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CONTENTS VOL 169 NO 25 3 Editorial the Fox Report
Colombia and the cost of gold Edited by Judy Kirby; written by Rachel Seifert; additional research and interviews by Moritz Tenthoff. 4 The new gold rush 6-7 Colombia’s riches 9 Refugees in their own country 10-11 Small and endangered 12-13 Green gold: will we buy it? 14-15 Greenwashing
The Fox Report: The Fox report is the investigative arm of the Friend, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and directed by Judy Kirby.
Rachel Seifert: Rachel is a documentary filmmaker with a particular interest in international social issues. Recently she directed a featurelength documentary filmed across Latin America exposing the human costs of the War on Drugs (‘Cocaine Unwrapped’) and produced a Dispatches investigation into the treatment of children asylum seekers in the UK (‘The Kids Britain Doesn’t Want’). email@example.com
Moritz Tenthoff: Moritz works with several human rights organisations in Colombia.
Letters: Please note letters will return next week.
16 Homes for older people 17 Friends & Meetings
Cover image: La Toma, Colombia Photo: Damien Fellous/Libre Arbitre. See the Fox report pages 3-15.
Image right: La Toma, Colombia Photo: Damien Fellous/Libre Arbitre. See the Fox report pages 3-15.
Please note: Some names have been changed to protect people.
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the Friend, 24 June 2011 The cost of gold
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries colonisation opened up new worlds that European countries explored and exploited. In far away places, such as Africa and the West Indies, they discovered riches to be harvested. Investors were tempted to profit from this revolution in wealth creation. Members of the Religious Society of Friends were not immune from temptation; but some were unusual in asking questions about how goods were produced. They were especially prescient in considering the global nature of injustice. The unfair exploitation of man, and of the earth, did not just happen in Britain. ‘Out of sight’ was not ‘out of mind’ for these Quakers and they made the link very clearly between the methods of production of goods and their consumption. If slavery was evil then you should not only campaign against the institution – you had a moral obligation to also boycott goods produced by slaves. Quakers were prompted by their religious faith. They were guided by the light of their consciences.
Colombia is an interesting country with a rather negative image. News reports have tended to focus on drugs and violence. It is not widely known that, in terms of biodiversity, Colombia has the highest number of species of birds and amphibians in the world, the second highest number of species of flora and the third highest number of species of reptiles. It is also a country in the middle of a mining revolution that may change the face of its landscape and transform the lives of tens of thousands of its people.
Specialist American investment firms send regular newsletters to clients. A recent one enthused about ‘the fantastic investment opportunities’ in Colombia and, amid a torrent of gushing prose, stated: ‘Companies are starting to get a boost in their share price just for saying they are exploring Columbia.’ The image of a dysfunctional society controlled by drugs barons has been replaced by one where unexploited natural resources are like ‘low-hanging fruit that has not been picked over’.
Quakers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would have found the wording familiar.
The sales language to potential investors must have been as seductive – the lure of an easy profit as enticing. It lifts the spirits to know that many of them had a conception of faith that was deeply rooted in conscience. This prompted them to ask questions – when others did not. Some condemned, for example, well before other Christians, the immorality of slavery. William Penn treated the native American people with respect and courtesy – a tradition Quakers in New Zealand are following in their relationship with the indigenous Maori people.
This issue of the Fox Report, edited by Judy Kirby, researched by Moritz Tenthoff and written by Rachel Seifert, highlights a story that has resonances with the past. It is, however, a story very much of our time. We live in a voracious developing world caught up in a destructive culture of consumption and materialism and enjoy of a way of life that demands the exploitation of man and the earth. It is a time of global corporations.
Huge vested interests are at stake in Columbia. There are also very difficult dilemmas. The government wants to develop the country and needs investment to do this.
The gold rush in Colombia, however, will profoundly affect the livelihoods of native people and damage a fragile ecosystem. Prompting some of this development are frightened investors in the west who have turned to gold for safety and whose future security rests, ironically, partly on the backs of the poorest of people.
This is a local story of global significance. Multinational mining companies from the developed world have, yet again, turned their attention to a poor country with weak controls and legislation. Colombia is a country in dire need of investment and it deserves a bright and better future: but at what cost? What is the real cost of gold today?
Ian Kirk-Smith the Friend, 24 June 2011