'Where there is gold, there are guns'


As I arrived in Segovia, a small city in Colombia’s Antioquia province, I was startled to see soldiers fully geared for combat -- machine guns poised, helmets strapped tight, field radios crackling -- intently watching the traffic coming into the town, which is a refining center for Antioquia’s booming gold industry. “We have one of the army’s antiterrorism units stationed here,” a local friend explained. “In Colombia, wherever there is gold, there are guns. Lots of them.”

Colombian gold-mining village fights to stay put

MARMATO, COLOMBIA -- The preparations for the evening Mass on Jan. 15 in the Church of Santa Barbara in Marmato, a mountainside mining village in central Colombia, were ordinary in every detail but one. Shortly before the service began, the village priest, Fr. Carlos Valencia, threaded his way through a tangle of horses and donkey carts into the town square at the wheel of a battered jeep. As he arrived, the bell in the church tower rang out. Inside the brick church, candles were lit as people from the village -- many dressed in colorful handmade clothes, decorative ponchos and heavy leather boots -- gathered beneath rows of brightly glazed ceramic statues of the Virgin and saints. As Valencia commenced the Mass, the only thing out of the ordinary was the presence behind the altar of a bishop from the United States.