economic interests is the sale of environmental services. In addition, this business permits them to receive subsidies that the Government is giving for the generation of electricity, for which, to access IMF and IDB credits, they have minimal requirements such as the project be located near a major roadway—the main trunk road is there—and near an electrical energy station in order to transmit the electricity—the Subia Station is there. All this goes to say that it is all fitting together. They are creating the basis for large megaprojects like the dry port at La Felisa. Tying up the loose ends, the thing is not so small.
Periferia: What are you referring to when you say “the thing is not so small” ?
Pancha: Taborda Velez and his wife founded the business many years ago; Tabora Maya is their son. They are a very rich family which together with Prosil created Generamos Energia. Add on all the lies that those people spoke from the beginning, Ever Zuliga’s lie, the Hydro Supia lie, the lies of the subsidies and loans of the UN and the IMF, etc. Their lack of clarity, the hiding of information, the pressure to move up the Preliminary Consultation, all that is suspicious. If we tie it all together, it’s all about the macro project of the “dry port” at Felisa, a tax-free zone that is next to the epicenter where these hydroelectric projects, which we have been talking about, will be carried out
Pancha: Now, let’s add that Anglo Gold Ashanti, the largest transnational mining company, has requested permits to explore for gold in the region and recently did some helicopter over flights using super modern technology, is prospecting and geo-referencing the distribution of minerals over the whole zone made up of Marmato, Supia, Riosocio, and Quinchia in Risaralda. Let us clarify that now in that zone large mineral businesses such as Rubials, which is in the Eastern Plains and also exploits petroleum, have created disasters and harmed the communities. It arrived here under the name Medoro and is the one that is behind all this wealth. It also involves IRSA, known here as the Archimedes Project, which claims to be connecting Quibdo with Medellin through this zone, having linked a coal-bearing district that runs from Marmato to Quincha, etc., etc.. Additionally, in that zone the soils are reserved for future agro-industrial plantations and eco-tourism. A complete package of megaprojects.
Perferia: What actions have you been able to stimulate against this entire framework?
Pancha: In this, we have supported each other in the early warning system of the “People’s Defense” and Yesid Beltran advised us. Because of his study, investigation, and denunciations, he received death threats and they forced him to move away. He used to have a very clear presentation in which there was a model of this whole project and in it, on a side of a tourist lake, the stall that they would give to the indigenous people so they might busy themselves selling sweets. Now it is very clear that the hydro projects are to provide energy to this entire giant regional project. It is why the coverage area for the electricity is almost 100% in the zone, which of course raises the price, but we see that there is no intention to lower it.
In Canamoro, which has been heavily impacted politically, but which has had more understanding of its problems, little by little, the process of using the judicial part in Decree #004 has been made a part of the whole community. This decree was issued by the Constitutional Court ordering the National Government to create plans that safeguard the thirty-four indigenous peoples facing extinction. After our analyzing the topic of the “Preliminary Consultation” we considered it to be a mechanism which opens the door to the multinationals, a double-edged sword. Overall, a way to protect our territories is to require, to struggle that the “Preliminary Consult” be held with the thirty-seven communities and the 22,000 persons that make up the Reserve, basing it on the oldest rights and not on Decree # 1320. Also, we have reunited with all the indigenous communities at the national level to confront together this matter of the expropriation of our territories and the extinction of our culture because international capital has its eyes on our wealth and our lives.
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