UT Austin sociology PhD student, Alex Diamond, recently published a piece for North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) (available in both English and Spanish) on the impact of mining and energy megaprojects on Colombia’s peace process.
El Orejón, an isolated rural community in the northern Colombian department of Antioquia, is slowly emptying out. A few years ago, 88 people lived on family farms on the valley walls above the Cauca river. Only 48 remain. The neatly cultivated plots of corn, beans, coffee, sugar cane, and yuca of the families still there stand out from the abandoned lands that the jungle is gradually reclaiming. But in contrast to the classic model of rural communities abandoned by the state, the Colombian government has invested significantly in El Orejón, a crucial area for Colombia’s peace process.
El Orejón was the site for the 2015 demining program that marked the first collaboration between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), before being chosen during negotiations of the peace accord as one of 11 hamlets in the municipality of Briceño to launch the pilot coca substitution program in 2017. Little more than two years ago, coca plants covered the hillsides above the river. Now the plants are gone, pulled out voluntarily by local campesinos seeking a transition to legal agriculture.
As El Orejón declines, a settlement across the river, complete with tennis courts and swimming pools, has emerged in the last ten years. This is the camp for workers who are constructing Hidroituango, the largest hydroelectric dam project in the history of Colombia, which lies directly below El Orejón. Public Enterprises of Medellín (EPM), the public-private partnership that is building Hidroituango, has recently come under fire for illegal and irresponsible construction practices with disastrous consequences. In May 2018, a tunnel built to divert river waters during the construction blocked up for weeks and then subsequently burst, leading to massive flooding that displaced 25,000 people in downstream communities.
But the displacement in El Orejón and other communities near the project has nothing to do with flooding or engineering mistakes. Instead, these communities speak to a deeper and less discussed aspect of the Hidroituango project: the way it has disrupted local livelihoods, primarily by limiting their access to the river. This exclusion goes hand in hand with coca substitution and the peace process. Together, they comprise a broader process of pacification in the region that at first deployed violence, and now peace, to serve elite interests at the expense of campesino ways of life. […]
To read the full op-ed, see NACLA.
Alex Diamond is a Sociology PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin. His research seeks to understand the local experience of the post-peace agreement transition in rural areas of Colombia with a long history of insurgent control. Based on interviews and in-depth ethnographic participant observation in the northern Antioquian village of Briceño, his work centers on three major themes: the implementation of the peace accords, particularly the parts that are related to coca substitution and rural reform; the intersection between the peace process, rural dispossession, and mining and energy megaprojects; and the emergence (or lack thereof) of campesino resistance and organizing.