The largest exporters of gold in the southwest of the country, with Politicians and Military, are snatching mines from the inhabitants of the municipality of Buenos Aires, Colombia
Like Mira Sol Lucumí, hundreds of women are scrap dealers in the mines of Cerro Teta, picking up the stone that the owners of the tunnels waste.

Politicians and Military

“The law of the miner here is to move from the mine to the canteen, from the canteen to the vagina, from the vagina to the ruin and from the ruin back to the mine.” That is what Fares Carabalí says when he talks about the black miners to whom he administers the golden veins that are found in the Teta hill, in the municipality of Buenos Aires, Cauca. He does it to describe that misery that seems a condemnation and to justify the presence of white miners who, with technology and money, are the protagonists of an unequal dispute in the territory: the one who runs the most wins the most.

Fares is the manager of the Cooperativa de Mineros de Buenos Aires (Coomultimineros). Four months ago, on July 17, I left the office of the mayor, Elías Larrahondo, when he decided to take care of me. He ran down from the second floor and climbed into a white 4×4 truck with tinted windows to cross two blocks from town and get to his office. There, has a collection of argollados almanaques that show in their cover a smiling black of orange overalls and helmet with lantern. He looks with greedy eyes at the symbol that shines and humiliates: a black inclined with his punt, drawn with golden ink. It is the logo of the company Giraldo y Duque Ltda. In its 40 years.

Giraldo y Duque Ltda. Is not the company of the blacks, it is a foreign company, today tucked in the heart of the hill Teta, which rises after crossing the municipal head of Buenos Aires. Around the mountain there are 400 sinkholes that are the inheritance of the black slaves of the colony. At its feet the river Teta drags, whose shores, most of the day, are populated by scrap yards: Afro women who collect the stones that the miner discards. Mira Sol Lucumí * is one of them. A black woman of 40 years and mother of five children, who seeks to fill a bucket with those greyish rocks to wash them and find “a piece of mine”, a bit of gold.

The gold is sold to a paisa merchant, Mr. Carlos Aguirre, who also rents his profit plant to wash the stones in barrels that go round and round until the fine rock is left to sift the ore.

I met the brothers Alexander and Mauricio Duque suddenly. It was at his La Puchis mine, for an offer made by the Autonomous Regional Corporation of Cauca (CRC), after telling an official that he was investigating what was the relationship between the most important gold entrepreneurs in the west of the country and Afro-descendants of Buenos Aires, a town that makes a triangle with the municipalities of Suárez and Santander de Quilichao, which serve as a gateway to the Pacific.

An area marked by two tragedies strewn with criminal mining: the 2007, when the mud of the banks of the Cauca River buried 21 black women in Suarez, while scrambling for a gram of gold next to the backhoes, and the 2014 in Santander de Quilichao, when the same yellow machines precipitated an avalanche of land that killed 13 black barequeros.

La Puchis is the mine of the Giraldo y Duque company, which since 1964 has traded gold in Valle and Cauca. It is in the middle of the hill, has five sinkholes and a plant of benefit raised in iron that turns the rock of the Teta hill into gold. In 2010 he stopped having the nickname of the eldest daughter of Mauricio Duque – Pucis – and became Sociedad Minera del Sur, a consortium that, according to documents from the Florida Department of State, figures with partners in Miami, United States, and that it is part of the golden emporium of these two families: the Duke, of Chinchiná, Caldas; and the Giraldo, from La Virginia, Risaralda.

They are traditional families in the purchase and sale of gold, but their golden castle began to build since 2002, when Alexander Duque became manager of the company that same year arrived in Buenos Aires in search of green gold that is extracted without mercury and which, according to this businessman, was more desirable and better paid by the Swiss banks. Three years later, they joined the cooperative of small miners that the blacks formed in 1988, to scare off multinationals and protect their mines from the great mining industry.

Since then, Alexander, Mauricio and Jhon Jairo Duque, together with Román Giraldo, established an emporium of companies dedicated to exploiting and trading gold in Colombia and abroad. There are already eight companies in its possession: C.I Giraldo and Duque Ltda., Duque Builes y CIA, Inversiones Giraldo e Hijos, Inversiones G and D, Sociedad Minera del Sur, Sociedad Minera El Danubio, Coominercol and Sociedad Giraldo and Duque S.A.

Outside the La Puchis mine, which in the distance stands out for its gigantic metallic drums, a guadua is the barrier guarded by a woman and two men with shotguns. They wear black overalls with a sign on their back: Latin American Security. One Monday last June, at the invitation of the CRC official, we visited the area with photographer Andrés Hurtado. On the way, they informed us that three agents of the Prosecutor’s Office (who fight illegal mining) were in another van, covered with vests from the environmental corporation.

The agents passed camouflaged during the visits to the mines of the small miners, but near the top, when we were preparing to enter the mine of the Giraldo and Duque, someone spoke to him by radiotelephone to the woman in black overalls and suddenly stopped to the agents: “the entry of weapons is prohibited”. What weapons? They asked. “It is that we know that you are from the Office of the Prosecutor,” they replied.

The looks among the investigators were of surprise, they felt betrayed, they told me later. The guards knew everything without having spoken to us. But the brothers Alexander and Mauricio Duque, too. There was no previous appointment, but they entered without realising it in a blue Land Cruiser, with tinted windows, and then they appeared sitting in the meeting room of the hill waiting for the delegation.

The power of La Puchis

Who took the Giraldo and Duque to the Teta hill mines was Manuel José Correa, a white miner, an old associate of the cooperative, who for years has traded gold with businessmen. Mauricio Duque tells that in 2002 Correa offered him the hole to show him that, as he used to criticize, the blacks were throwing gold among the mud: “They barely got 30%. I entered and took a sample: 17 grams per ton, that for a multinational, juemadre, is an odyssey, they work with three or four grams and they tell you there are 17 grams per ton, you start to throw numbers and that’s a lot of gold and silver. ” The pact was closed. Mauricio stayed with the mine, but did not offer Manuel money, but a kilo of gold in the first wash, which he delivered in a few weeks.

That was the first hammer blow of these two families in the hill Teta. Later, in 2005, Henry Torres, an Afro-descendant lawyer from Suárez, Cauca, who helped establish the Giraldo y Duque International Trading Company, and who worked as security chief of the company’s securities carrier, came to the management of the cooperative. . Since that day, the four businessmen officially appear as small miners in Buenos Aires, as shown in the list of associates. The cooperative, for its part, which had been created, according to a resolution of the National Administrative Department of Cooperatives (Dancoop) to “seek the social and economic development of the community and particularly of the miners,” was left in the hands of entrepreneurs who, as Henry Torres recalls, “they obtained the titling of the mines”. Application that the community had made since 1994, to solve the supply of explosives (raw material for the mining of tunnels) before the Colombian Military Industry (Indumil), because these were also restricted for some miners who, according to Mauricio, qualified as a “guerrilla hand”.

With the arrival of entrepreneurs, the cooperative grew in number of associates, but the inequality increased. Today the list is large: 326 – the majority Afro-, but of them 268 are inactive because they have not paid the monthly contributions as members. Some, because they spent the money in the bars, says Fares Carabalí. Others, because they do not have or because they feel that the cooperative no longer belongs to them.

This is the case of Rosalía Caicedo, who could not participate in the last assembly on April 25, 2015, because she owes 20 thousand pesos of the monthly contribution. However, there are some privileged: Mauricio Duque, one of the founders of Girarlo and Duque, owes more than 300 million pesos in explosives and not only participated in the assembly, with voice and vote, but was also elected at the meeting of administration as alternate director, as recorded in the final minutes of said assembly.

These decisions are made by active associates. There are currently 58 – of which 14 are the Giraldo and Duque, their close associates and partners – that is, the four businessmen; Víctor Hugo Becerra, your legal advisor; Fares Carabalí, manager of the cooperative; Urdely Carabali, brother of Fares and elected mayor of Buenos Aires and Quiko Balanta, gold buyer of entrepreneurs in the area. And those who became partners of the Giraldo and Duque because they rented their sinks in exchange for receiving 5% of the produced: Wisman Sandoval Olaya, Yeison and Jimmy Sandoval Olaya (Wisman brothers), Luz Dary Londoño, Flor María Quintero, Hervin Prado Chavestan, among other members of the cooperative, who defend the businessmen arguing that they have brought development to the municipality: hotels, shops, roads uncovered and technology to do mining.

The active associates are the only ones that have the right to buy the dynamite that the cooperative acquires every two months: 18 tons of Indugel that they keep in warehouses of the same Sociedad Minera del Sur.

Those who did not do the business of renting their sinkhole have another option: to sell the stone to the owners of La Puchis so they can process it. “Centralizing the production of the region under a single administration allows for everyone to be much more profitable and that is the model we have today,” says Alexander Duque. What this businessman based in Cali refers to is the relationship that his company has had with ancestral miners since then: “a large part of the mineral is not extracted by us, it is extracted by the community”, he explains, while the dump trucks and backhoes go out and They enter from their La Puchis mine, crossing the paths that the businessmen built to collect the grayish rocks in the black holes.

Ruperto Carabalí is a small miner, afro-descendant and active associate of the cooperative. Ten years ago he inherited the mine from his father, who worked 41 years digging the mountain. His fear is that entrepreneurs bifurcate the sinkholes, go through the bowels of Mount Teta and with so much technology advance faster and eat the golden vein, before his electric hammer and his Californian mill.

For a decade, Ruperto has built a 300-meter horizontal tunnel, from which it extracts two tons of stone per day, equivalent to 32 buckets, and obtains 80 grams of gold per month. Compared to the pitfalls of businessmen, Ruperto has a cave on the hill. In the five tunnels of La Puchis in 10 years have drilled three kilometers. They are not horizontal, but subterranean branches that pursue veins of gold. They process 100 tons of stone per day – they aspire to reach 300 – and obtain 10 kilos of gold per month.

How to live from legal mining has never been easy, says Ruperto, one day he decided to access the business model that entrepreneur Alexander talks about. “I started selling the stone to the Dukes. The first three months were very good, I said: ‘If this business continues like this, I’m going to stop.’ But noooo, “continues the moan inside his tunnel,” I was taken by some engineers from La Puchis and they gave me a dry turn (what they enraptured) “.

Remember the time he brought the ore to the plant, the technicians rehearsed it and each bucket came out at one gram and four tenths. Then, they called him on the cell phone and told him that in the laboratory he had gone out to six tenths and that they were going to pay for it. “That’s how they did it to me several times, and I fell down, because the engineer came to the ranch and convinced me and I said to him: well, let’s do it, let’s do it”. But on October 24, 2013 he sent the last charge that to date he is not paid. “There are 17 million, outside the 60 that I was robbed in other loads of stone,” he confesses without fear. At the beginning of 2014 he met Mauricio Duque and reminded him of the debt: “he knows what, give me $ 10 million and we are healthy,” he said, but the businessman was blunt: “now we are frail brother”.

Some time later I asked Alexander Duque about this alleged deception, which is reported by many miners in the area and that is not mediated by legal documents. “It is that the supplier looks for the way to take advantage of the negotiation and for that reason it contaminates the rock. Sampling comes with powdered gold powder, so when you take the sample and take it to the laboratory it registers a value; however, when the bulk of the ore comes out, it gives another. Then, to fully certify that all the ore in an initial reading had the tenor that was raised, is very complicated … We have quite large obligations to the community, and absolutely everyone, has been given certifications of the money we owe them. The years 2013 and 2014 were quite critical for us because the price of gold dropped a lot, “says Alexander.

Ruperto black accounts are on a notebook sheet that has fingerprints of mud from his index finger, those of Giraldo and Duque in the export reports of the specialized international trade portal, Legiscomex. In 2013, it was the first marketer to send gold abroad from the Pacific Free Trade Zone: 76 million dollars. Years ago, in 2005 its power reached 27 million dollars, and between 2006 and 2007, it was among the first hundred exporting companies in the country to the United States: it invoiced 44.9 million dollars. In general, between 2010 and 2014, according to the Directorate of Taxes and Customs, DIAN, Comercializadora Giraldo y Duque was the first gold exporter in southwestern Colombia: it sent 16 tons of the metal abroad.

Gold camouflaged from legal

From the third floor of the iron plant of La Puchis you can see the ridge of the Teta hill and down the flooded slopes of bamboo and zinc huts. They are small entables that work with the force of an engine that moves several barrels, like those that Mira Sol rents to wash the stones that the miners waste. Ruperto’s is not enough to see because he does not have anything to do, because he only has three options: rent it, crush the stones in his shabby Californian mill or sell them to the Giraldo and Duque.

According to the census of the Environmental Corporation of Cauca, there are 48 entables, of which 22 are from outsiders and not associated with the cooperative. The rest are from ancestral miners, but almost all are inactive. Six entables of outsiders reach the name of a plant, but they are far from having the power of La Puchis.

Says Ruperto: “the ideal is that the cooperative has a plant to grind and benefit the ore, or you could assemble a Chilean mill for example, that would be a relief for the small miner, because grinding yields more than in the Californian and avoid that the small miners abandon their tunnels and go to work next to the backhoes “.

In the businessmen’s mine, the gold is always camouflaged: they keep it in jars and it is not exactly yellow dust, but a gray grit that they then take to the company Giraldo y Duque SA, located in the Pacific Free Trade Zone in Palmira, Valle , where they refine it and turn it into gold bullion that they sell to the multinationals Metalor, Republic Metals, Swiss banks and banks in India, says Alexander Duque.

Since La Puchis became Sociedad Minera del Sur, according to data provided by the National Mining Agency (ANM), between November 17 and December 28, 2011 that mine produced a total of 17 kilos of gold. Then, between January 5, 2012 and April 17, 2013, 192 kilos came out of that mine. All that gold was sold through the exporter Giraldo y Duque. Meanwhile, the cooperative does not record that it has produced a single gram of gold in that period.

This, without counting all the gold that Giraldo and Duque and their other companies bought in Buenos Aires, but not the cooperative that, according to the ANM, is the one that holds the only legal titles in the exploitation stage in that municipality. The rest is barequeo mining and illegal. Of the latter, there are 20 points in the Teta and Ovejas rivers, according to the environmental corporation of Cauca.

Buenos Aires is the second municipality with the most gold production in Cauca and the 30th in the country. From 2006 to May 2015, 3 tons and 672 kilos of gold were extracted from this municipality, of which, the company Giraldo y Duque bought 2 tons and 284 kilos, but the cooperative of small miners only sold 503 kilos of the mineral , of the 927, that according to data of the ANM, produced in this last decade.

The rest of the gold would be from unknown producers, as in the following example: between January 1 and December 30, 2009, according to the ANM, Buenos Aires produced 742 kilos, but of that gold the cooperative of small miners only sold 832 grams. Interestingly, of that mineral, Inversiones G and D (company of Giraldo and Duque) bought 640 kilos and sold it to its parent company, the exporter Giraldo y Duque, 435 kilos. The other 205 traded with the questioned marketing company of Medellín Goldex, (which has its owners and partners in jail for money laundering).

The rest, that is, 101 kilos of gold, a list of more than 500 people (apparently barequeros) also sold it to the Giraldo y Duque company in the name of Buenos Aires during 2009.

So, where did the 640 kilos that Giraldo y Duque reported to Ingeominas come from that year in Buenos Aires? Who bought that investment Gold G and D? Why is Inversiones G y D no longer buying a gram of gold in Buenos Aires since 2012 to date? Who feeds the gold business extracted by backhoes?

In the jargon of miners like Alexander Duque, this would be the gray gold that the government has not been able to determine what it is: criminal, illegal or informal. “At a meeting in Medellin they talked about grays. There are blacks and whites, not in terms of communities, but the ‘black’ (outsider) is the owner of the backhoe, the white is the barequero miner who works without support on the river bank and the gray is the barequero that is in the hole, that is, the one made by the black, owner of the retro “.

So, the other gold that the backhoe owners wash, who buys it and where does it come from?

The role of Colombia Politicians and military

Today, the dispute is not only over the control of the Teta hill mines and the titles of the cooperative, but also over the territorial and administrative power of Buenos Aires. This was demonstrated on October 25 at the polls when Urdely Carabalí, candidate of the miners and brother of the manager Fares Carabalí, won 3275 to 2975 votes obtained by Oscar Eduin Lopez, the candidate of the U party. The third place, with 2691 votes, the candidate was Adan Díaz Sandoval, supported by the community council (juridical figure of the blacks recognized by law 70 of 1993), who wanted to give local weight to the company and recover the cooperative of small miners.

However, that Sunday in October they shouted in their faces: “You have the people, but we have the money,” says a member of the community council. In the end, Urdely Carabalí won in the corregimientos of mining influence and in the positions where the indigenous vote.

Those who financed the campaign of the new mayor of Buenos Aires and those elected in other mining municipalities of the country, have a very powerful reason: the decree 0276 of February 2015, which empowers the local leaders to register barequeros and scrap merchants -habiters of land alluvial that wash sand by manual means to extract the gold – who, according to that normativity, will be the only ones that will be able to sell gold only presenting to buyers like Giraldo and Duque the certificate issued by the municipal administration. That is to say, it is a disguised legalization of the gray gold that today thousands of miners that work in the hollows of the backhoes extract.

Throughout the country until last July the mayors had reported 65,536 barequeros, only in Cauca 5,672 and in Buenos Aires 111. The municipality with the most barequeros in this department is Guapi with 5,557. If each of those barequeros, say marketers such as Giraldo and Duque, sold them two grams of gold per month, how much of the gray gold could be legalized? How much of the illegal gold from backhoes will be camouflaged in the list of barequeros? Who and how many barequeros will Urdely Carabalí register? Is this the reason why backhoe mining is still alive and dredging the rivers?

Those who funded the last political campaigns in Buenos Aires, says a member of the community council, were the Giraldo and Duque: “Four years ago, Fares was given $ 400 million to run the mayoral campaign that he lost, but in return, he president of the board of directors of the cooperative at that time, would facilitate all the conditions for the Sociedad Minera del Sur to enter the territory. That put an end to small-scale mining, “he says.

Says Alexander Duque: “The truth, the truth, I economic support …? The politicians come here and they say to me: ‘See, you can give me T-shirts for my campaign’, and I can help and support all of them as far as I can, but I have never sponsored political campaigns. “

On August 12, three months ago, I visited the businessman at his main office in northern Cali. He assisted me with his legal adviser, Víctor Hugo Becerra, and in the presence of engineer Nixon Delgado. While declining his participation in political campaigns, just at that moment one of his employees informed him of a visit. It was General Leonardo Barrero Gordillo.

I did not know what Barrero was looking for, but it was the days before the elections and the general was the candidate of the Democratic Center for the Government of Cauca. In addition, as there is a record of the Army that highlights the “praiseworthy” work of entrepreneurs, and also, as it is known that the security chief of Giraldo and Duque today is retired Colonel Álvaro Ibarra, the scene could not pass unnoticed.

On November 29, 2012, one month after General Barrero took office as the commander of the Joint South-West Command, the Third Brigade (attached to this command) issued the certificate: “… the National Army makes presence and military control in the municipalities of Buenos Aires and Suarez, Cauca, to ensure the care of the civil population and the proper development of licit mining activities of the company Sociedad Minera del Sur and the Mining Company El Danubio “.

But the General denies any relationship with the businessmen: that he met Alexander Duque the day he went to his office in Cali to ask for financial support for his campaign and received $ 10 million. That the previous record was not signed by him and that, therefore, that money is not the product of an old friendship. However, he said: “If I had knowledge of an investigation of the Office of the Attorney for money laundering to Giraldo and Duque, I would never have requested that money”.

Mauricio Duque points out: “… we are ungrateful if we say that the Army has abandoned us. On the contrary, it has given us a great collaboration, here they monitor continuously and when the community is upset at election time the service improves. “

When I arrived at his office in Cali, the facade revealed a simple house. Of two floors. Outside, two guards with shotguns next to a fence, and then a heavy door, perhaps because of the armored material. Thereafter, the other two doors open in code and look like lockers of safes. I waited for him at the reception, because the secretary said he had not arrived yet. I was two meters from the front door, but after ten minutes they told me: “He is waiting for you upstairs. Go up. “

There are the Sociedad Minera del Sur, Inversiones G y D, Duque Builes y CIA, CI Giraldo y Duque, Sociedad Minera el Danubio, and a gold emporium in this part of the country.

When I visited Ruperto in Buenos Aires, he was standing on a piece of mountain Teta hill waiting for our arrival, while we passed the filter of the vigilantes with shotguns that the Giraldo and Duque also have in the lower part of the hill. “They monitor the mines of their partners,” says the black man.

His memorial is long, but he emphasizes that the small miners do not ambition the money of the Duke, what worries them is to remain without a hill, without gold and without a river. “As much as we drill we will never advance like them, maybe I have already died by then, but when our children follow the vein they will not find anything, because the company will have eaten everything they find in their way,” Ruperto says. he contemplates his tamper mill and dreams of the Chilean mill.

Wait next Sunday for the second installment: “What color is the gold of the Giraldo and Duque?”

* The names of the miners have been changed to guarantee their safety.

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