Community stories

The dignified work of a Colombian miner,

Rubiel Benavides, Cauca, Colombia

Rubiel Benavides has been a miner for 13 years. At first he worked Informally, but now, thanks to the efforts of his community, those of his coworkers and his own, formal mining has become possible for some, so that they can work towards responsible mining and, in the long run, achieve just mining.

The 57-year-old miner smiles while telling us he’s been working with the Mining Cooperative Limoncito for 8 years. His smile is nothing exceptional for him; Rubiel is a naturally cheerful man with a positive attitude, which has helped him in achieving many goals.

He is a molinero (responsible for the grinding process) in the organization, and he works in the mineral reduction plant with three more people: the machador (responsible for the crushing process), a chemist and a welder. Before mining, he used to earn a living “working on roads as a contractor for the Nationl Roads Institute”, and on other jobs. He also lived in the city of Popayan for a while, but he missed the tranquility of the rural area and decided to go back to his village in the Cauca department, Colombia: “I lived in Popayan and got bored of it, so I came back here!” he tells us with a final laugh.

Now, he lives with his wife, with whom he had three children. The youngest daughter, who’s 18, is in Popayan studying Ecology and she is the only one they still support financially. The other two sons are miners; they live close to Rubiel and work in the same area.

Son of farmers, small-scale miner

Speaking about responsible mining, Rubiel notes that it “would mean having it all in order, working safely and complying with all the State regulations”. This conversation also takes him to reflect on the environment, as well as social and work related themes: “I wish everything could be legalized”, he dreams out loud. However, he is aware of the difficulties and lack of support that his community faces.

Rubiel speaks about mining with pride: “I like everything, whatever I do, I do it with love”. He explains that “one works where he is needed”, and that he enjoys whatever he has to do. Before being a molinero, he extracted the mineral directly from a mine opening for the same cooperative.  Rubiel comes from a non-mining family: even if his sons do work in mining, his parents grew corn, potatoes and sugar cane and were farmers all their life. In a family of five children, that was the activity that brought food home.

“What do we need for mining to become more legalized?” we ask, to which he answers: “Sometimes it’s effort, sometimes will… Illegal miners also need a livelihood, even if they’d like to change… I speak with them every day and they’re looking for support.”

He would like to convince other miners “to take the example of others and slowly, step by step, work towards legalization.”

“My day-to-day”

“I get up at 5 am, as I need to start the machinery at 6. I go to work on my motorbike, as do most of my colleagues. I work from 6 to 6, with a lunch break. At 6, I go back home and rest. I work 5 or 6 days a week; sometimes, when the watchman is on holiday, I work 7 days a week to cover him”. On his days off, Rubiel visits his daughter or organizes barbecues with the family.

Small-scale mining can be responsible

In spite of the lower quantity of mineral extracted, Rubiel thinks that small-scale mining can be more responsible: “I believe that if it is brought forward, it can be done. Things need to be brought forward in order to get done.”

When asked what his plans are for the next few years, Rubiel tells us that he wants to “keep working (…) and when I retire, I will look for something else to do, as I am so used to working.” He explains he can’t stand doing nothing, he gets bored.

What would you tell people who don’t know small-scale mining and who’ve never met a small-scale miner?

“That in mining one learns little by little. (…) I did not know anything about mining; it used to scare me… I kept saying I won’t come back tomorrow and, after a week, I wasn’t scared anymore. I worked hard to get where I am now.” The conversation continues and Rubiel recalls his experiences and values all that he has learned, some of which thanks to SENA training. He also praises the good atmosphere at work: “We are good friends, it’s 14 of us at the mine and we never discuss… We get on well.”

The Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) has been supporting the Limoncito Cooperative in a short process, carrying out visits and inspections to the mining sites and ofefring some training. This mining organization is part of the municipal dialogue on artisanal and small-scale mining promoted by ARM and the local Council. We would like to warmly thank the Limoncito Cooperative for their willingness to work with us, and give a special thanks to Rubiel for sharing his interesting story in this interview.

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