Sebastián Vizcaino, Operations Director of Mina Chede in the El Tambo municipality, department of Cauca, Colombia.


7:00 am. The first collaborators arrive to the mine to carry out a primary occupational health and safety management system function: the measurement of pre-shift gases. It will not take long for the rest of the personnel working on the farm to arrive and it is necessary that the variables of the environment within the farm be known before starting work, to approve the group’s entrance.

7:30 am. The rest of the work team arrives, its early and cold, some people are drinking coffee, others can handle the temperature better, but in general everyone is talking about their daily lives.

7:50 am. Already changed and in a good mood, the first two collaborators who entered the mine, including the security leader, have already returned to the surface and take part in the daily pre-operative talk, where issues related to safety in the job are discussed.

8:00 am. The shift manager delivers the instructions, delegates the personnel and begins the operation that in general, is distributed as follows: 8 people enter the mine to extract the ore from the deposit, 3 people wait outside to crush the ore and deliver it to the processing plant, where 1 person is responsible for operating the different milling and concentration equipment, until delivering a pulp to the next process called cyanidation. From this point on, 5 people who work in shifts take the pulp to the final product. 1 person is responsible for the maintenance and work required by the operational management, 1 assistant keeps the electrical installations in good condition, 1 warehouse management member; and the safety leader support the operation based on the management and occupational health and safety system. In addition, 4 people are responsible for working on their own infrastructure projects and supporting the community.

12:00 m. A well-deserved rest, operations are stopped and employees have lunch and rest during a one hour period.

1:00 pm. Time to return to daily tasks, their bodies are a little fatigued and they have a slightly heavier body expression, the collaborators return to their work while exchanging  jokes.

3:00 p.m. Two other collaborators arrive whose day begins at the end of the first group’s shift, since their task is the removal of the ore from the production fronts through drilling and blasting. At the end of the turn, they enter, drill the rock, place explosives and detonate, in order to provide material for the next day’s cargo.

4:00 p.m. The work-day is over, the employees leave for a well-deserved rest and only the plant operators remain in the operation.

6:00 p.m. 2 plant operators arrive at the premises to work the night shift.

8:00 p.m. Approximately at this time, depending on the magnitude of the work to be done, drilling and blasting operators leave, report their work to the immediate boss, and prepare to go home and rest.

That is a normal day in the mining operation. Full attention is required from those in charge in order for everyone to work efficiently and in a safe environment. However, behind this type of work-day being possible and repeated, is the office in Medellin, Colombia, including a multidisciplinary group of people responsible for carrying out administrative, accounting, environmental, legal and technical support for the operation.  There’s no other way for all levels of the mining operation to be viable.

Mining, whatever the scale, must comply with technical, legal, and environmental parameters in order to operate. We, as a small-scale mining organization, are reviewing possibilities for improvement in the operation, resolving conflicts, situations and challenges that arise daily. We are a team of 40 people and our obligation, in the administrative area, is to ensure our long-term objective: to operate as a source of durable and quality employment for the region.

Thinking about this, we have managed to have a large team of collaborators working in different areas and, have managed to improve the infrastructure of the operation, building spaces that help generate positive synergy between operators and administrative groups. To achieve this, financial and accounting planning is essential. Saving is our vehicle for investment. We can call it our financial instrument for purchasing equipment and machinery. It is the only financial instrument we have access to since in practice, it has been impossible to obtain credit from financial entities. It would be important to obtain it because we could leverage our growth and it would become a way to optimize our cash flow, but under the current conditions of stigmatization of mining and, more specifically, small-scale gold, it is impossible to obtain it. We have tried different entities and the answer is always the same: “we are not allowed to open financial instruments for mining” Why ?, the answer is also traced and repeated: “Company policies“.

We don’t blame the banks. This is only the response to a visceral and irrational attack against gold mining, motivated by acts of unscrupulous people who have used the activity for illicit enrichment purposes. This would be a perfect example of the old saying “fair pay for sinners”.

In its desire to attack illegal and criminal activity, the only thing that results from subjective policy application to grant financial instruments is the development of new illegal structures and new ways to cheat. Denying opening credit and access to financing to people like us, small miners who depend on this activity, does not solve the problems created by those who use mining to  illegally get rich. It’s funny; if you want a loan, it seems to require  approaching an entity and avoiding saying that you work in mining. It seems that this unique, criterion is a reflection of a media stigmatization where it seems that the only activity that presents a high risk for the execution of illegal acts is small-scale gold mining. And those who have to do with this process and those who are blind before the panorama are wrong. The reality is that, while denying access to financing to small miners, terrorist financing, money laundering, etc. will continue. You do not have to know about the subject to realize, just by turning on the television at noon you will see a thousand and one ways that bandits find to work under the shadow of illegality.

Why do I believe that subjective criteria for credit denial applies?

The people in charge of reviewing this activity in detail should apply a procedure known as SARLAFT. This is a necessary research process in order to be able to grant financial instruments to workers in risky activities. The application of the process would not be a problem if it were really carried out consciously.

We have delivered all of the requested documents, we have answered the questions, we have attended appointments personally to answer questions. Nothing is enough. We have a mining title, an environmental license, we pay social contributions, we pay taxes, we declare income, we sell only by invoice and, additionally, in our case, we are certified under the Fairmined Standard. For this, an exhaustive external audit is carried out where we must corroborate all statements and more. Is not sufficient. The answer is the same: “The company’s policies cannot grant credit.”

Part of the problem is that those who are responsible to review the submitted documentation within the banking organizations, are not familiar with mining and do not have the knowledge necessary to review the submitted documents. The lack of knowledge is proven by the type of questions they ask. How can you answer “no” in a week, after having received the Environmental License, the PTO, and other documents. How could they read and understand what was delivered in just a week? We have delivered presentations to facilitate the information but still get the same answer.

A person who commits a crime thinks about ways to avoid justice on a daily basis, the tireless worker works honestly and at the end of the day, has the conviction of having done it correctly. Another day means another opportunity to continue leaving the reputation of small mining behind, starting at 7:00 am with gas measurements.

Sebastián Vizcaino Díaz is a Mining and Metallurgy Engineer and Finance Specialist. He is currently the Operations Director of the Mina Chede in the El Tambo municipality, department of Cauca, Colombia.

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